Transcript: Friday, February 23, 2007 at noon ET

Designer Solutions

Lisa Adams
Principal Designer, Adams Design Inc.
Friday, February 23, 2007; 12:00 PM

Basements can be a great place to hang out and enjoy company. In this edition of Designer Solutions, a local expert offers design tips to turn a boring bottom floor into a bright and inviting space.

Maryland residents Darelynn Fung and Bret Goldstein want to turn their dark basement into a fun space to entertain guests and relax. Unsure where to start, the couple has called on Designer Solutions for help.

Lisa Adams, principal designer for Washington, D.C.-based design firm Adams Design Inc., helps redesign this room.

The transcript follows below.


Welcome to the February edition of Designer Solutions. readers Darelynn Fung and Bret Goldstein needed help redesigning their outdated basement area. In need of a room that's both modern and multifunctional, they came to us for help.

Today, we are joined by Lisa Adams, who stepped up to their design challenge.

Lisa, could you explain your design concept?

Lisa Adams: Darelynn and Brett were looking for a design that allowed them to use their basement for a variety of activities. It had to be a very flexible space as well as a fun place to be. Basements, especially those with a low ceiling, can be dreary places. I tried to build the space around the one piece of furniture they liked -- their sofa -- and to make it a bright and well designed space.

The basement was a long space punctuated by a pair of posts. We used these to add bookshelves between them, thereby providing much needed storage. These also divide the space into two segments, reducing its length and creating a sitting and media space near the stairs. The other part of the basement holds a stage and a desk that were designed in organic shapes to further offset the rectilinearity of the space.

Bright colors and high contrasts serve to distract you from the overall shape of the space and from the low ceilings.


Washington, D.C.: What type of paint/lighting/decorative approaches would you recommend for a long basement room (reasonably wide) without any windows? I want to avoid that claustrophobic feeling that basements sometimes give.

Lisa Adams: There are a number of things one can do to make a long rectangular room seem less like a bowling alley and there are other things one can do to reduce the effect of a low ceiling.

To reduce the length of a room, one option is to paint the shorter wall(s) as an accent wall. A dark color and a "hot" color will seem to bring the wall toward you. In general, an accent color on the shorter wall will make the wall more of a focal point, thereby distracting you from the sense of the length of the room.

You can also segment the room. By dividing the room into smaller areas, you can distract from the percption of a long narrow room. If you have posts or other architectural elements to work with, use these are a way to divide the room into its parts. One long room can produce two equal squares.

Try to make your spaces regular and balanced, as this will help you feel more comfortable in a space. The area will then seem more natual and less distorted.

How can you make the ceiling seem higher?

One way is to exagerate elements that are vertical. Draperies, for example, provide "columns" of height. In your case, you have no windows, so you might try to add tall standing lamps and other vertical elements, as bookshelves.

I would not recommend that you install ceiling mounted fixtures, especially the recessed ones. These will not be very effetve in terms of generating light and they will exagerate the lowness of the ceiling. Try wall sconces and floor lamps instead.


Rockville, Md.: Thanks for the ideas! I just bought a two-bedroom condo and plan to use the second bedroom as a den/office/guest room. Do you have any ideas for a guest bed/sofa that is comfortable as both? In my experience, futons and sofa beds are either uncomfortable to sit on or uncomfortable to sleep on, sometimes both and I'd love any ideas about alternatives.

Lisa Adams: First of all, I love the blow up bneds and think they are very comfortable, so I would get one and not worry about a guest bed. However, if you feel you absolutely need one, try looking for wide upholstered benches with a bolseter in the back. DWR has one. With pillows or bolsters you have a sofa and without them, you have a wide enough surface for a bed. Comfotable, too.


Arlington, Va.: I'm renovating my bathroom which, not-so-conviently, has a full-size window in the tub/shower. It faces East so it gets fantastic light in the morning. Any thoughts on an improvement on blinds in the shower (short of giving the neighbors a show every morning)?

Lisa Adams: The most important thing is to make sure that the window is sealed from the moisture of the shower. This can be done by installing a small shower door over the window. This door could be in etched glass for privacy. Or, you could re-make the window in glass block. Both oif these give you privacy and light.

