My Renovation Saga: A basement room for guests

Special to The Washington Post


Someone will sleep here one day. Boarded-up window is in the middle; the string dangling from the ceiling is for the light fixture. (Anne Marie Borrego)

When The Post told me the title of this blog, my first words were, “I hope not.”  I want my home renovation project to be a breeze. But I’ve been through the highs and lows of renos before, so I know better than to expect the journey from demolition to final “reveal” to go exactly as planned.

Almost two years ago, my family moved from a townhouse in Old Town to a small bungalow in the Rosemont neighborhood of Alexandria. We fell in love with the original heart of pine floors, the high ceilings and great light—but the basement was the extra bonus that drew us in.

The space, which runs the entire length and width of the house, was partially finished, complete with a bathroom for my husband (we don’t share), a laundry/storage/work room, and a large open area with plenty of room for a sofa bed, wall-mounted flat-screen television and our son’s scores of trains, Legos, puzzles, art supplies and musical instruments. And while the ceiling downstairs is not much over six feet, we’re not tall people, so it’s never been an issue.

Since purchasing the home, we’ve remodeled the bathroom, tiled the laundry room floor, and added custom built-ins to house the toys. And even though guests rarely complain (to our faces) about sleeping on the sofa bed, we’ve come to reason that the storage room in the front of the house would provide a more comfortable space for family and friends and potentially increase the value of the home.


The finished family room in our basement. The proposed bedroom is just to the left of the TV. (Anne Marie Borrego)

Currently, the 11’ by 12’ room features a concrete floor, cork walls, some exposed pipes, functional yet ugly electrical wires, a sump-pump, glue traps for bugs and—my personal favorite--a boarded up broken window. The challenge: To transform this unfinished area into a cozy space for guests that also meets the City of Alexandria’s strict occupancy requirements, without breaking the bank. This is, after all, a basement.


The basement window needs replacing. (Anne Marie Borrego)

While aesthetics are important, I’m always thinking first and foremost about resale and our return on investment.

We decided to hire a contractor who works frequently in our neighborhood. I had checked out some of the work he had done with my neighbors’ basements. We picked him in part because of their recommendations, but also because he has experience with Alexandria’s permitting and inspection process and he understands the challenges of the area’s water table (this is a basement after all).


Sump pump, exposed pipes, functional electric (Anne Marie Borrego)

For the fun part (the decoration), we’ll be working with a designer who has helped us with a few other projects and has always been great about repurposing existing pieces into new design schemes, while adding new items that are both attractive and on budget.  

Last I checked, our contractor had our work proposal submitted with the city, and I had some purging to do. Anyone need some golf clubs or two large boxes of comic books? Just don’t tell my husband.  

Related: My renovation saga: Kitchen makeover

Related: Renovating an old home? Know this first

Next: The permitting process, or why hasn't anything happened at my house yet?

Anne Marie Borrego is the media relations director for a non-profit organization and a resident of Alexandria.

Do you want to share your renovation saga? Email us at realestate@washpost.com.

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