From the August/September 2015 Issue:

Top to Bottom

    Writer: Meg Fox | Interior Designer: Linda Benson, Associate Member ASID | Photographer: Marco Zambelli |

A basement remodel reaches new heights in a style on par with the rest of the home

Article Photo
enlarge | Sisal carpeting and wheat-toned grass-cloth wall covering provide a warm neutral backdrop for classic-inspired furnishings in this Hunterdon County finished basement. A classic saddle-arm sofa takes up less visual space than models with bigger sides. Soft paisley accent pillows coordinate with adjacent side chairs, and the center pillow was made from vintage crewelwork. “I am a big needlepoint artist and always try to bring in something handmade or textile-like,” designer Linda Benson says.
Tewksbury Township homeowners wanted to expand their living and entertaining options to the basement, a space that was previously drywalled but undecorated and uninspired with wall-to-wall industrial-style carpeting. Interior designer Linda Benson—who had worked with the owners on various rooms on the main level—was tapped to elevate the basement’s style in tune with the rest of the ranch-style home.

Article Photo
enlarge | A custom built-in fuses form and function with display-worthy collectibles and hidden media components.
Creative Space
The clients—who have two college-age children—wanted a “cozy, comfortable multipurpose space,” says Benson, an associate member of the American Society of Interior Designers and principal of Linda Benson Interiors in Lebanon. This meant carving out room within the 680-square-foot space for a family room with a large-screen television, bar, exercise room and casual weekend office (the owners both have offices upstairs).

A powder room addition was high on the wish list also. “I didn’t think we could do [the powder room]” because it’s below ground, she says, but the installation of a special water pump made it happen.

Fitting in all the desired features was a challenge. Support columns in the main area were an “eyesore and made it difficult to get furniture in and out of the room,” Benson says. Moving the columns into a main wall opened up layout possibilities and improved traffic flow. To address the lack of natural light and a low dropped ceiling—shortfalls common to many basements—Benson relocated ductwork, wires and pipes so she could raise and drywall the ceiling, which is now just shy of eight feet. “We maximized the space and made it as light, clear and high as we could,” she says.

Article Photo
enlarge | A niche outside the powder room offers extra seating and a spot to rest a drink on a made-to-fit turquoise console table. Benson gave the former “beat up but sturdy” antique curved stool new life with coats of linen white paint and a button-tufted linen print cushion. Behind the door at right is a new water treatment tank.
Earthy & Organic
Wool carpeting in a medium tone—“not too light, but not too dark”—and grass-cloth wall covering enhance the sense of space and provide a calming neutral backdrop in main areas. In the family room portion, a space-saving saddle-arm sofa in comfy chenille pairs with tailored club chairs and an ottoman with pullout trays. Two daybeds just off the family room (not pictured) accommodate overnight guests.

“Measuring was crucial for getting furniture in and out of the basement,” says Benson, who had pieces custom made and assembled on site. Hinged components made the furniture easier to transport and put together, she says.

A prominent built-in book/display case steals focus away from the large-screen television so it doesn’t dominate the space. “I do not like a big [lone] TV on the wall,” Benson says, so she designed the built-in with ample storage and display space. Library lights cast a warm glow on the shelves and the backs, which were painted tan to slightly contrast with the linen white finish elsewhere on the cabinetry. Benson used lighting—from table lamps to a chandelier over the game table—to set the mood or move the eye around.

Changes in flooring or wall treatments help define functions. The gym, for instance was treated with white board-and-batten walls, which give the space a light, clean “spa-like” feel, she says. And travertine floor tiles—in various sizes and consistent color variations—create a transition into the bar landing area off the stairwell.

Article Photo
enlarge | A stylishly efficient bar features reclaimed wood panels and a ceiling beam—all believed to be from an old barn in New Jersey. The countertop is granite. The cabinets house a mini refrigerator, icemaker and more. The framed photo depicts the homeowners early in their courtship sailing in the Pacific. “I had to find a special place for it,” says Benson, who used it as a source of inspiration for the remodel.
Natural Charm
For the bar, “I wanted to create a very classic brassiere look,” Benson says. She chose reclaimed wood—believed to be from an old barn in New Jersey—to accent the built-in cabinetry and open shelves. Painted black with tan insets, the cabinetry may have a masculine edge, but the reclaimed paneling and ceiling beam show its soft side and sense of history.

A black-and-white photo—which Benson had enlarged from a small colored print—inspired the basement’s warm and cozy atmosphere. It depicts the homeowners early in their courtship sailing in the Pacific. “I had to find a special place for it,” Benson recalls. Plus, “It was a good starting point…as well as a great conversation piece.”


Overall: interior design and layout, Linda Benson Interiors in Lebanon; carpenter, Richard L. ReFalo of Summit Construction in Lebanon; picture framing, Manning Gallery in Lebanon. Family Room: textured wallpaper, Extra Fine Arrowroot in wheat by Phillip Jeffries LTD in Fairfield; carpet, wool sisal from Major Mills Inc. in Clark (T); built-in display cabinet, designed by Linda Benson Interiors, fabricated by Summit Construction and painted Linen White by Benjamin Moore; club chair and sofa, designed by Linda Benson Interiors and fabricated by Matt’s Custom Upholstery & Home Goods in Ridgefield; ottoman, designed by Linda Benson Interiors and fabricated by Master’s Interiors in Clifton; hanging light and picture lights, Circa Lighting in Savannah, Georgia; round game table, Legend of Asia in Compton, California; game table chairs, homeowners. Bar: custom cabinetry and shelving, designed by Linda Benson Interiors and fabricated by Summit Construction; granite countertop, Juperana Persa from Morelli Contracting LLC in Neshanic Station; reclaimed wood siding and beam, Boards & Beams in Fairfield; brass shelf brackets, House of Antique Hardware in Portland, Oregon; sconces in hand-rubbed antique brass, Circa Lighting; cabinet hardware, Nobilis through Klaff’s Inc. with locations in Norwalk, Danbury and Westport, Connecticut; accessories, Linda Benson Interiors Collection; bar sink, faucet and travertine tiles, E&B Distributors in Bridgewater. Hallway/Niche: turquoise-painted console with stone top, Legend of Asia; brass lamp and curved stool, antique; stool cushion, Debbie Fico Workroom in Lebanon (T). Powder Room: wallpaper, Kravet (#W3145, color #1635); vanity base, mirror and sconces, antique; marble vanity top; Statuary Vein from Morelli Contracting LLC; Kohler sink and Newport Brass faucet, E&B Distributors; tile flooring, Virtue Tile in Summit; accessories, framed floral etchings by Kathy Shaler-De Filippis in Morris Plains. Office: table, Legend of Asia; wood lamps, Barbara Cosgrove Lamps in North Kansas City, Missouri; banker’s chair, antique with seat upholstered by Matt’s Custom Upholstery & Home Goods; accessories, antique or Linda Benson Interiors Collection. Gym: window shade, Kay Window Fashions in Saddle Brook.

Download the complete resource guide with contact information (pdf)