How to Design a Basement With a Long Room & Low Ceiling

Written by j.e. myers
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How to Design a Basement With a Long Room & Low Ceiling
The design process for a low narrow basement requires a special approach. (living room - home interiors image by Gina Smith from

Basement remodelling projects can be a challenge, particularly when the dimensions of the room are very long--and probably narrow--and the ceiling is rather low. In this case, the design adage "let the form follow the function" can be reversed to provide a solution: Let the function of the room fit the form of the room. You can use this design principle and a few professional interior designer tricks and tools to design a basement room that is attractive and useful.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Grid paper
  • Ruler
  • 1/4-inch-scale furniture drawing template

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  1. 1

    Take measurements of the basement room and transfer the measurements to a scale drawing of a floor plan, a so-called "bird's eye view" of the room. Draw the dimensions of the room on grid paper, which is available at any office supply store, and set a scale ratio so that each individual grid square on the paper equals one square foot. This will give you a scale model rendering at a scale of 1/4-inch scale.

  2. 2

    Draw in permanent fixtures in the room such as doors and windows and permanent equipment such as furnaces, fireplaces or other appliances that can't or won't be moved. Make a number of photocopies of this blank floor plan so you can experiment with furniture arrangements.

  3. 3

    Compile a list of activities you and your friends and family like to do--strictly in a sitting position. Design this room to be a "sitting-only" room (function), and a narrow space with a low ceiling (form) will be suitable.

  4. 4

    Pick three major activities on your list that all use common furniture items. Let the function match the form without fail here. All three activities must use the same furnishings---a couch, a table or an ottoman. This "designer's challenge condition" will force you to be creative by default, limiting you in terms of furniture. Use a large round ottoman, for example, instead of a table and chairs for playing board games, or use many ottomans instead of individual chairs.

  5. 5

    Force the "form and function" limitation on vertical furnishings or "caseworks" such as entertainment centres and bookcases. All vertical caseworks must serve many purposes: television stand, storage or beverage bar. Add another limitation: you can have only one bookcase unit in the room. It can be of any size, but only one wall can have this vertical element.

  6. 6

    Use a 1/4-inch-scale furniture drawing template, which is available at office supply stores, to start testing various furniture arrangements along "function is form" lines. You can also use the furniture template to make model furnishings that can be physically moved around the paper floor plan: trace around the template onto construction paper and cut out the models.

  7. 7

    Copy this final "solution" to the furniture arrangement puzzle onto your original floor plan. Label the various furniture pieces on your plan with size dimensions and carry this plan with you when you shop for new furnishings. Remember to choose sofas, sectional pieces, chairs, and tables that are a little lower to the floor.

  8. 8

    Paint the room strategically now. Take a blank wall at a far end of the room--the one end wall that is not covered with any bookcases---and paint this wall white or off-white. Paint the other three walls a darker solid "warm" colour such as olive green, gold, brown or deep red. Or, reverse this order and paint one wall in colour and the rest of the walls white or off-white.

  9. 9

    Remove any overhead ceiling light fixtures. You don't want to draw any attention to the low ceiling. Use table lamps or floor spots activated by wall switches instead as these are just as functional and better for the form of the room.

  10. 10

    Enlarge the floor with an optical illusion by carpeting in a dark neutral colour such as charcoal or chocolate. If furniture in the room is limited--and it should be--be sure to use a thick carpet pad and a luxurious plush carpeting to encourage a function like floor-sitting.

  11. 11

    Hang artwork low on the walls, about at eye level for a seated person. Make every effort to hang only functional art: a clock, a map, a calendar, a 3-D picture with embedded LED lights to serve as a night light. Decorate a large horizontal mirror with a fancy frame and hang at sitting-eye-level or lean a tall mirror on the floor tipped against a wall.

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