If your window is sealed already, try putting a stained glass window in front of your window. Or thick plants. Or, you can buy an application that makes the glass of your window seem etched. Try a Crafts store for this. It just peels off the backing paper and onto the window.


D.C. area: Hi, Lisa. Any ideas on designing a small (about 500 sq.ft.) live/work studio space for a visual artist/painter? I'd like to create a flexible space with a living area and working area, but also easily host regular open studios. Any ideas, thoughts, tips would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much in advance!

Lisa Adams: You want to make the room as clean and simple as possible so that when you have an open studio all people see is your artwork. Try creating a bed that is a mattress on a flat surface, as plywood. You could up end it during a show and use the plywood side as artwork display surfaces.


Arlington, Va.: In the room that was redesigned. It looks like walls were taken down. I'm debating taking down the wall between the foyer and the living room to make the living room feel bigger and less boxed in. I can see advantages to both leaving it up or taking it down. Have an opinion?

Lisa Adams: If your room is streamlined, perhaps you should "go with it" and make the whole room open. It depends on the layout of your space, of course. However, I suspect that if you're asking the question, you have an idea that it would look pretty good as an open space.

Have you considered the structural aspect here? Is this a load bearing wall? If so, you can't move it anyway without other means of its support.


Ledroit Park, D.C.: Lisa, you are so talented! Thanks for doing this chat.

I am in the midst of remodeling our kitchen, and am stumped when it comes to backsplash tile choices. We have brazilian cherry floors, cabinets made of a light mahogany (sapele, actually), concrete countertops in a color similar to Benjamin Moore's historical colors avon green, and our appliances are all stainless steel. Cabinet and drawer pulls are all minimalist stainless steel as well. Going for a streamlined, contemporary design that is still very warm w/ natural, earthy colors and textures. Thinking of a light gold (BM dorset gold?) for wall color, but stumped for the backsplash. Any ideas? Not set on tiles or paint. Kitchen does get lots of light. Thanks!

Lisa Adams: Why not match the backsplash to the walls? Or look for glass tiles (which give a depth of color)in a light gold or even a green that is a variant of your concrete? I think you want to integrate the counter and the cabinetry. If you want a minimalist look, keep it very streamlined. Glass would do this.


Northern Virginia: Hi, Lisa. Do you know where I can find a daybed frame for a twin extra-long mattress? Thanks.

Lisa Adams: No, I don't off hand. Sorry! Have you tried the various mattress places?


Lincoln Park, D.C.: All things being equal, what do you think most people prefer -- closets or a hallway? Decision time: leave the back-to-back closet or return it to being a hallway as designed in the original floor-plan? (this is the only closet on the mail floor) HELP!

Lisa Adams: I don't know. It depends on your layout. Can you move around the first floor without the hallway? People like closets on the first floor and won't be happy about buying a house without a first floor closet. But, if you're staying in the house for a while, suit yourself.

In general, I'd say people prefer closets unless there is a string architectural or functional issue to regain the hallway.


Washington, D.C.: Hi, Lisa. Thanks for taking my question!

I recently received a number of vintage hats (1920s - 1960s) from my great-grandmother's collection. I'm looking for an innovative way to display them.

I'm thinking shadowboxes with a luxe fabric backing? But they're all different shapes and sizes. Several vintage stores have wire hat stands, but I'm worried about keeping up the integrity of the fabric.

Suggestions for a medium/visual display?

Lisa Adams: Most fabric has to breathe. For example, one should not hang quilts inside a shadow box for that reason. So, I think you should display the hats on your wall, exposed to the air. You may have to have individual hat forms made to put the hats on, or you might sew a small piece of wire into each hat so that you have a loop to hang the hat on the wall. In this case, the hats would hang flat against the wall.

In ordre to group the hats, lay them out on the floor first and arrange them there before transferring the hats to the wall.

You might piant the wall an accent color so that the ats stand out.


Flooring question: Hi Lisa, thanks for taking questions!

I am preparing to get new flooring -- most likely bamboo -- in my kitchen and an adjacent half bath and landing. The kitchen is painted tomato red and the cabinets are wood, sort of a medium carmely brown color. Countertops are off-white laminate. The half bathroom is surfer blue, very bright. Next to the kitchen is the dining room, which has medium brown parquet wood floors.

