In the heart of eastern Atlanta, a growing family found themselves in need of more space. Their home, a charming 1930s bungalow in the Lake Claire area, had already recently undergone one extensive renovation: an attic build-out, nearly doubling the original 1,100-square-foot dimensions of the home.
However, the clients realized that as their family continued to grow, they needed even more space. The solution? Excavating their 5-foot crawl space and converting it into a 9-foot-tall basement and entertainment area.
Copper Sky Design + Remodel, a design-build company that focuses on renovation and restoration of historic homes, was the first and only choice for the clients. Having already worked with Copper Sky on their attic-build out, the clients had a strong relationship with the project manager and designer, which facilitated open communication and, in turn, a smooth remodeling experience from start to finish.
Dallas Hoade, production director for Copper Sky and project manager for this build, explains the choice to expand the footprint of the home down in a region of the country that traditionally doesn’t utilize basements.
“The [Lake Claire] area has lots that tend to be pretty deep but narrow. This lot was not particularly deep, so as the family grew, they went up. Then they realized they could use a little bit more space, and we were faced with the question: When you don’t have the option to go out or back or up, what do you do?”
The client had a clear vision of what she wanted for the basement remodel. She drew inspiration from 1930s and 1940s movie theaters, leaning into moody colors and high ceilings, with an acute attention paid to little details such as the trim and fittings.
The result is a stunning transformation that adds about 1,000 square feet of living space to their home, including a den, bar, gym, guest bedroom and a bathroom. The basement also features a unique design aesthetic that combines elements of art deco, speakeasy and vintage theaters with bold colors, patterns and lighting.
Down to Bare Bones
The original basement barely had enough room to walk around let alone upright. “There wasn’t much to begin with,” Hoade explains. “There was just a rough slab poured in the center someone had used as a mechanical room for the heating and air system and beside it just random posts, on makeshift footers, supporting the structure.”
Though the renovation was the primary goal, it very clearly became apparent that they would also be supporting the house the way it originally should have been. Copper Sky had already added additional supports when completing the attic build-out, but the basement remodel allowed them to go in and properly bring everything up to code.
To create the 9-foot finished ceilings the client was very firm on, the team had to excavate an additional 10 feet down in order to make room for HVAC, duct work, gas, water and waste lines. “What we had to do was run all of the plumbing, figure out where the lowest line was, and that was where our ceiling had to go. That dictated the depth that we had to dig,” Hoade says.
One of the biggest challenges with a project such as this one is temporarily supporting the structure while the team completes the excavation.
“The engineer originally called out 17 temporary posts with temporary footings,” Hoade says. “After getting down and digging to the left and right, we ended up with 28 total. It’s a funny story: The engineer came to inspect it, and he looked at the plans; he looked at the posts and said, ‘You know, they called out s17, but there are 28.’ And my response was, ‘Okay, well, you go pick any 11 you think should be removed,’” Hoade laughs. “He just kind of nodded and said, ‘I get it. That’s fine.’”
The 28 posts paid off. Typically, at the end of a renovation, even a smaller scale excavation, other areas of the home can sustain minor damage from the house shifting and settling on to its new bones. Things like cracking hardwood or tiles, shower doors falling and shattering, tile thresholds cracking, and seals breaking. For this renovation, despite unearthing the entire sublayer of the home, the upstairs only experienced a little bit of trim separation from the crown molding.
Due to the original basement being as small and low hanging as it was, the excavation team had to get creative with how they were going to remove tons of dirt, stone and concrete from a space too small to house multiple workers let alone the needed equipment. “The only way to get in there was through a 5- by 4-foot hole. That’s how we got all the material in—everything in, everything out. There was a door in the house that led down some stairs, but it wasn’t an option for the heavy equipment or the beams.”
With those space constraints in mind, they tried something unconventional: conveyor belts. “We purchased a conveyor system with five 10-foot conveyors that stack on top of each other, connected through a 480-watt generator. So, the excavation crew would scoop dirt onto the back end, and it would take everything up, and there would be a guy at the top who would fill a wheelbarrow and dump it.”
Everything came and went through the one egress window, including a 21-foot, 1,700-pound steel beam meant to support the main load of the house.
“Without it, [the job] probably would have taken twice as long. It also would have been twice as quiet; the conveyor was very loud.” Hoade says they provided neighbors with gift cards for the noise, along with walk-through tours for those curious about the process.
Excavation and stability were the biggest challenges the team faced, but they still had to ensure that water would not damage the newly remodeled basement. This is a concern for any basement remodel, but especially so in areas such as Atlanta that get a lot of rain, and especially as climate change worsens weather conditions throughout the country.
“We know water will find a way in somehow; we have to get it out once it comes in,” Hoade explains. “We created a drainage system that falls—it has a rate of fall to bring the water back to a sump pump, and then we have a buried pump inside a mechanical room that is hooked up to a battery backup. Say it rains for five days, there’s a flood, and their basement floods and there’s no way to get the water out. With this battery backup, the sump pump captures the water and pumps it out.”
