Don't underutilize your lower level with these smart designs and basement ideas.
Don't underutilize your lower level with these smart designs and basement ideas. Illustration: Julia Abbonizio/Getty Images
AD It Yourself

13 Creative Basement Ideas That Go Beyond Adding a Ping-Pong Table

Searches for basement entertainment space are up almost 250%—see how to make yours stand out

Sure, you can add a ping-pong table and a mini-fridge to a basement and call it a day, but creative basement ideas are aplenty. When it comes to designing the belowground space, think outside the expected and routine. Whether you have an unfinished area or perhaps a wood-paneled cave that’s relegated as a dumping ground for old furniture, unused sports equipment (you know, all those pandemic purchases), and the unsightly furnace or water heater deserve a design-worthy makeover.  

Homeowners are treating basements with the same attention as the rooms above. According to the 2022 Houzz Emerging Holiday Home Design Trends report, searches for basement game rooms are up 1,267%, and basement entertainment space searches are up 247%. In addition, searches for wet bars and home theaters are up 45% and 44% respectively.

Ready for some basement ideas that are full of style? AD checked in with designers who fashioned gorgeous interiors that might as well be living rooms. Here, 13 ways to outfit your basement and get the party started. 

1. Set the tone with wallpaper

“When a basement will be an entertaining space, keep in mind what the entrance to the basement will feel like and how it will welcome friends and family,” says Rachel Alcorn, owner and principal at Two Hands Interiors in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. At the client’s request, Alcorn designed this basement after a midcentury-modern–inspired country club with rich colors and swoon-worthy features. Its’s safe to say that a striking wallpaper sets the tone. 

Wake up the basement with vibrant wallpaper, as seen in this Rachel Alcorn–designed space.

Photo: Kristi Hughes

2. Create a cozy nook

In keeping with her clients’ midcentury-modern country club inspired basement, Alcorn built a custom banquette. “We painted it a rich emerald green, and it not only creates an unexpected focal point for the room, but it also provides a flexible space to gather,” she says. From having a cocktail with friends to playing a friendly board game with family, Alcorn says this space brings people together—and it doesn’t feel like they’re in a basement. 

Alcorn employs banquette seating for all types of entertainment.

Photo: Kristi Hughes

3. Use it as a culinary space

It’s not usual to have a kitchen and dining area in the basement, but with a bit of design and architectural know-how you can make it look like a restaurant. Cathy Purple Cherry—architect and principal of Purple Cherry Architects in Annapolis, Maryland—took advantage of a forty-foot-long basement dining area that was adjacent to a massive 2,000-bottle wine cellar. She created an intimate wine tasting room, complete with and a wood-fire pizza kitchen to boot!

Architect Cathy Purple Cherry brought panache to the barrel-vaulted room, with crossing groin vaults lined in hand-laid Chicago brick veneer.

Photo: Durston Saylor

You can enter the dining area from a hidden staircase that leads down from the bar area above or through the basement’s main hallways.

No need to call pizza delivery, thanks to Purple Cherry’s ingenious design. 

Photo: Durston Saylor

Adjacent to the dining room is an industrial kitchen with a large wood-burning pizza oven. “To get the burning pizza oven into the basement, it had to be craned into the lower level during construction—before the floor above was built,” Purple Cherry explains. “The combination of the Chicago brick flooring, masonry chimney, and subway tile backsplash creates a fantastic industrial feel.” The zinc table with brass accents was custom built to evoke a true rustic restaurant feeling. 

4. Build a bar (or a speakeasy)

Ever wonder about the difference between a dry bar and a wet dry? “A dry bar is simply a space to prepare drinks without a sink, whereas a wet bar is equipped with a sink and will require plumbing,” says Josie Abate, founder of Ambience Design Group in Woodbridge, Ontario. To make the space more functional, add a kitchenette and cabinets to store your beverages. “If you enjoy entertaining people, turning your basement into a bar or lounge is something you might want to consider,” she notes.

Moody colors give this Lauren Collander Interiors speakeasy a vintage vibe.

Photo: Marina Storm/Picture Perfect House

Who says only kids can party in the basement? Lauren Collander of Lauren Collander Interiors in Naperville, Illinois, created a speakeasy to entertain adults. “The bar features dark wood cabinetry, backlit open shelving, and barstools in teal velvet that match the walls and ceiling,” she says. To embrace the low ceilings, she leaned into a design of an intimate and moody space, adding a bar and painting the entire room (including the ceiling) a dark teal. Collander also hid the water meter inside cabinets at the bar, and explains that’s why the design is so symmetrical. “I chose a high-end vinyl flooring for its waterproof quality that has grooves along the grain and looks incredibly realistic.” 

5. Make it into a wine cellar 

If a bar isn’t enough to store your wine collection, perhaps a cellar is an option. Joshua Zinder, managing partner at JZA+D in Princeton, New Jersey, installed a cork ceiling in one of his basement wine room projects. “This was a playful nod to the room’s purpose, but it has the added benefit of keeping the room cool, which is essential for wine storage.” Zinder says the wine cellar will never cease to wow guests when homeowners use the location for pre-dinner tastings. “If you have enough room, you could consider installing a small bar for storing glasses and other supplies,” adds Chicago-based Bruce Fox of Bruce Fox Design.

A cork ceiling plays into the cellar design and cools the Joshua Zinder–designed space at the same time.

