Before and After: A Zen-inspired Basement Remodel

Photos by Mhari Scott

“Basement remodel” is not the phrase that comes to mind with this zen- inspired master bedroom suite. In fact, what was once a mostly unfinished basement is now a quite luxurious spa-like retreat.

Desia Graybill of Atomic Design and contractor Sean Fields of SageFields Construction worked together to complete the trans- formation. The husband-and-wife clients travel frequently and wanted a haven that was as luxurious as some of the hotels they visit.

“This master suite design is a true reflection of the homeowners’ lifestyle and personalities,” says Atomic Design’s Graybill. “Through a collaborative effort, we were able to reinvent this once drab basement remodel into the suite of their dreams that strikes a perfect balance between high-end style and reclaimed design. We couldn’t be happier with the outcome.”

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Atomic Design specializes in the restoration of vintage and mid-century homes in the greater Portland area. All designs are a client-designer collaboration with an emphasis on sustainability, practicality and intelligent design that reflects the homeowner’s character and lifestyle.

“We offer full-circle design, from concept to construction  documents, to ensure that our clients are getting the remodel of their dreams at a budget they can afford,” Graybill explains.

In this case, the “before” space was like many partially finished basements in this Northeast Portland neighborhood: a less-than-charming space containing, among other things, a nondescript laundry, a workout zone with gym equipment, an old bathroom and storage.

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“It was a Home Depot special done in the 1980s with a dropped ceiling in the living space and stairs that were closed off,” Graybill says. “But it was a really great structure, and that became the inspiration for the whole remodel.”

Among the lovable features was the ceiling, made up of exposed 4-by-10 ceiling joists that are also the floor joists for the upstairs footprint, she says.

So Atomic Design set about to highlight structural elements that were appealing and conceal less desirable features. Among other things, the crew sanded the ceilings to give it a smooth surface, then applied lacquer to bring out the grain of the wood.

Workers then tucked the electrical and mechanical details up into the joists, concealing them in conduit metal pipes, which were then spray-painted a flat black.

The Chinese “five elements” of wood, fire, earth, metal and water became something of a guiding principle for the design of the new remodel, according to Graybill.

“The couple own a travel agency and travel a lot,” Graybill says. “They spend time in motels and hotels and wanted to create their own luxurious and soothing master suite at home.”

Both work out of the 2,000-square-foot home. Upstairs is a kitchen and two bedrooms that they use as offices—so the basement boudoir is now their retreat, complete with a master bedroom, a closet, a living area with a fireplace and a bathroom. Keying off the earth elements, Fields accented the brick around the fireplace by leaving it “exposed and rough,” and using reclaimed lumber to build a drop-down soffit with directional puck lights that shine on the mantel, which he built from 4-inch-thick live edge Doug fir that juts out about 12 inches from the wall at its widest spot.

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Using reclaimed lumber was important to the homeowners, who liked the environmental and aesthetic aspects of salvaged wood. “It’s all Doug fir,” Fields explains. “When we started the project, the entire basement had this wonderful post and beam construction in the ceiling. It’s not usual that you get this type of sub-floor construction to work with—and use as a soffit—so it was fun to clean it all up and give a light sand and a quarter-inch round over to all the beams to soften the edges. We then used the Doug fir throughout.”

Salvaged wood for the accent wall, mantel, shelving and tub faucet shelving came from Salvage Works. The staircase guardrail is made from fir that was torn out of the basement during demo.

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“I love the concept of using salvaged lumber and the look of the finished product. Not only are you using material for the sake of conservancy—but it has history and rich colors after it is lacquered—the deep tannins of rust from nails, exhaust from vehicles, and even bug and rot damage.”

Some of Fields’ favorite elements include the shelf for the tub’s faucet in the master bath and the barn-style sliding doors that divide the staircase area from the bedroom.

“We used a faucet that was compatible with the detail, which meant the faucet came straight out of the slab of wood,” he explains.

As for the barn-style doors: “The clients really liked the look of the sliding barn doors they had seen online. I thought it would be a nice complement to add the reclaimed wood doors along with the dark bronze hardware, so I built them both from scratch.”

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