The client wanted to take this backup drainage system a step further. She suggested hooking the existing basement bathroom sewage ejector pump to a battery backup as well. Then, in the case of losing power for a few days, the family would still be able to use at least one bathroom.
The team ended up installing two battery backups, and each pump is also on a backup. This left the family with 36 hours of battery backup for their waste ejector pump and allowed them to shower and use the toilet in the case of a major power outage.
The client came prepared with a vision of how she wanted the basement designed aesthetically, and she worked closely with the designer on the project, Micaela Quinton, who is Copper Sky’s director of design, to achieve it. Quinton says she likes to have clients compile “idea books” or “mood boards” depicting their design inspiration and elements that speak to them. For example, the bathroom was inspired by New York City subways—not a bathroom space, but one that utilizes interesting tile techniques that they could draw from.
The most obviously striking feature in the basement is the bold color choice. The deeply saturated blue paint covers almost all the walls, ceiling, beams, and custom built-in cabinets. “Their upstairs has a lot of contrast,” Quinton says. “They have a lot of black, they love black and white, so there’s a lot of black trim. We did a whole fireplace for them; it was all black. So, they’re open to bold.”
Copper Sky is no stranger to using a lot of color in its renovations. “We do a lot of color and interesting wallpaper, a lot of patterns. I think it’s something people know us for and come to us for, trusting us to guide them to the right colors and combinations. Choosing a color that goes on all the walls, the ceiling, the beams, up the stairs… it’s a big commitment. But doing this steep, saturated color that envelops you and the whole room creates this really cozy feeling.”
Not only did they choose a deep, bold color for their basement surfaces, but they also only had one window in the whole basement: an egress window in the bedroom. This made the client’s insistence on taller ceiling heights all the more important. “The client really emphasized that she did not want the space to feel ‘cavey,’” Hoade says. “That became a term we used together a lot: ‘It’s not going to be cavey.’”
“You don’t need windows and lots of natural light to be in a space that feels really inviting and warm and cozy,” Quinton adds. “It’s definitely a bold look that I think makes the space feel really custom, really unique.”
It’s quickly apparent the custom details are what really elevate this remodel to the next level. The walls are not simply painted, builder-grade drywall. Crown molding and picture rails adorn the upper ends of the walls while paneling and patterned wallpaper add visual and textural interest to the rest.
A framed archway leads down to an airy white hallway—a reprieve from the moody colors of the living room—to a bathroom with three different custom, hand-laid tiles throughout the wet space and a custom diamond patterned walnut vanity.
The bedroom and gym, both similarly lighter in color and feel, still feature eye-catching wallpaper and molding, maintaining that luxurious custom feel. The gym’s picture rail creates an interesting break and provides a place to hang the fan.
“More is not always more,” Quinton says. “But ‘less is more’ is not something we really subscribe to at Copper Sky. We like a lot of look, a lot of color or playing with patterns.” She points out the knobs on the kitchenette’s cabinets, which feature subtle four-pointed star backplates. “That could have just been a knob, but the back plate makes it so much more interesting.”
It would be impossible to mention the custom features without appreciating the built-in media center that dominates one wall of the den space. Art deco sconces flank either side of the television and framed cabinet doors. The lattice insert to the upper cabinet doors adds a touch of historicity that pulls in the vintage movie theater vibe the client wanted.
“There’s a lot of design out there that’s really modern, and modern can be somewhat simple,” Quinton explains.
“Attaining this kind of historic feel, it’s a bit fussier, so having a lot of trim details make for an interesting break.”
Some details, such as the duct work, were factored into the design process. The beam patterns on the ceiling work to integrate and hide the plumbing as well as the HVAC system. “We spend a lot of time, especially on basements,” Quinton says. “You’re not just running the HVAC and everything for the basement level; but also, if you have floor vents on the first floor, you have to take that into consideration.”
The lighting in the den was also carefully chosen to enhance the mood and ambiance. Even without natural light and the darker colors used, the rooms do not feel dark or oppressive, with recessed lights strategically placed to highlight the features of the room. “I love lighting,” Quinton says.
“I think it makes such an impact on the space. For example, doing pendant lights instead of cans really dresses the hallway up.” The sconces flanking the TV have a vintage look that complements the speakeasy and theatrical theme, and pendants over the bar have a geometric shape that echoes the backsplash tile and the countertop.
What was once little more than a crawlspace housing HVAC and plumbing has been transformed into a spacious vintage entertainment area for the entire family. The clients’ two young boys are now able to play video games and watch movies in an area of the house that can get messy without being disruptive to the more public-facing areas of the house, and the family has space to congregate and hang out together.
Additionally the bedroom, bathroom, and kitchenette space work well for when the clients’ families or friends visit, offering the guests a private space to themselves.
The success of this basement remodel has also opened doors for similar projects in the future. The project’s success, especially the use of the conveyer system, was shared on social media, where it garnered attention from potential clients interested in similar renovations.
The basement remodel showcases the expertise and craftsmanship of the team at Copper Sky Design + Remodel, as well as the unique design choices of the client. The basement features a stunning combination of colors, patterns, textures and lighting that create a warm and cozy atmosphere. QR