20 basement ideas – conversion projects from cellars to full dig outs

Let our basement ideas inspire you to make the most of your subterranean space and turn it into something fabulous

basement ideas
(Image credit: Staged for Upsell)

Looking for basement ideas to turn that unused space under your home into something incredible? Perhaps you want an extra bedroom for guests or a stylish place to entertain or a cute den-like living room to watch movies? Whatever your dreams for your basement, leaving it as a dingy dungeon that maybe just houses the Christmas decs and the ski-equipment is a waste of all that valuable square footage. 

'A basement can double the area of your living space if you convert the whole area under the footprint of the ground floor.' explains Rosie Caley Design Director at The Oxford & London Building Company.  This is great for buildings that are terraced and provide little opportunity for ground floor extension, and particularly for families who want a nanny annex, or permanent accommodation for a parent to live with them, or to create facilities older houses don’t often have, like utility rooms. If you want to invest in luxuries such as a wine cellar, gym, cinema room or even a pool and spa, a basement is perfect.' 

Think a basement reno might be for you? Well, we've rounded up plenty of ideas to show the many ways you can use that space, plus practical advice you should always think about at the design stages. 

How much does it cost to convert a basement?

Let's start off with the most important question – how much does it cost to convert a basement? If you already have an existing cellar that just needs a redo you could finish it for around $10,000. If you are starting from scratch the average price for a project starts from $25,000 – but this of course depends on the size of your space and what you want to do with it. 

If you are in the UK 'a full basement conversion costs around £400-600k (+ VAT), a half-basement conversion begins at £150k (+ VAT).' says Jason Wren, Director of Shape Architecture. 'A garden basement starts at around £150k – £200k (+ VAT) and a coal cellar starts at approximately £50k (+ VAT) depending on the size of the cellar, and if it is a new excavation or a refurbishment project which includes waterproofing it.'

Basement ideas

(Image credit: Tigg Coll Architects)

How deep does a basement conversion need to be?

'A minimum of 2750mm, often around 2900mm.' advises Jason.  'Ceiling voids over a basement are often routes for much pipework and drainage pipes which have to run at a fall.  It’s a good idea to add a little more to the floor to ceiling height to accommodate any potential impact on service runs.'

'Floor to ceiling height would not be the only determination in judging the quality of a space, as one should consider the volume as a whole.  The variety of natural light sources, views and glimpses between interior spaces, circulation through the basement, as well as the sense of height and volume around a stair void have architectural significance.'

What can you include in a basement conversion?

'Projects generally include: a Family Room, which is typically the largest space giving onto the rear lightwell and filled with light as well as a Media Room and this is often at the street side of the basement extension also giving onto a smaller lightwell.' says Robin Nichols of Shape Architecture. 'Often, in the middle of the basement extension where it is more challenging to get natural light, rooms such as a Utility Room, WC, Storage or Small Gym are located.'

Basement ideas

(Image credit: Niche Design Architects )

What are the first steps when converting a basement?

'The first steps are the same as with most building projects.  Initially, a digital dimensional survey is undertaken on-site leading to drawings of the existing property, we also make a 3D model of the existing building.' explains Robin. 'Following the survey, a process of design concept work takes place.  Development of drawing and the 3D model of a scheme progresses to enable clear discussions with our Clients.  Early input from a Structural Engineer is often useful; it is likely they have worked on basement projects in the area and have an understanding of the soils condition and any other relevant local features.'

Do you need permits to convert a basement?

Yes, you will need to get a permit to finish a basement. It's a common misconception that because a basement reno can not usually be seen at street level, you can get away with not getting a permit. However, this could cost you down the line.

If you are starting totally from scratch with your basement project, you'll likely need a plumbing permit, building permit and an electrical permit. A reputable contractor will usually take care of finding out what permits are required for your project. 

Avoid any contractors who tells you you can save money by not getting the proper permits. If the work you are doing is discovered by the local building department, getting a permit in retrospect is much harder and more expensive, or they could just tell you have to start the project again with the right permits. Plus you could face fines. 

1. Turn a basement into a guest bedroom

Interior Fox basement bedroom

(Image credit: Interior Fox)

Adding a guest suite to your bedroom is one of the best uses of the space – it's going to create a very handy extra sleep space for guests and of course add value to your home.

The key to creating a bedroom that feels lovely and cozy and makes you forget you are in fact underground is a suitable color scheme that's going to expand the space, furniture that isn't going to feel too big and bulky and plenty of light (natural or artificial). We recommend decorating with fresh, light colors and picking out a bed that's low to the ground so as give the ceiling that allusion of having more height. 

Build in any storage to make the most of the space and stop it feel cluttered, and make sure you have plenty of light sources to make sure the space never feels gloomy. If you are lucky enough to get any natural light in the room, be sure to maximize that by keeping the space around the windows as clear as possible and pick light and floaty curtains.

