He looks like city-people. His basement remodel proves he’s farm-people.


Poor basements. They almost always get the shaft when it comes to homeowner interest level in the design department. In most cases, by the time we start talking lower level, we have to practically crank the Rocky training music to get selection-weary homeowners to dig deep and rally for onnnnne more round of paint chips and carpet swatches.

This house. Was not like that. The husband-half of this homeowner duo couldn’t WAIT to talk basement. You may remember from the last post that he was way in deep on details (to put it delicately). But that was nothing compared to his off-the-charts, rooster-crow enthusiasm for the basement makeover he’d been mulling over for a few years that was FINALLY HAPPENING.

The moment we hit that topic, he was all idea-idea-idea. What he had in mind was a heartfelt homage to his family farm, which dates back a whole lotta years. (Like alotta-lotta.) And even though it’s a bit of a drive from Glen Ellyn, he’s still actively involved in running everything from planting to harvest. On top of his CFO day job. So while he might be trying to pass himself off as a suburban corporate guy, the mud-caked boots and Carhartt layers in the garage reveal where his true heart lies.

The tricky thing about going with a theme, is that it can get hokey fast. We wanted farm-y. But not the overplayed HGTV farmhouse-chic thing. And deffffffinitely not thumbs-looped-through-overall-straps farm-y. More of a sentimental, tip-o-the-John-Deere-cap to the family homestead, with a palette that connected it to the rest of the house we’d just renovated in a not-at-all-farmy way. (See last post for deets.)

The basement had previously been finished, so we kept the things they were still digging, like the stained (heated!) concrete floors, and the sink and faucet – but redesigned the layout and re-worked the bar space to make it feel more welcoming. They entertain often and wanted this to be a fun hang-zone.

The homeowner had boxes (annnnd boxes) of meaningful objects and fascinating farm-related ephemera he’d collected over the years – from heavy metal pieces (not the electric-guitar kind, more the tractor-part kind), to a disturbingly sharp-toothed corn grinder we perched high in a window sill, out of the way of curious kid-hands to keep things from ending badly. As we rejiggered the living space, we looked for interesting ways to bring the vintage metal signs and farm implements into the mix, but kept the antique industrial clock right where it was.

Behind the bar, we tore out the upper cabinets they didn’t need and hung a large custom mirror with a sandblasted etching of the farm logo [cue camera slow-pan, with soulful banjo track]. Then we flanked the mirror with open shelves for displaying beer steins, vintage toy tractors and bottles of booze – and added dark blue, barn-inspired sconces above.

We changed the peninsula from a tiered-top to all counter-level, opening up the space a bit – and hung two glass pendants above it. The lower cabinets stayed put, but we painted them dark gray – and swapped the dark granite counters for a brighter white/gray quartz. We finished it off with a table and rustic-style chandelier from upstairs (since we were replacing those anyway).

In the main area, we wanted to continue the historic farm story without going too “ye olde.” So we warmed up one wall with wallpaper that looks like about five winters’ worth of firewood stacked high and wide. We clad another wall with Stikwood, a veneer made of thin, flat slats of reclaimed wood, combining two colors to pick up shades from the floor and wallpaper. Then we brought the huge ottoman down from the upstairs family room, and added a cozy rug, shagreen drink tables and animal hide stools to bring in some texture.

A large, dark gray built-in houses a massive 6-foot TV, and provides storage behind metal mesh door insets. In the lighted cubbies above, we perched the homeowner’s football and helmet from his high school glory days (ah, the memories), and used a steer skull and antique toy tractors as bookends.

The bathroom got an overhaul as well, from new tile floor to towering 6-foot(!) mirror and industrial farm light. The wallpaper has a weathered look, like peeling paint on vertical shiplap, and we installed a gunmetal-gray vanity with a classic marble top. [Pause here for commentary.] Truth be told, the bathroom wasn’t all that bad. It was fine. But fine’s not really what we’re going for. And by the time we’d finished remodeling the whole house, we unanimously agreed it was having an identity crisis, as it was the only space untouched. It’s always kind of a group-hug/wipe-tear moment when our clients see what we see and are fully on board with taking the space to 100%. Particularly when it’s already 93% there.

Our deadline for completion was driven by a very special (and highly motivating) occasion – the homeowner’s mother-in-law’s 70th! So while we didn’t work full-on around-the-clock Fall harvest hours, we did go at it with a sense of urgency to make sure everything was in place for the big bash, with a flurry of final pieces coming together at the end. The birthday girl was thrilled to be the first guest of honor toasted in the new space, and she complimented her son-in-law on his exquisite design direction. (We concur.)

Until next time… thanks for reading!

Photos by Picture Perfect House

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