Photo: Mick Hales, courtesy JZA+D

 6. Elevate the play space

If you have kids, it can be difficult to prevent the basement space from turning into a toy dumping ground. However, Collander (who actually designed the basement for her own family as a way to reclaim the house from their kids) has a creative solution: a secret door. Once opened, it reveals an emporium of toys, books, and “bits and bobs” that can now be hidden from the more sophisticated speakeasy (the adult playroom, so to speak). “A colorful rock wall and monkey bars in the kids’ play area keeps them entertained while full-height cabinets store all their toys, games, and blocks,” she says. When designing the floor plan, she kept 50% for adults, 25% for the kids to play, and 25% for storage.  

Tuck away the toys (and the mess) like Collander, who has a secret door for a play area.

 Photo: Marina Storm/Picture Perfect House

Alternatively, if you do want to dedicate your space to kids, think about joyful basement design. For a basement space without great light options (no fluorescent tube lighting, please), employ lighter wall paint and bright details, like colorful rugs underfoot, suggests Kristen Rivoli of Kristen Rivoli Interior Design based in Boston. She also recommends adding a fun mural, peel-and-stick wallpaper, or playful posters. “Add furniture that creates spaces for certain activities like reading, playing instruments, and loads of shelves for games,” she says. 

Interior designer Kristen Rivoli embraces the basement as a playful space.

Photo: Greg Premru

7. Create cohesion with the rest of the house

Even if you don’t have enough space to create multiple rooms in your basement, create a cohesive space by designating different areas. Liz Caan, a Boston-based designer, uses her designs to distract from the shortcomings of the basement space, like the lack of ceiling height or the lack of natural light. “As a rule of thumb, I like to always try and keep the lower level on par with the rest of the house in terms of finishes and furnishings,” she says. Have fun with it and treat it like your downstairs living room.

Interior designer Liz Caan and architect Tom Catalano treat the basement as they would the upstairs rooms.

Photo: Tim Williams for Liz Caan

8. Curate a console 

If you don’t have the space or desire for a movie theater, a basement is still a great spot for a large screen TV. Alcorn advises homeowners to think beyond “just” a television and consider a custom built-in media console. She recommends pausing to think what type of storage would be handy, what treasures can be displayed, and how this area can connect to the rest of the basement. “Designing the space for storage, art display, and collections allows this area of the basement to surround the television in plenty of function and style,” Alcorn adds. 

Alcorn chose the console millwork to mirror other trim accents elsewhere in the basement.

Photo: Kristi Hughes

8. Splurge on a sauna

From a space planning perspective, saunas are the perfect thing to include in a basement because they don’t require windows to feel luxurious or opulent. Sabra Ballon of ballonStudio in San Francisco placed the sauna in a frameless glass enclosure inside a large spa bathroom. The stone floor from the spa bath continues into the sauna, blending the spaces into one. The natural cedar wood smells amazing, and its warm brown color and wood texture soften the stone and glass.

Host a wellness retreat in your basement, like this one with a sauna designed by ballonStudio. 

Photo: James Carriere

9. Get an extra guest bedroom

Sometimes the most creative basement idea is the one that is the most obvious. Use the extra space to design a guest bedroom for out of towners. Stick to minimalist elements and light neutral tones to keep the space simple and airy. Invest in accessories like a plush rug and plenty of throw pillows to make it extra cozy.

A basement guest bedroom will keep your visitors happy and in their own space. 

Photo: Anatoli Igolkin

10. Impress with a statement landing

Those with plenty of basement space can create an opulent landing that leads to the rest of the basement. Abate enhanced the underground digs with palatial accoutrements such as a statement stair railing, gorgeous floor decor, a custom ceiling medallion and crystal chandelier, and beautiful etched glass doors that lead to the wine cellar. Even if your abode is more humble in scale, you can still create a grand entrance by adding a bit of panache with mirrors, sconces, and a statement rug. 

No, this is not a foyer. It’s a Josie Abate–designed space that serves as the entrance to the basement.

Photo: Courtesy of Ambience Design Group

11. Glam up with mirrors

To make the basement feel like an entirely different area than the rest of the home, Manuella Moreira—principal and founder at Manuella Moreira Interiors in Stamford, Connecticut—used glitz and glamour to wow anyone who walks down the stairs. “We added an eglomise mirror for a more suspenseful reflection, a statement console table with a freeform base wrapped in steel, and accessorized with fun, playful sculptures,” Moreira says. 

Designer Manuella Moreira adds a reflective element to the basement decor.

Photo: Ethereal Creative

12. Create a gallery hall

Turn the basement passageway into a gallery hall. Here, Moreira displayed signed posters from her clients’ favorite movies, which include The Sound of Music, Harry Potter, and Grease. But if you don’t have celebrity paraphernalia, choose art work that evokes happy memories. It will draw the eye down the hallway and invite guests into the space. Moreira also painted stripes just above the images to add pattern and depth to the space without being too bold. To DIY this trick, simply use a different finish (ideally flat]) in the same color as the semi-gloss walls. 

Gallery wall, gallery hall. A project by Manuella Moreira Interiors.

Photo: Ethereal Creative

13. Indulge in a movie 

If you have the space, you can create a basement theater that’s more comfortable (and frankly, much better looking) than many commercial movie theaters. Zinder used wrapped fiberglass acoustic panels to create luxurious walls and ceilings. There’s also room in the back to place extra snacks and drinks, so you won’t have to leave the room to get seconds. If you have wires and pipes, hide them with a recessed overhead. 

Zinder’s design shows that movies at home can be elevated to a completely new level.

Photo: Mick Hales/courtesy JZA+D