I have always envisioned getting the very light colored bamboo flooring, which shows all the grains beautifully and is almost yellow in tone. BUT, I am not sure how that would blend with the decor... the flooring guy suggested I get a darker bamboo floor, one the more closely resembles the cabinet color. Is that necessary?

Lisa Adams: You'll have to bring samples of the bamboo in and look at all the various finishes together. Look at it like an abstract painting. If you like the blend, it works. If you think it's all too much, don't do it.

The rule of thumb with a kitchen is that you should not have too much going on visually, as there are many visual elements in any kitchen at all times -- appliances, pots and pans, spoon holders, refrigerator art... You know the drill. So, keep it simple and let the colors blend.


Falls Church, Va.: I live in a late-50s contemporary. My basement family room is also dark. I have a high ceiling and three windows, but it is panelled in tongue-and-grooved mahogany (the real stuff!). One neighbor painted his white, which improves the light, but I can't imagine painting such a treasure. One thing I've thought of is a light wash of some kind as a compromise, but I'm somewhat hesitant to do this. Any suggestions?

Lisa Adams: Polish it and take care of it. Make the room dark. Some rooms are meant to be dark -- media rooms, libraries. Work with the tones of the wood and make yourself a great place to read. Dark greens are wonderful with woods with red undertones. You are lucky that you have high ceilings and three windows!


Washington, D.C.: Not sure if this is up your alley, but recently purchased a 1979 Herman Miller desk chair from eBay. (Dark blue upholstery, chrome base and arms.) Two problems: (1) We can't raise the height of the seat -- the lever on the back doesn't do anything; and (2) smells very faintly of smoke. How can we get the smell out without damaging the fabric? Thanks!

Lisa Adams: Ask a cleaning service to come clean the chair. That might help. I use Christpher's at: As for the mechanism, go to the Herman Miller website and find a dealer who services them. Have someone come look at it. It may be that you need a part that is still available.


River City, Va.: 5' high wainscoting/cheap paneling in 1912 bathroom. Stain or paint? Color?

Lisa Adams: Paint it white. Put a chair rail over it and make sure the chair rail is wide enough on top to become a small shelf. Then, paint the bathroom walls a bright color, which will stand out against the white wainscotting. Put sea shells and small "finds" on your new "shelf".


Sterling, Va.: Last month we moved up from a townhouse into a new detached house. With three yound kids, we plan to stay there for the long hall(?). The builder finished 3/4 of the basement for us with basic staff. We want to turn the other 1/4 into either an entertainment center or seperate room, but we don't know what brings more value to the house -- a bonus bedroom or an entertainment center. We do turn into a play area for our kids (3, 7, and 9 year-olds)?

Thank you.

Lisa Adams: I don't know. Ask your real estate agent. But any way you do it, you should make it multifunctional. A media room can also be a family room, an entertainment center and a place for kids. Just have lots of storage for the kid things when the room is to be a place for adults.


Chicago, Ill.: My wife and I recently bought a townhome with a wide open first floor that contains our kitchen, dining area, and living room. We were trying to think of a good color for the walls and had settled on a shade of beige. However, that color seems to be somewhat overused lately and we were hoping to find a slightly more interesting color. Any suggestions for a multi-purpose color for such a large space? Thanks.

Lisa Adams: I recomment that you go to a museum and check out the wall colors they use to display the art. Often, museums have sophisticated colors that are great background colors. You could adapt one of these colors for your hallway. I particularly like warm greys as they are beige-like but more subtle, with more mystery about them.


Manassas, Va.: We are also finishing our basement. We are having a small kitchen/bar area, I would love to get a blue and white checkerboard floor, but I haven't been able to find the pattern even though I have seen it in magazines. Any suggestions? I also thought about purchasing the retro look blue refrigerator and oven, too much? Our pool table has blue felt. If we do get to do the checkerboard floor in the kitchen bar area, any suggestions on the rest of the basement floor material/color? Thank you.

