Basements? Basements are stylish? Yep, the lower-level land of dank is shedding its musty reputation and emerging as the new home entertainment hub. What’s behind the trend? Homeowners staying put and sophisticated designs that make drab basements seem like ancient history. “We’re seeing home theaters, kitchenettes, exercise rooms, craft rooms … The sky’s the limit,” […]

Basements? Basements are stylish?

Yep, the lower-level land of dank is shedding its musty reputation and emerging as the new home entertainment hub. What’s behind the trend? Homeowners staying put and sophisticated designs that make drab basements seem like ancient history.

“We’re seeing home theaters, kitchenettes, exercise rooms, craft rooms … The sky’s the limit,” says Matt Moroney, executive director for the Metropolitan Builders Association. MBA’s Parade of Homes has even displayed basement putting greens and basketball courts.

Gone are the days when homeowners simply slapped up drywall and added carpeting. Today, they want high-quality professional finishes. That’s one reason why, after 35 years of building new homes, Kings Way Homes formed Kings Way Renovations in 2006, says Christopher Moll, its vice president of operations. The company’s basement renovation projects have included adding a lap pooland building a ballroom fit for Fred Astaire.

And the home theaters. “People don’t want to duplicate the feeling of being in a Marcus Theatre anymore,” says Moll. “They want a big, comfy room where they can enjoy their big-screen TV.”

Details count. “We’re seeing not only custom cabinetry, but cabinetry with great detail,” says David Pekel, president of Pekel Construction & Remodeling. “Really, the lower levels on the nicer homes are finished with the exact same quality of the first and second floors,” adds Shorewest’s Mike Quinlevan.

But with awkward appendages like heating ducts and metal posts, won’t a lower level always remain basement-like? Not with a good design, says Matt Retzak, a project designer for Bartelt Filo. Clever use of arches, colonnades and ceilings makes them disappear.

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In the past, a lack of natural light made basements fit only for furnaces and water heaters. No longer. Exposing the lower level during construction to accommodate full-sizedwindows has been all the rage for the last decade, says Moroney. Homeseller Barbara Whealon of Coldwell Banker says people love exposed lower levels with walkouts to patios, gardens and firepits.

For more traditional basements, programmable lighting is the way to go, says Pekel. State-of-the-art systems can automatically adjust the room’s lighting.

The new breed of basement can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $225,000, and add 1,000 to 1,500 square feet to a home’s living area. While that will help sell a property faster, it’s unlikely a seller will recoup every dollar invested, says Quinlevan. But homeowners do get lots of enjoyment out of that extra space for much less than it would cost for an addition. And the lower cost also means “a significant property tax savings for the homeowner,” says Mike Grota, owner of Grota Appraisals.


Where’s Whitney?
by Julie Sensat Waldren


One of the city’s most influential voices on local architecture hasn’t quite disappeared.

Soon after Whitney Gould retired from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where she had served for 12 years as architecture critic, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett appointed her to the city’s planning commission. Its citizen members advise the Common Council on land development issues, such as zoning approvals.

“I’m certainly not going to be shy about speaking up,” Gould says of her new role. Despite offers from her former editors to continue writing regularly – as well as being approached by other publications she refused to name, Gould says she wants to concentrate on writing fiction. “This is another phase in my life,” she says.

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The paper folded Gould’s former beat in with the arts coverage provided by Mary Louise Schumacher. Will the beat suffer? “I think it’s a pretty big beat to be combined, but that’s the trend across the country,” says Gould.

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