A “Kinda-Tavern” Basement Gets Reimagined Into a Modern Retreat — Design Doctor

Welcome to Design Doctors, our new series in which two designers offer expert prescriptions to readers who need help with a room in their home. These are not full renovations being suggested, but rather approachable, generally affordable changes that can be made by laypeople. The doctors are in!

In this second installment, we have a basement that the owner describes as, “A half-timbered dingy cream stucco kinda tavern.” Check out the super-smart suggestions, as well as the gorgeous renderings of the designers’ visions for this kitchen.

“My husband Steven and I just bought a house in Edmonton, AB, Canada. A beautiful little 4-bedroom 1959 bungalow. The previous owner did all the heavy lifting in terms of reno—redid bathrooms and kitchen before putting the house on the market this past spring. But, aside from redoing (reclaimed gymnasium) hardwood floors in the basement, the rest of the lower level is… well…a tavern. A half-timbered dingy cream stucco kinda-tavern.

We don’t have a ton of money to return the walls back to drywall, and are a bit adventurous with our decor choices but we’re stuck as to what to do in this space. Play up the tavern theme or paint out the stucco and wood? Help!”

A panoramic shot of the basement space includes plenty of Tudor-meets-Hansel-and-Gretel styling and what looks like…an old puppet show display set?

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy Submissions )

While those wood floors are gorgeous, it’s not hard to see how a stucco tavern might not fit in with everyone’s decor. Fortunately, the design doctors are here to share their wisdom.

Design Doctor #1: Jeanine Hays & Bryan Mason of AphroChic

Jeanine Hays and Bryan Mason are the Principals of AphroChic, a Brooklyn-based interior design firm. The husband-and-wife team specializes in commercial design. They are currently on the road filming the second season of their HGTV program, HGTV’s Sneak Peek with AphroChic, touring cultural and diverse homes around the country for a dedicated online audience. The programs airs at noon every Saturday on the HGTV House Hunters Facebook page. AphroChic is also a one-stop design destination devoted to “Modern.Soulful.Style”: a shop full of unique offerings and a design blog that showcases food, fashion, house tours, and so much more.. Jeanine and Bryan’s home was featured on Apartment Therapy, as was their show home, and their book, Remix: Decorating with Culture, Objects, and Soul, was published in 2013. Jeanine and Bryan, work your design magic on this basement tavern!

To update this basement bar area, we were inspired by some of our favorite New York restaurants. Ones that effortlessly blend glamour, mid-century details, and artisan pieces. Those details became the inspiration for this room makeover. We included colors from our Brooklyn In Color Paint collection to enhance the interior.

1. I’d start with totally removing the stucco. This is a stunning space, but it feels really dated due to the stucco wall treatment. Texture can be removed via a DIY weekend or by a contractor.

2. Strip the paint from overhead beams. This can be another DIY project. The dark color is weighing the entire room down. Return the beams to a natural wood finish to highlight this architectural detail in the space.

3. Once walls have been refinished, it’s time for a fresh coat of paint. Boathouse in eggshell is a perfect color. It’s a warm white that will make this space feel more open and fresh. Use this on the walls and molding. The texture will still be there, but the paneling will blend in more, getting rid of the heaviness of the black lines it creates.

4. For contrast, paint the built-in shelving in our Wrought Iron shade. The deep black will stand out against the warm white walls, turning it into a feature in the living area of the space.

5. Invest in the bar area. It’s gorgeous and can be a real focal point of the space. The rounded bar can be finished with textured material to make it stand out. Adding a stone or marble top to it can take it from tavern to absolutely glam.

6. Another investment here would be lighting, because I believe a great bar/lounge deserves great lighting. We found a pendant from Rejuvenation that would be the perfect touch of glam over the bar area. A lighting plan also needs to be developed for the rest of the room. Right now, the inset overhead lighting is not flattering.

7. Get glass cut to inset in the back of the bar area (look for mercury glass mirror sheets if you can find them). Keep lighting in there to highlight a collection of beautiful glassware and bottles, but the mirror will bounce around light in the space and be another nice detail for your bar feature area. Modern black barstools finish off that area.

8. Next up is that fireplace. It’s something so nice to have in the basement area of your home to warm things up. Paint the brick the same color as the wall in the Boathouse white. Make the fireplace an entertainment feature. Adding a screen that comes down from above or mounting a TV (we know it’s a faux pas but it’s how people live!) so that folks can enjoy the basement as a family room.

9. And finally, furnishings and decor for the living area. We suggest bringing in rugs (one similar in style to this one and this one) to warm up the space, and furniture that’s cozy and inviting for family and guests. I love the Berber-Woven Edlyn Sectional from Anthropologie for its spirited fabric paired with a round brass table (like this one from West Elm) and warm leather arm chairs.

Let’s see what all that looks like, shall we?

Thanks, Jeanine!


Tracy is an interior designer based in Indiana. Her House Call was also featured on Apartment Therapy, but for lots more gorgeous photos of her impeccably designed home, check out her Instagram immediately. Tracy, what would you do if this was in your house?

Changing out the architecture of the space to a more neutral and bright palette, will allow your more adventurous decor choices to stand out.

1. While the tavern-look would be fun to host the occasional Oktoberfest party…that might not be the best use of this interesting basement! To really celebrate the beautiful reclaimed wood floors, I would suggest toning down and brightening up the walls/trim. You could achieve this by painting the stucco a flat or eggshell bright white (like Benjamin Moore’s White Diamond) and highlight the trim by painting it the same bright white/neutral, but in a gloss or semi-gloss paint finish.

2. To draw the eye upward and make the space feel more cohesive, clad the ceiling beams with wood to match the gorgeous floors. Or, for a more cost effective option, you could paint the ceiling beams a contrasting black (like Sherwin-Williams’ Tricorn Black) or possibly even a pop of color if you want to be adventurous.

3. Making some small changes to the slightly odd display case/puppet show openings in the wall could give you a nice impact for low cost/effort. By removing the outer, curved casing around the openings and adding a few floating shelves within, this could become a nice bookshelf or open shelf display/storage area.

4. Continue the bright feel of the space by painting the red brick fireplace to the same white gloss or semi-gloss paint as the walls and trim.

5. Soften things up by adding white cotton curtains/drapery to the small windows to help them look larger.

6. For furnishings near the fireplace, I would suggest a sectional sofa with clean lines and a light or white slip cover. Sectionals are great to curl up on and watch a movie or TV. The slipcover is nice for maintenance.

7. Add a square or round upholstered ottoman to the sofa set up. Round out the sitting area with some mid-century modern lounge chairs, like Eames plywood lounge chairs in a fun color.


9. Finish up the space with a graphic/colorful rug or two to help define seating/dining areas and add some additional pops of color and texture.

Should the homeowner follow Tracy’s suggestions, here’s an illustration of what those might look like:

Thanks, Tracy!

We think these designers did an amazing job reimagining this dated basement. Is there a plan you like best? What ideas would you suggest to the homeowner to transform her sorta-tavern?

See more Design Doctor: Two Designers Write a Prescription for a “Slightly Sad” Kitchen

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