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Vision For My Lower Level

14 years ago

Hello, I'm new over here on this side of GW. For years my attention has been taken up with gardening and landscape design, and I thanked my lucky stars that my 1974 raised ranch (or "split entry") was pretty much walk-in ready when we bought it 8 yrs ago.

It wasn't necessarily the way we would have done things, but we had other priorities, and, well, fear of "home decorating" made it easy for me to put things off for a time.

But..."the time has come, the walrus said, to speak of many things / Of sealing wax and sailing ships / Of cabbages and kings..." In other words, time for me to come out of the time capsule and take a crash course in home decorating and design!

So, not to put too fine a point on this, my biggest problem is that I am totally blind. I often post without mentioning that, and it's not the main topic of my life, but it does create an interesting challenge. I do have blind friends who do keep up with home decorating, just as I've managed to become a competent gardener and garden designer (for myself, at least). As with many blind persons, I make many visual decisions and have preferences about form and materials, just like anyone else. I had normal vision into my mid-twenties, spent hours with architectural mags, took several interior design courses, have a strong visual memory of color, and used to doodle house plans on every surface.

In fact, I think it's probably this old love that has kept me from trying to do very much about home decorating for many, many years. I just decided to ignore the whole thing...and went out into the garden instead.

Here is my stab at some questions. The rooms I am talking about are on the lower level, not the main level of the house. The lower level is 3.5 ft below grade. It has windows and a walk-out door to a small patio.

We have already begun on the larger of the 2 bdrms. Old, poor quality, not-to-code paneling is gone. Ceailing panels gone. Walls and ceiling are now dry wall. Walls painted...don't know the names, but white on walls, very pale yello-gold cream for trim. This "gold" color was used by PO for walls upstairs. It's really light, but it "glows" and my husband really loves the way it looks. Upstairs the trim is white, walls with this glowing color. Downstairs in this back bedroom we reversed.

1. This will be our guest room. Dont laugh, but we have quite a bit of what I call "Early Pier 1" furniture. Well, it was what we could afford. A lot of it is wicker with a natural finish. Queen-sized bed, 2 chairs, dresser, coffee tableÂToo much wicker for 15Â x 19Â bdrm? IÂll have to try it, I guess.

2. I mentioned the cream-yellow-pale gold trim. IÂll have to resurrect the color name. ItÂs SWÂsomething about a desert? What other color direction should I explore in this room? Would this be stupidÂre-cover the seat cushions on the wicker chairs with a fabric that has some deep jewel tones, maybe picks up a hint of the yellow, but mostly deep purple, green? I love, love, love irises. So IÂve thought about using a classic purple iris as a touchstone for designing this room. Dumb? What does that make you think of? Where would I go to get what I need?

3. Flooring is a major issue for the whole lower level. We think the carpet is as old as the house! ItÂs nastyÂand already gone in this bdrm. IÂd prefer porcelain tile throughout the downstairs, but itÂs costly and cold. SoÂprobably just an ordinary neutral carpet with thick pad for this bdrm. Any other ideas?

4. For the family room and hallway IÂm torn on the flooring question. Should I go with the Novalis vinyl wood "peal and stick" planks or porcelain tile with heating layer under part of it? Considerable difference in price. IÂd prefer the tile, but would also like to preserve funds for other projects. Anyone here have experience with the Novalis flooring? Horrible idea?

5. Someone before us painted the brick fireplace white. It is very discolored. What would you do? We are thinking about covering it with stone tiles. Where do you go to find natural tilesÂnot slick ones, if you know what I mean, but with some texture to them. What would work for a fireplace? How do you get a fireplace to work with a flooring choice? Help! IÂm really lost on this one. My only thought is that wood contrasts well with stone. Hardwood wonÂt work. I ruled out laminates. That leaves the vinyl or tile.

Finally, am I just going about this whole process the wrong way around? How do you get all the pieces...or enough of the pieces...into place so that you can say to your contracter, "I'm ready to go. Here's what I want?"

Thanks for any and every bit of advice you guys can give.


Comments (13)

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hi Wellspring,
    I don't have any decorating advice (I need help too). But I just wanted to say welcome and congratulations on living life to the fullest!

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I think you are on the right track. Iris purple sounds wonderful to me with pale yellow, and you can use green in there too. Why not use your love of gardening as the starting place for this room?

    There are some great peel and stick tiles that have been shown on this forum - some beautiful wood looks. Hopefully, a user of them will pipe up. I would go that route. I would pick the flooring first for all the downstair areas. It is a major "color" statement. I think carpet would be nice in the guest room.

    I like your idea of stone or stone-look tile for the fireplace. Adding the texture there is a good idea. Not a hard job either. You can pick a color that looks nice with the flooring. It doesn't necessarily need to contrast or blend, just needs to compliment the flooring. If you want the fireplace to be a focal point, then you can use a dramatic stone or tile, or you can use a paint color that sets off the fireplace.

    Go with your intuition.

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  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Loretta- Thank you for the welcome. Just chime in with's bound to help! You know...courage in numbers!

