Renovating and Remodeling My 101 Year Old Row House by Kevin – Starting the Basement


See Kevin’s introductory post here.


When I first saw the basement to my home was unfinished, my eyes lit up with thoughts of the possibilities of what to turn that space into. My 29-year-old self instantly went to “Man Cave” with a huge TV and sound system, pool table, poker table and a kegerator…or two. But as I’ve matured and developed the need for more space (and less beer), my plans have changed. There will still be a big TV, but 70” is more than big enough for the space. A pool table just will not fit, no matter how I try, but a utility fridge for beer and other things is not a bad idea (besides I’ve come to enjoy a variety of quality beers more than large quantities of shitty beer.) So now instead of a man cave, I am building what my girlfriend likes to call a “Gentlemen’s Parlor”.

Because the basement was completely unfinished, I did not have to worry about saving or recreating any original elements in the space. But I didn’t want to create a space that wouldn’t fit with the flow and personality of the rest of the home. So while I had a blank canvas to work with, I will incorporate design elements and materials from the existing house to try and give it an old home feel.

I began the basement work in December of 2011 by replacing all of the old windows with glass block and building out the full bathroom/laundry, which was completed it in early January.

Continues after the jump.

The first step was to replace all of the old drafty windows with glass block. For security, privacy, and energy efficiency the old windows, which were not original to the home, had to go. I used glass block because they were easy to install, and for me glass block has a classic basement feel. It also allows for a maximum amount of light while maintaining privacy so drapes or blinds aren’t needed. After the windows were done, we moved onto the bathroom.

The initial plan for the bathroom was to have a tiny shower, toilet and enclosed space for the washer/dryer using plumbing from the previous owner’s meager attempt to install a full bathroom. But we saw an opportunity to move the AC air handler unit about eight inches, and were able to open up the space to get a pretty nice sized shower.

Because of all the plumbing and duct work in the ceiling space, we had to be very creative with how everything was framed. You can see from the pictures all of the soffits and interesting angles. Each area was framed on the fly to maximize as much space as possible.

To try and bring in elements from the old home, I left the wall behind the washer/dryer exposed brick, and I used a larger baseboard and trim throughout the room which was stained dark to match the rest of the house.

The end result is a unique space that is both functional and appealing. And like the main bathroom, the space is clearly new, but still fits with the overall personality of the home. Click through to see the pictures during the work and after. Unfortunately my photos of the bathroom space before construction were lost in a SD card accident.

Construction of the rest of the Gentlemen’s Parlor begins this weekend with the goal of completing the work in four weekends. I am excited to share my weekly progress with you, as I look to create a new space in this very old original home. But I’m also curious about things you have done in your basements. I’m always looking for inspiration for neat ideas. Please share in the comments.

See more photos here.

27 Comment

  • ah

    Looking nice. I really like glass block for basement windows as well. You didn’t mention another benefit, which is security as compared to windows–harder to get in.

  • These posts are about as boring as the blog on PoP a few months back about some 30 year old deciding to try beer for the first time and planned on having 1 beer a day or something like that. Providing reviews to the beers as well. Bud Light I think was his first beer.

    These posts don’t really tell me anything of value like I can find on This Old House or the numerous DIY style blogs and videos on YouTube.

  • Quick – Rescue B’Dale Res! (S)He is being held hostage and forced to read every PoP post!

  • Yay for updates!

    I love the term Gentleman’s Parlor, I also forgot a pool table in my plans, I currently have no girlfriend or wife, so now’s the time for me to sneak all the cool stuff into my house! The big TV is a must. My Mom & Pop just got a giant 72inch Sharp TV for around $1,800. It’s marvelous. It inspired me to go big, but I’ll worry about that after I get the big work done.

    I just met with a HUD inspector today, the person I chose is courteous so far… But it was a big unexpected co$t for this inspection. I’m really happy with my mortgage rep and builder so far, yet there are a few unexpected costs in doing this type of loan… The HUD inspector charged around $1000, there will be follow up spot inspections (@ $150 a piece), and a standard appraisal costing around $350. On my re-fi I’m looking at an interest rate near to 4%. Any building plans and costs for the project must be specified at the start of the project, so that makes paperwork and planning extremely important in the process of a 203k loan. The hardest part for me is placing trust in people I don’t know…

    Again I reiterate, for those seeking a loan, DO NOT DO DEMOLITION until after your loan is closed, otherwise you’ll have to do a 203k loan (as your only option), which is intense, but still possible. Right now I’m in planning stages, I’ve been looking through real estate listings here to see kitchen designs that I like — I’m leaning towards natural finish hard wood floors, dark cherry wood cabinets, stainless steel appliances, and black granite counter tops… Loews quoted me $6k+ for cabinets alone, another 1,800 for the granite, I also went to a cabinet distributor in Laurel MD, and they quoted me 4k for the entire setup, but the quality of their cabinets seemed a little weak…

    Home Depot cabinets (getting a quote next week) should be slightly less, the price differences are quite confusing across different stores, but I want quality, so I’m leaning towards a Home Depot kitchen with granite from a Rockville, MD quarry… If anyone has suggestions for cabinets or flooring materials that last, I’d love to hear them!