Lisa Adams: You can get your checkerboard floor in many ways. You can install wood and paint it. You can find white and blue tiles (vinyl or ceramic) and install them. You could use another kind of flooring and have a local artist paint you an oilcloth.

The rest of the basement could be in anything -- ceramic, vinyl, wood, cork, concrete, carpet. It would be wonderful to have some blue in the surface you use throughout. If carpet, blue flecks in grey? If vinyl, look at Forbo's Marmoleum product for great colors.


Alexandria, Va.: RE: Dark wood paneling. My husband loves it, but I think it looks dated. Would it be wrong to paint it something brighter -- like white? What other things can we do to make it more look more contemporary?

Lisa Adams: I agree with you. I think it does look dated. Certainly it makes the room dark. I don't recommend painting it without getting the grooves out, so to speak. You can get rid of the grooves by covering the paneling with a thick wallpaper that is made to cover it and painting the wallcovering. Or, you can remove the paneling and replace it with drywall.

Perhaps your husband could be pursuaded to leave one wall of paneling and to paint the others.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi - I have a new construction townhouse in Old Town. The outside is rather traditional, and inside my tastes lean toward the contemporary. One architectural detail the builder gave me no choice on was the stair railings. They are curvy and carved wood -- I don't mind the wood, but I'd like clean lines along the lines of some simple crown molding that currently exists throughout. I'd like to stay away from glass/chrome because that might be too edgy for resale value in that neighborhood. I will likely bring in a carpenter and change this in the coming year. Do you have any suggestions on how to modernize that detail without going to extreme?


Lisa Adams: Try installing a more simple rail system. Go to a build supply store like Smoots in Alexandria and look at the stair rails they have on display. I do think that glass and chrome, or perhaps cables and more modern iron work would be great, though. Or, try painting the ornate woodwork in a bright color to make them more pop-arty.


Sandy Spring, Md.: I have an large unfinished "lower-level" and we are ready to finish it. I am wondering how to find a design/architect to help with the construction plans? We are going to do the work ourselvs and could easily just slap up some drywall and call it day but there may be some creative cool things we could do. This a large space and I want it done right! Does such a person exist?


Lisa Adams: Try the AIA or ASID websites for referrals. We as designers are in the business of generating a communicating creatiove ways to deal with space. You could hire someone to help you wiht the spacial concepts and still do the work yourselves.


Woodbridge, Va.: Happy Friday! Any suggestions on how to cover really cheap paneling without using drywall and still remove the groove lines?


Lisa Adams: Yes. There is a wallpaper that is sold to do this very thing. It is constructed to be thick enough to go over the top of the panelling. Ask at your local building supply store.


Lincoln Park, D.C.: I have a TINY (approx. 8'x8') unusual and asymetrical shaped kitchen which gets decent light. What would be the key design elements to makeing the room seem bigger than it is (e.g., light colors, glass front or open cabinets, flooring)? I'm open to all suggestions and styles.

Lisa Adams: In general, light colors and clean lines will make the kitchen seem bigger. That means, more than anyting else, no clutter. So, plan well and keep the colors light and consistent.

It would be good to have the floor (and even the wall color) surface merge into the next room so that there is less division between spaces.

Put in lots of light. Accnt lights that are theatrical will draw your eye to it rather than to the size of the space itself.


Ashburn, Va.: I have a very airy, rooming living room and would love to place the seating in the middle of the room. What do you do for table lighting? It's not real pretty to run cords across the floor. I have beautiful large windows that I like to walk up to as well. I want "middle of the room" seating without cluttering access to the windows. Any suggestions?

Lisa Adams: Have yo not considered installing ceiling lighting -- recessed or pendant? Recessed lighting is likely the best solution for you, but you'd have to hire a skilled electrician. If you are opposed to recessed lighting, consider mounting a ceiling light over the seating area and running the cord over the ceiling to the nearest outlet. You could cover the cord in a decorative way or encase it. Or, perhaps you could buy a standing lamp that has a huge arc that could stand in the corner and extend to the middle of the room to illuminate your seating group.

Many houses add floor outlets in the middle of the room by coming up from the basement below.


Kensington, Md.: Hi Lisa. Glad to see a chat on basements as mine is in sore need of an update.