2. Create an extra living room in the basement 

living room

(Image credit: Magnolia Network)

Using a basement as an extra living room is perfect if you are blessed with teenagers who feel like they can't relax until they are on a whole different floor of the house to you. 

We are joking, kind of. But a second living room just means no more arguments over the TV more space for you to entertain. If you pick out a sofa bed to use in there, it can become a last-minute spare bedroom too.

Again, as you can see from this gorgeous space, low-slung furniture is a must in a basement living room if you are dealing with low ceilings. And make sure to add some coziness with plenty of throw pillows, rugs and blankets. 

3. Make it an open plan space to entertain 

Basement with games room

(Image credit: Staged for Upsell)

Because if you can't justify having a games room in the main house, add one to your basement. Basements make for the best entertainment spaces since you feel separate from the rest of your home, plus you can always make your basement soundproof too. 

Pop a pool table down there, some sofas, retro arcade games, a mini-fridge (or you could add a full-on bar, more on that later) and make it feel like a proper getaway in your own home. 

4. Zone a small basement with sliding doors

Open plan basement

(Image credit: Katie Gelsheimer)

Adding a small studio apartment in your basement can be a great use of space. It's nice for guests to have a whole set up of their own during their stay, plus it gives you the potential to rent or Airbnb.

This basement space by Katie Gelsheimer feels so light and airy because it's hasn't been broken up with walls – instead sliding doors allow for privacy in the bedroom but light can still flow around the space with the bedroom is not in use. 

5. Add an extra bathroom downstairs

Basement bathrooms

(Image credit: Interior Fox)

If you plan on adding a bedroom downstairs, adding a bathroom is a must. It's actually easier to bring plumbing down to a basement than you might think if you are clever about positioning. Plan your remodel with the layout of the space above in mind and choose to add a bathroom underneath a room with existing plumbing that way you can just bring the pipes down from there. 

When it comes to decor, remember it's likely a basement bathroom will get zero natural light. For that reason, you are best playing it safe with a really light color scheme. Keep your backdrop neutral with white walls and sanitaryware and then you can always bring in color and personality with your decor or your tile choices. 

6. Take your kitchen into the basement 

kitchen diner and living space in a basement extension to a Victorian home with a golden retriever

(Image credit: Simon Maxwell)

If you want to create that gorgeous open-plan kitchen of your dreams but simply don't have the room on the ground floor, why not bring your kitchen down into the basement. You could have a whole of the basement floor just for your kitchen, plus then there's more room on the ground floor to have a larger living room or even add an extra bedroom.If you bring in enough natural light with light wells, glazed doors and high-level windows, you would never know you were technically underground. 

Just be aware you will probably have to dig lower to create a kitchen space than your average basement remodel and can be more disruptive too – but worth it in the end!

7. Bring in natural light with light wells

Basement ideas

(Image credit: Heather Hobhouse)

Light,  whether it's natural or artificial, is what really takes a basement from dingy to dreamy so it's important you consider lighting and windows in the planning stages of your project.

Light wells are a really popular option with basement remodels as they will bring in the maximum amount of light and are a stylish design feature too. If you have extended your basement out under your garden you could add an external window made from walk-on glass that will bring in plenty of direct sunlight. The other option is to add an internal window at the ground floor level to bring light from the room above into the basement below. 

8. Think about where to add windows

Basement living room with dark wall

(Image credit: Staged for Upsell)

If your basement isn't fully underground you could bring in more natural light by adding a row of high-level windows that sit near the ceiling. Remember too, that most finished basements also require an egress window to act as an emergency exit so make sure you work with your architect to plan where that is going to be.  

9. Or choose a glazed roof for maximum light

basement glazing

(Image credit: Future)

You could take the light well concept to a whole new level and opt for a walk-on glass roof light for your basement. This is going to bring in the most natural light and makes a very cool contemporary design statement too. 

Obviously think about what's going to be under these windows too. A kitchen or living space like this one would be suited to this kind of design but you would probably want more privacy in a bedroom.  

10. Add a light well garden 

Basement bedroom ideas

(Image credit: Simax)

Bring in some greenery as well as natural light to your basement with a tiny lightwell garden. Even the smallest of carved out spaces can bring some life into a subterranean room and make it feel more like part of the main house. You could even add stairs if you have the room to connect the space to the garden above – from a practical perspective this would make sense too as it can act as a fire escape. 

11. Or add a sunken courtyard 

Basement ideas

(Image credit: Niche Design Architects)

Open up you basement even more by digging down in your garden too and create a courtyard space that links the basement rooms to the outdoor space. The allows you to bring in so much natural light as you can add floor-to-ceiling windows and doors too. 

12. Get your artificial lighting scheme spot on 

Interior Fox basement bedroom

(Image credit: Interior Fox)

And if natural light fails you in your basement, good artificial lighting can make space feel just as bright and inviting. Be sure to have plenty of different light sources and layer your lighting so you have different options for different tasks, different times of the day, and different moods.

