Last fall, my family and I decided to have our basement renovated. But when the contractor took on another job and decided to forgo his final payment, taking off when the job was only 90% done. We were left with an unpresentable, unliveable basement–but not for long. With a small financial investment and a lot of TLC, we were able to get the basement looking even better than expected.

Before

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As you can see, the plug was moved so that it wouldn’t be hidden behind the counter, but the hole was improperly patched and quite obvious. The end of the counter was never finished, so you can still see the particle board. Finally, not only is the cover for the electrical outlet missing–but so is one of the screws!

After

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We finished the counter using an iron-on cover that matched imitation marble pattern, patched the wall with putty and painted it something much more lively to brighten up our dark basement, and finished the electrical socket. We found out that the screw needed was called a 6-32 (or as the man at the hardware store told us, “six thirty-seconds,”) and bought both the screw and the cover for a few cents. Here is the end result.

Before

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We were also left with a gaping square hole around our electrical box. We knew that we needed to do something to cover it, and I had the idea of either using cabinet doors, or even just curtains. The box was in our kitchen, so the curtain idea would give the illusion of a kitchen window. We decided to go with curtains.

First, however, I wanted to make the square a bit smaller. The electrical box was uncentered, with too much space around the box in the top and left-hand side.

After

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Before we began, I bought some cheap pine wood from the hardware store and created a square box frame that centered the electrical box perfectly. After using a combination of nails and carpenter’s glue to assemble the frame, I inserted the frame, applied some dry wall, and smoothed it using putty. Then, I picked up some molding and four decorative door ends, and used carpenter’s glue to create a window frame. I bought the curtain rod at Walmart for $4, found an extra curtain we had bought for our old place, and the look was complete.

Before

We were given wooden treads (with no risers) in a generic stain he had used for another client that did not match either the laminate on the top floor, nor the basement laminate. The cheap particle board steps that came with the house were painted over in white. When we pointed out that this was not what was outlined in the contract, the contractor responded that doing anything else was “impossible” and then feigned an inability to understand English, making any further communication a waste of breath.

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After

Not to fear! We re-sanded the steps as well as the railing by hand, exposing the unfinished wood. We stained it with a cherry colour that was neither dark nor light, so the contrast wouldn’t be so jarring. Then we painted the walls and the sides with something more our style.

new stairs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were many such other things that we fixed up. For example, wall vents were just stuck in place without any nails, and often fell to the floor. We fixed this by using Velcro. There was a spot against one of the counters where the wall buckled and bulged, and we tore it down and rebuilt the wall in that area. (Tearing it down was a fascinating experience, because it didn’t pop out; it crumbled. It turned out that the drywallers had run out of drywall or something, and had decided to just plaster the entire area–hence the bulge.) There was also a leaky sink that we fixed with some plumber’s glue. The cabinet under the sink had some water damage by the time we got to it, and was placed loosely under without being secured as the plumbing was in the way. I used shelfliner to hide the damage and protect the wood, and then used a saw to cut part of the cabinet. Then, with plumber’s glue, I glued the two pieces together to make a stand within the cabinet that stopped short of where the plumbing began. We also had to buy lighting fixtures, kick plates, and many other miscellaneous, albeit inexpensive things. But we paid less than the remainder of the deposit!

Overall I feel ambivalent about this. Finishing our basement was both stressful (with the contractor) and enjoyable (on our own). There were times I felt like pulling out my hair, but at the end of the day, I just feel grateful that I have a basement, or a house at all.

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