The basics: 50 year-old knotty pine 44 inches high on the wall with painted cinderblock above. Low ceilings, dark linoleum and duct work that protrudes from the ceiling. All this and I am 6'3" tall! I need to duck as I move around the room.

Kind of makes the room almost unusable.

The pine is in great shape and I could work with it but I just don't know what color direction to go. I love color and am not afraid of dark colors on the wall. Should I try and match the pine so it blends or add a contrasting color so it stands out?

Or should I just rip it out, sell it on Craigslist and start over?

Thanks in advance for the advice.

Lisa Adams: You want to try to make the basement as uniform as possible. The less the walls are broken up the higher the ceiling (and ductwork) will seem. So, I woud rip out the paneling and drywall over the cinderblock. Can you raise any of the ductwork so that that space works better for you?


Alexandria, Va.: I am looking for an inexpensive headboard for my bed, though I'm not ready for my "grown-up" furniture yet. I just want something that will look nice for now and pull the bed off the floor. Can you recommend any place to look other than IKEA or Target?

Lisa Adams: Why don't you go to your local fabric place and have a headboard made? You can choose the fabric and they will have many shapes for you to chose from.

Or, forego the headboard and hang a quilt or fabric hanging behind the bed.

Or, buy an oriental screen or a metal or wooden screen or gate and mount it over the bed.

Or, create a heabdboard out of beadboard and paint it in a contrasting color to the wall.

Or, paint a headboard on the wall.


Greenbelt, Md.: I've just bought a house with a large front room that has walls of large windows on three sides. Lots of light and lots of space. Do I break the space into separate areas? How do I make the room inviting? Thanks.

Lisa Adams: You must have a grouping of furniture to allow for a conversation. If you are much more than eight feet apart, you can't have a conversation. So, that tells you how big your (main) seating area will be.

If you have a focal point in the room, you may wish to group the furniture around it. For example, if you have a fireplace, you should group around that. Or, a TV. I know that some designers like to ignore fireplaces in their groupings, but I thnk its like having an elephant in the middle of your living room -- you can't ignore it.

Then, if you have more space, add a table for eating or playing cards. Or, a piano. Or, another, smaller seating group.

So, the answer your question, you will have to break up the space somewhat in order to create conversational groupings. A comfortable conversational group will create an inviting space.


RE: Visual artist/painter: I'd definitely go with a loft for the bed (just like in the college dorms) so your personal sleeping space is seperate from the public viewing space.

Lisa Adams: Be careful about a loft bed. Unless you have very high ceilings, the loft will be a huge focal point of the room and will detract from the display of your artwork.


Atlanta, Ga.: I need help on whether to go light or dark in redoing kitchen cabinets. I have a 1,200 sq ft bungalow. We opened up the space by knocking out wall between living room and dining room so you see the kitchen upon entering. Walls are a light taupe with cream trim, hardwoods are espresso. Kitchen is U-shaped, approx. 12'x5'. I'm thinking dark may visually extend out the space but am worried about it possibly confining it. Thanks!

Lisa Adams: I think I would go light. Dark will make the cabinetry stand out and bring it forward. You have done the right thing by going from dark (on the floors) to light (above). I would keep it that way.


Baltimore, Md.: The go-kart rolling coffee table is just what I need to convert our basement viewing area into an exercise area, great idea. I couldn't find any product information for that item, could you please provide?

Lisa Adams: The go-cart coffee table is from CB2 and costs $129. We added new wheels form a website Ikea also has coffee table on wheels.


Chevy Chase, Md.: Our house was built in 1989 and of course had polished brass everywhere. Over the years we've managed to replace all of the light fixtures (both interior and exterior) and have updated the bathrooms as well. However, we still have polished brass door knobs and hardware throughout the house. Should those be changed as well? And if so, to what style?

Lisa Adams: Yes, you should work on changing the hardware if you want the consistent look. Lever handles are better for the young and the old and the arthritic, so you might consider chaning from the knobs. Brushed not shiny.

I would save the old hardware in case you sell your house to someone who wants to restore them.


Lisa Adams: Thank you for the chat and your challenging questions. Have a good weekend!


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