Home Made

Thinking about a remodel? Tired of your circa-1985 kitchen? Want to jazz up your walls or have the house all your friends are talking about? We’ve consulted the experts, tracked down the craftspeople, crunched the numbers, and shared our own DIY stories. Ready, set, renovate.

April 2012

Dungeon Diaries

When a DIY basement facelift is worth the grunt work and the hassle.

I’m not going to lie—in two years of living in our house, I had never really cleaned the basement. Long-dead bugs curled up in the corners and a film of dust coated the windowsills. I’d never seen the point of tidying up what, in my mind, was an uninhabitable dungeon. Instead, we wanted to hire someone to refinish it. That is, until we got a bid for the work—a cool $75,000—and decided the oddly shaped rooms and slipshod drywalls, circa 1985, were more charming than we’d initially thought.

But that left us with a question: How do we make the 600-square-foot space pleasant enough that we’d use it without having to take out a loan? The answer, we decided, was a superficial facelift; one that we would bravely—er, stupidly—undertake ourselves.

Our to-do list was daunting. The decades-old matted and stained carpet had to go. The bizarrely pockmarked and water-damaged drywall needed to be repaired, spackled, and re-sanded. The mud-brown paint covering every surface was also on the eighty-six-it list. A set of poorly installed shelves had to be repaired. The bathroom needed a new sink and mirror. And ahh, that cavelike ambience...a product of inadequate lighting.

We ordered carpet—and had it installed (there were some things we just couldn’t do ourselves). We went to Home Depot. A lot. We fussed at each other. A lot. And we cursed (yes, a lot) whoever had previously owned our home and half-assed easy projects (paper towels should not be used to patch holes in your drywall!). We worked long weekend days and weekday evenings for two months. We got dust in our lungs, plumber’s caulk in our hair, and paint-roller muscle fatigue. It was exhausting. But when we were done, we had a bright(er), more functional space where we now watch TV, play with the dog, catch a nap on the new sofa, and feel comfortable hosting other human beings. Oh, and the bathroom is so much less disgusting now that you could almost call it inviting. Our DIY basement upgrade is not professionally executed by anyone’s standards, but it made our dungeon into a living space that we use—and that I now happily keep clean. —Lindsey B. Koehler

Basement Budget Breakdown Carpet = $1,600

Paint and primer = $300

Misc. materials (brushes, spackle, plumber’s caulk, sandpaper) = $250

Bathroom sink = $169

Bathroom mirror = $119

Furniture = $1,500

TOTAL = $3,938