'Given the same consideration as other rooms, the basement can become just as stylish and functional as a main-floor living space. Start by considering how much natural light the room has; this will determine how much electrical lighting is required. Spotlights are always a great place to start: they are low profile and, paired with a dimmer, will allow for full control depending on the time of day or activity. Layer with wall lights, floor and table lamps to really help to set the tone.' explains Jen & Mar from Interior Fox

13. Turn a basement into a bar

Basement bar with island

(Image credit: @lifelovelarson)

Can you think of a cooler way to make use of your basement space? We will wait... Whether you choose to add a wet or dry bar to your basement, it will create the ultimate entertaining space in your home. Plus you could always soundproof it too so you won't be bothering anyone in the main house when you start blasting Billy Joel after a few (too many) drinks. 

With a basement bar, it's all about decor, you want to create an atmosphere in the space, and that means, low lighting, stylish bar stools, plenty of lovely glassware on show and of course shelves of your favorite tipples. Just check out @lifelovelarson's amazing space and let it inspire you.

14. Add in a wine cellar

Wine room in a basement

(Image credit: Staged for Upsell)

And if you don't have the space for a full-sized bar, why not just add a small wine cellar in your basement. Firstly, they can look lovely and be a real feature of the space, secondly, basements are the perfect place for storing your collection –  no direct sunlight, no massively fluctuating temperatures. But do check there's no mold at the temperature doesn't drop below 40°F, the ideal temperature for storing wine is 55°F.

15. Create a playroom in your basement

Children's playroom with colourful walls and toys

(Image credit: Fiona Murray)

If your child's toy collection has expanded by such epic proportions it no longer can be restrained to their bedroom, turning your basement into a playroom could create a new fun, family space to house all those toys. 

Having the space slightly separate from the rest of your home means you can really get creative with the decor. Pick a bold color scheme, add plenty of patterns and make larger toys a feature of the room rather than hide them away as they would be in the rest of the house. 

Add in some cubby storage a maybe even a little desk that can be used for homework, crafts and coloring. 

16. Add your dream home cinema 

Small basement living room

(Image credit: Staged for Upsell)

Surely it's everyone's dream to have a home cinema? And what better place to create a movie room than in your basement. We love this space – the rustic color scheme and plenty of cushions, rugs and throws make it feel super cozy, Plus that dark wall just further emphasizes the home cinema feels but doesn't make the room feel smaller. 

17. Low ceilings? Turn the space into a snug 

basement living room by Interior Fox

(Image credit: Interior Fox)

Low ceilings in a basement needn't be seen as a bad thing, why not embrace those low ceilings and use them to make the space feel extra cozy. A snug room can be a great use of a basement, especially for spaces that wouldn't work as bedrooms or living rooms because of the ceiling height. 

Pick floor cushions over a sofa to keep sitting as low to the floor as possible and add in plenty of soft furnishings to really enhance that cocooning effect. Pop a TV down there and some consoles to turn it into an instant movie and games room. 

18. Pop a home gym in your basement

Home gym in a small basement

(Image credit: Green Retreats)

Gym closed? No problem, create your own in your basement. Depending on how fancy you want your at-home gym to be, you could create one in your basement on a pretty cheap budget. You could of course lay rubber flooring and add speakers and air-con and go all out creating a space you are going to use really regularly. 

Or if you are just looking to create an area to escape the kids and the dog to do a quick workout, or you could just paint the walls, lay down a few mats and arrange your equipment.

19. Create the ideal WFH set up 

Home office in a garden room

(Image credit: Chris Snook)

Since we are all working from home a lot more right now, it makes sense to find a more permanent setup to work from than the sofa (or your bed). You might not have room for a dedicated home office in your main house, but you could plan to have an office space in your finished basement. 

It's important to make some natural light in your workspace so be sure to place your desk as near as possible to the windows or doors in your basement.

20. Unfinished basement? Get it organised for storage

Labelled basement storage

(Image credit: A Bowl Full of Lemons)

And in the meantime, while you are waiting to finish your basement, or maybe just wanting to make the most of the space you have, get the space organized so you can max out on storage. 

Floor-standing basement storage is the quickest solution and will be the easiest to install yourself, but just be aware you might have issues drilling into a tanked wall, Wall hung storage is also a great option as it will keep everything up and off the floors – very important if your basement is prone to flooding. Whatever system you go for just make sure everything is stored in airtight containers to avoid the risk of anything getting damaged by damp. 

Hebe Hatton
Hebe Hatton

Hebe joined the Real Homes team in early 2018 as Staff Writer. As a renter, she is always looking for creative ways to make her flat feel like home. She loves boho and 70's style and is a big fan of Instagram as a source of interiors inspiration.