    I’m also glad that I have a good floor plan specialist/DCRA contact. I’ll be happy to give out contacts for the people that work out for me (after my project is done of course). Cheers! 🙂

    • I’m not much of a fan of Ikea, but I really like my ikea cabinets in the kitchen. They sell high quality hardware, and the doors are real wood. The bodies are of course MDF, but overall I think they are much higher quality than the other stuff Ikea tens to sell. It can save you a bunch of money, especially if you install them yourself, which isn’t terribly difficult.

  • austindc

    Hi Kevin, I have a question about your basement shower and toilet. Did you have to break into the cement floor to put in their drains? If so, was that easy enough to do? Clearly a gentleman’s parlor is taking shape in my head too.

    • austindc: I thankfully didn’t for this project, the previous owner had a poor attempt at putting in a bathroom and we were able to utilize their rough in plumbing. But I have done that on other jobs I’ve worked on, and it’s not easy but it’s also not daunting. In the DC basements I’ve worked on the slab is generally about 4 inches think, which isn’t too bad (I did one in VA that was 8 inches, that was a full day) Once you dig out the trough area for where the pipes will go, you just need to be able to go deep enough to get the proper slope over the distance to the main drain line. Ideally you’ll want to be as close to the main drain line as possible to minimize how much of the slab you will need to dig.

      Does that help?

    • austindc, just know that i’m reading this. a gentleman’s parlor! well, i never!

      🙂 i fully support a second bathroom. let’s do it!

  • hispanicandproud

    B’Dale Res seems like a sad, sad person.

  • What is the Y joint on your Dryer exhaust? Its not a good idea to join any exhaust vents the air can recirculate instead of going to the outside…just an FYI

    • That is for the ceiling exhaust fan, which runs through that soffit and ties in at the last spot. It was the only place we could vent the ceiling exhaust.

      • I hope not to cause any angst – but that is a bad bad plan. If you put a valve in, dryer lint will hang up on it, hurt effeciency, and potentially start a fire – unless you clean it out very regularly anyway. And without a valve both units are going to back up into each other.

        • RE: the exhaust, there is a new product called metalflex that you can pick up at Home Depot which won’t allow for dryer lent to build up. With the old stuff, lent would build up and would need to be cleaned out periodically. Metalflex prevents that buildup and potential fire hazard. An HVAC guy did some work in my house and told me about it. Don’t know if used this, but it would be easy enough to switch out.

          • Thanks PlebofPetworth, I will definitely check that out. And also thank you to Chris R and Anonymous. Because it is mostly a guest/spare bathroom and the ceiling fan won’t be used much, I hadn’t thought too much about mixing the lines. But I will be looking to alternatives.

  • I just got caught up on your last post and the Flickr pics and I’m in love with your house! I especially love Ms. Fig’s kitchewares and her TV. It’s like walking into a lovingly kept time machine. I bought a house that is 75 years old from the original owners and I can understand the charms and challenges that come with that :).

    • There were some amazing pieces in the house, some I was able to purchase but others not. The TV I missed out on. But I did get the china cabinet in the dining room that was from the original owners and it is beautiful.

      I still use her red tea kettle almost daily.

  • Thanks for this post. I’m doing something similar.

    my problem is the basement floor (original 1925 pour) is very uneven– it’s mostly level in the front of the house, but there’s a big swell towards the back and then it runs down to the back door. Is your floor similarly problematic? How do you plan on finishing the floor?

    • Yeah I have some pretty uneven areas too. I will be talking about floors more in a future post, but in one part of the basement I will be doing carpet, and in another hardwood. In the hardwood are I will be using thinset for floor tile to try and level out the bad spots. Check back in a couple of weeks for more.

    • We had the same issue in our basement. We ended up carpeting the front half of the space (the rec area) and putting down ceramic tile in the rear (which is more or less a “work” area). We used a liberal amount of self-leveling compound to even out the most dramatic peaks and valleys, and while it still slopes downward as you move towards the rear of the room, the gradation is now much less severe.

      gauthikc: Why are you electing to put hardwood on an at-grade, concrete surface? Surely you know that that is a recipe for problems with moisture. Even if you use a good vapor barrier/underlayment, you run a substantial risk of ending up with warped floorboards down the road. If you haven’t already purchased the materials you might consider going with engineered wood flooring, cork or even tile.

      • I’ve found some great old hardwood at Community Forklift and I was hoping to use something like that to tie into the old aspects of the house. But I’ve also considered going with engineered wood, and your point about the moisture makes going that route even stronger. Thank you Matt.

  • Allison

    This is so much better than HGTV! yaaaaaaaaaaaay

Comments are closed.