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Lower level goes upper crust: Basements designed for quality family time and relaxation

This basement bar in the home of Mike and Renee Gravalin includes twin under-the-counter refrigerators, an ice maker and a pullout drawer microwave oven and a hardwood floor. Dave Wallis / The Forum1 / 6
The Gravalins, of Fargo, hired Studs to Rugs to remodel their basement after water damage caused them to gut the space. At left is the space during the rebuilding process. Special to The Forum2 / 6
The finished space in the basement. Dave Wallis / The Forum3 / 6
Tim Rosene, the owner of Studs to Rugs, sits at the bar of Nan and Chris Kennelly's Fargo home basement that was finished after the owner moved in and figured out what was wanted in the unfinished area. Dave Wallis / The Forum4 / 6
A large TV with a 7.1 sound system was part of the finishing work done for the Kennellys in north Fargo. Dave Wallis / The Forum5 / 6
A large TV with a 7.1 sound system was part of the finishing work done for the Kennellys in north Fargo. Dave Wallis / The Forum6 / 6

FARGO - Most of the time, neighbors assume Mike and Renee Gravalin aren't home.

The couple is usually in their basement, watching a movie on their 80-inch TV or entertaining guests at the pub-style cherry wood home bar.

The lower level of the Gravalin home in south Fargo has become a gathering spot for friends and family since it was revamped last year by Studs to Rugs, a local company that remodels and finishes basements.

The Gravalins decided to create their ideal basement after water damage forced them to strip the space.

So far, the cozy room has hosted a family wedding, Thanksgiving dinner and football game "soup parties," gatherings where everyone brings soup to share.

"We have a large family so we wanted the extra space," Renee Gravalin says. "We use it so much that people think we're never home."

Studs to Rugs owner Tim Rosene says lower levels of homes should serve as spaces for quality family time and relaxation.

Since its inception nearly six years ago, Studs to Rugs has revamped more than 150 basements in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

"In the home, they have a kitchen where they spend time cooking, a dining room where they eat, a living room where they're playing on their iPads all day, a bedroom for sleeping, but where's the room for relaxation in today's world of technology?" Rosene says.

The "functional spaces where families can relax, slow down and enjoy life" became Rosene's passion when he realized that many people weren't using their basements for leisure. Instead, the lower levels are typically a catch-all for boxes, old furniture and holiday décor.

Rosene estimates that most basements in the FM-area are unfinished and go unused.

"When people think of basements, they think of their grandma's basement. You go down there, and it's cold and damp and dark," he says.

The contractor also prefers the term "lower level" to basement, saying that lower level implies it's part of the home, not a separate entity.

Besides being a spot for relaxation, a finished lower level adds value to a home, Rosene says.

Basement remodels by Studs to Rugs take approximately four weeks and usually cost between $20,000 and $50,000. The price can reach $100,000 or more if the homeowner chooses high-end finishes and features.

"Our basements typically appraise for more than what the client has put into them," Rosene says. "You can spend as much or as little as you want to. Standard is completely finished with floors. Once you add in bars, entertainment, etc., the price increases."

A mid-range basement remodel in Fargo costs, on average, $53,087 and has a resale value of $30,500, according to Remodeling magazine's Cost vs. Value Report 2011-2012.

The publication's definition of a basement remodel is finishing the lower level of a home to create an entertaining area with a wet bar and full bathroom.

Basement remodels have one of the highest resale values among home remodeling projects, according to the Cost vs. Value Report.

Homeowners usually approach Rosene and his 14- member staff after they've owned their abode for three or four years.

"Once they've lived in the house a few years, they want the bells and whistles," he says.

Basement remodels have some special considerations, Rosene says. A top concern from potential clients is flooding.

"I concentrate on controlling water," he says. "I can't stop water from coming in but I can recommend carpet and drywall ceilings."

Backup sump pumps with alarms are another precaution Rosene offers homeowners to ease flood concerns.

Once the basement's been brought up to code with proper wiring and plumbing, Rosene concentrates on lighting, heating and cooling to help lower levels feel less like "your grandma's basement."

Recessed lights with dimmer switches illuminate most areas of lower levels remodeled by Studs to Rugs. The six-inch can lights are installed in rows to make the ceiling appear higher, Rosene says.

Diffuser ducts that evenly heat and cool the space are also installed in the ceiling, and many homeowners add a fireplace for extra warmth and ambiance.

After lighting and heat are in place, the contractor focuses on the function and flow of the lower level.

North Fargo homeowners Chris and Nan Kennelly learned the importance of flow when Rosene suggested moving their basement bathroom from a corner to in between the two bedrooms.

"A lot of people think they're handcuffed by where the plumbing's at in the house right now but it doesn't take much to move it," Rosene says. "It didn't make sense to have the bathroom in the corner."

He encourages clients to see beyond the walls that already exist in basements.

"We look past the current configuration to see what it could be," Rosene says. "We talk about what they want in the future so they can plan for it."

When the Kennelly's contacted Studs to Rugs, their basement had bare concrete walls, and they wanted to finish it before a large family gathering.

The large space now holds a workout room, two bedrooms, a bathroom, a bar, a small wine cellar and a sizable main living area. Music streams through speakers from an iPhone/iPod nook in the wall, and the bar area includes a pizza oven, refrigerators, a microwave and a dishwasher.

"It's where we hang out when we're at home," Chris Kennelly says. "My son and I will work out and then watch some football. Before you know it, it's 6 p.m. and we've spent the whole day down here."

Both the Kennellys and Gravalins have home entertainment systems in their lower levels, and Rosene says it's a common feature when people remodel the spaces. Theater rooms, popcorn makers, multiple refrigerators and elevated seating are other trends he's noticed in the area.

No matter which features clients pick, Rosene's main focus is making them feel at home.

"I don't want people to feel like they have to dress up. I want them to feel comfy and welcome," he says. "Part of my focus is getting families to spend more time together. Lower levels are beautiful, functional spaces for families."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525

Anna G. Larson

Anna G. Larson is a features reporter with The Forum who writes a weekly column featuring stylish people in Fargo-Moorhead. Larson graduated from North Dakota State University with a degree in journalism and joined The Forum in July 2012. She's a Fargo native who enjoys travel, food, baking, fashion, animals, coffee and all things Midwestern. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @msannagrace 

(701) 241-5525