Getting started on the basement renovation: making plans (pt 1)

We knew when we bought this house in 2010 that we would one day gut and renovate the basement to turn it into a rentable unit. Housing ain’t cheap around here, and even though we got a great deal on this house — no renovated homes near us in Petworth have sold recently for less than almost twice what we paid — we wanted the extra income to help eventually allow Rachel more work flexibility.

Pre-closing: Basement inspection
Rachel walking through the basement in Fall 2010 with Andy, our real estate agent, on our second visit to the house for the home inspection.

Getting started – planning

We started almost two years ago back when Rachel’s brother was living with us and working for the DC office of his architecture firm in winter 2011-2012. (Yikes, was it really that long ago that we started?) He helped us start by drafting the existing measurements, talking through a few possibilities, and putting it all into the computer.

Among the few “must-haves” we had for the space, top of the list was a shared laundry (there’s no room to put one upstairs) somewhere at the bottom of the stairs. After that, we hoped for as much storage as possible for us down in that laundry area and a bedroom with a door that could be closed (as opposed to a straight-up studio layout.) The laundry plan also introduced a lot of limitations, since we had to preserve room at the bottom of the stairs for a shared laundry room. It couldn’t be anywhere else in the space.

Aside from that, Rachel’s big wish was to have a basement apartment that was nice enough that we would have been happy renting it a few years ago when we were living in a basement apartment ourselves. Though we’ve always said our previous basement apt. in Mt. Pleasant was just about as nice as you’re going to find — 8-foot ceilings, separate bedroom with a big closet, bathroom with tub, large den, separate washer/dryer — we were hoping for something in the same range.

(The biggest difference overall was going to be ceiling height. Our basement is nowhere near 8 feet, hence the last-minute decision to dig it down and add some headroom.)

With essentially one big space to work with (see the post-demo picture below), the bricked-in space in the former garage, and the bathroom needing to stay where it was, the biggest choice was whether or not to use the garage as a kitchen, a bedroom, or a living room. Once that choice was made, the rest would be determined as a matter of course.

Wide west first dig

Jeremy’s first rough sketch for the space put the kitchen in the east corner of the biggest space — which meant the living space and kitchen were one space, with the bedroom in the old garage.

Basement Plans 1

We started with just a really narrow area with shared laundry room for a stacked washer and dryer and not really much else at all. In hindsight, this would have been a colossal disaster. No room to fold clothes, hang up clothes, store bins, etc.

Because he was a genius architect, he put the first draft in his drafting software and sent it to us so we could visualize how it would look.


It was a good first draft that he cranked out in just a couple of hours for us to improve on. Shortly after getting this rough version of the plans together for us, Rachel’s brother died. (First time here? Read these posts about Jeremy here.)

Almost a year later when we were ready to go with the money for remodeling, fortunately, our great friend and architect and builder Kurt stepped in for Jay. Kurt was always in our plans to take over somewhere along the way. He’s an architect with a background as a contractor and builder, so we had him finish the plans and also act as a co-contractor on the job; handling all the bids and helping me as a main point of contact with the subcontractors. (We bid 90% of the project out. More on that later.)

In January of this year, we picked it back up again with Kurt, and started refining the plans. The first draft was a good start but we knew that there might be more options for layout and we didn’t want to lock down this layout just yet. And we also knew that Kurt’s experience with building might offer some insight on things we hadn’t thought about yet.

The small laundry area was a problem, and the large space for the mechanical area (hot water heater, boiler and A/C) was something we needed to do a better job designing around. (Much more on that coming in a separate post.)

Rachel was certain that there was a better layout to be had, and it turned out that she was right. Coming tomorrow in part two, going through some possibilities and ending with a set of final plans in summer 2013.

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