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Lower Level Offers Multi-generational Solution

Remodeling a dark basement gives family spaces for grandparents on extended visits and play room for everyone.

Eric and Tina Park, both physicians, were already quite busy 10 years ago when they purchased a 3,400 square foot two-level neo-Colonial near McLean.

Among other responsibilities, Eric Park is medical director of a local hospital; Tina Park has a bustling private practice. On occasion professional duties could stretch into the wee hours.

But blessed events have a way of changing basic assumptions for the better. In 2007, the couple's first daughter was born; a second daughter followed fours years later.

Suddenly, active lives became still more fullfilling... and even busier.

"Our plan all along was to create a family home," Tina Park said. "We saw the lower level eventually playing a part in our daily lives, but we were only using it for storage. It wasn't until my mother began regularly helping us with the girls that we started looking at the house more closely."

Kay, Tina Park's mother, still lives mostly in Alabama with Park's father, Kon, also a physician. But in recent years the couple now in their mid-60s has been evaluating retirement options.

"Mom started coming for extended visits when our second daughter was born in 2009," Park said. "At first she would stay in the guest room, but gradually we all started looking at ways to increase available privacy."

It was in this phase that thoughts of a more accommodating family home turned again to the nearly 2,000-square-foot, unfinished lower level. Among other factors, the space boasts a ground-level course of windows and private rear entrance. Beyond these assets, however, the Parks considered the basement's suitability for mainstream living a little unclear.

"It's mostly below-grade," Park said. "We weren't sure about air circulation or possible moisture build up. Using the lower level occasionally is entirely different matter from setting up a master suite for your parents, so we had a lot of concerns."

It is at this point that Sun Design Remodeling enters the story.

"We had visited one of their remodeled homes, even attended a seminar," Park said. "The question for us was to what extent a room that is partly below-grade could satisfy the whole family's requirements."

Sun Design's interior designer Liz Lee said, "A basement conversion is challenging — especially when it's going to be mainstreamed with the rest of the house. In this case, we had to specify an appropriately-sized de-humidifier, and find a suitable location for a return air grill. Comfort and air quality are always critical to a successful lower level solution."

With several performance concerns resolved, attention next turned to configuring the space.

For Kay, the top priority was a suite with all the features of independent living, including:

  • A comfortable master bedroom suite with large closets.
  • A dedicated master bath with textured finishes and a spacious walk-in shower.
  • A fully functional kitchenette with a dining counter suitable for four.
  • A private entrance.
  • A dining alcove with a table for four where Kay could also host bridge games with friends.

TO KEEP THE FAMILY fit, the Parks envisioned a 195-square-foot gym with a treadmill ensconced behind a pair of frosted glass doors.

A family gathering area at the foot of the stairs would be subdivided by a counter and "built-ins" custom-designed for children's toys.

Nearby: a family entertainment zone equipped with flat screen TV, surround sound and a karaoke machine.

Not coincidentally, all activity areas are just a few strides from the well-equipped kitchenette.

To gain uncluttered sightlines, Sun Design executed a few structural changes. The L-shaped stairway entrance was widened while preserving a necessary I-beam. Plumbing and ducting were re-routed.

"We didn't want the space to feel like a basement in any sense," Park said. "Fortunately, Liz Lee really understood our vision."

Describing the desired décor as "modern Asian contemporary," Park stressed simple lines, soft tones and visual continuum.

"My mother had very specific ideas that even included elements of Feng Shui," Park said. "She and Liz collaborated directly on most of the finish work details."

Along these lines, Kay's Korean-styled headboard faces southeast — towards a set of sliding Shoji screens that conceal closet space and other personal effects. The master bathroom is finished in espresso-colored maple wood cabinet facings, a floor-to-ceiling glass-facing linen closet and a vanity with granite surface.

While the 150-square-foot kitchenette and dining counter provides everything needed for food preparation and clean-up, it blends with other elements in an open, yet cleverly-zoned great room. Walnut cabinet facings, marble surfaces and a tile backsplash present a pleasing contrast to the eggshell white walls and random-width pine flooring.

Ceiling level bulkheads and tapered columns define key activity zones.

Recessed lights and three dangling pendant lamps provide regulated illumination and appropriate aesthetic accents. To eliminate cooking aromas, the kitchenette is even equipped with concealed ventilation fans.

"It's really the nicest place in the house now," Park said. "And it satisfies so many different needs that it's become our main gathering place."