    Yes. Certain images linger in my mind's eye. Classic purple irises, for instance. Kind of reversing the colors. This lower level has windows, but not enough of them, so natural light is limited. So, the deep purple I'm imagining would need to become an accent color. Purple irises often have that soft yello / cream color in the falls and throat of the blossom. We actually also have gorgeous creamy yellow irises in our iris patch. I can just see me picking irises, including the foliage, and taking them in to match colors. But not until next May!

    On a plane I met someone from San Francisco who paints wall murals for a living. This was in 2003. She'd done some homes of the rich and famous, often painting a tree in the corner of the room with branches reaching along the walls.

    If I knew someone who could pull it off, I'd be tempted to have an iris bed painted along the wall beside the entrance to this room. Probably a really weird idea and I don't know anyone who could do it anyway...

    But thank you for confirming that borrowing my palate from an iris could work. A medium to soft green, very soft cream, and deep purple accents? How do you go about getting the right balance of different colors?

    I do think it's a trio of colors that works for me. At least in my mind. The trick may be getting the right green to work with the very soft creamy gold. I'll try to get the name of that color.

    Since the creamy gold is just on the trim in this room, the walls are off-white, the major places for finishing the textures and colors in the room will be the carpet and bedding. What would you all be doing to bring off the color scheme? It's been so long since I've looked at stuff and I don't seem to ask my friends about these things, although one friend is helping me with this project. Her favorite colors simply aren't mine. But, I mean would you consider finding a soft greyish green carpet? A creamy gold duvet? A bed cover in cream with a very small print design in a little bit deeper green, maybe a leaf pattern?

    Where are these ideas coming from? Are they just dumb? Honestly, folks, other than reading some threads here, I have very limited knowledge of what is out there as decorating possibilities.


  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    One thought: Apparently in the eight years you've been there you have not had a water problem downstairs. But, it happens. Both my son and my mother have (had) split levels like yours with no water problems, until one year they did have. Mom had vinyl tile with area rugs in hers, but son had carpet in his, and it was ruined. A major headache to remove stinking, sopping wet carpet, and you have to work very fast.

    I myself had a sump pump failure last year in our finished basement, but we have ceramic tile and area rugs. So....I would not carpet a lower level. I know people do, but if the worst happens, tile and area rugs are much easier to deal with. And they are very cozy when done properly.

    I love pale gold walls with deep red, green and purple...and have it in my dining room, so I think it would be lovely in your home.

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Wellspring-I have a question for you...what caused your blindness? I have retinitis pigmentosa and worry about my fading sight and my love of design. I hope your love of the outdoors can translate into your home designs. I have always loved to garden, and my house reflects that in some of the color choices. Anyway, just curious about your blindness...

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Yep. You're right on target. This level was completely carpeted. We feel we have rectified the seepage issue we inherited from the PO, but will use tile or vinyl for most of the downstairs, partly because of the potential water issue.

    That being said, carpet is way cheaper than the tile option. We could carpet this bedroom 3 or 4 times for the price of tile. For tile with a heating layer beneath it, we could carpet maybe 5 or 6 times! So, for the comfort and warmth of our guests, I'm willing to risk putting down carpet. Now, just watch, some crazy dude will start building an ark and rain will start coming down and ...

    Sherrmann- Thanks also for the support on the colors. I'm still not sure how I'll refine what I'm doing. I think I'll be more on track when I've decided about the major part of the flooring. Tile or vinyl wood...vinyl wood or tile. If tile, which tile...

    If you were here, I'd answer your question. I prefer not to answer for all the world to see. The world doesn't need access to my medical record, if you know what I mean.


  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Welcome Wellspring!

    I just wanted to chime in and say that many members here have used Novalis flooring and love it, and have shown pics that look fabulous, and I'm considering it for some floors in my own home.

    Good luck with your project!

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Cool to hear that folks have liked their Novalis floors. Where are you thinking about using it? I've told dh about it and we're planning to go take a closer look later this week. Maybe bring home a sample. I read a long post here on the Flooring forum, which is where I got the idea. It just almost sounds too good to be true.

    Next step is to go look at the stuff with my dh. Would simplify things if the choice does come down to one of the Novalis oak products. Otherwise there's the whole world of porcelain tiles to consider.

    Thank you!!! Wow, you can't imagine the lift of my heart. Here's this total stranger doing an internet check to see what might come up. You'd have thought I'd have tried it, but I hadn't even thought about it. Somehow in my head I was going to get a friend to make the rounds of the department / bed & bath stores where I live. Talk about missing the obvious!

    I haven't checked the link yet, so don't know if there's enough text to give me an idea what the bedding looks like.

    And thanks for the clear response on the green ... or "greenish" carpet. It sort of looked funny in my mental image, but the last carpets I remember (early 80's) were all beige. My mom's choice in carpets were always beige. She then went through her tile phase and is now hardwood everywhere, except where she has beige carpets.

    I like simple answers, so it helps to know that staying with a neutral is still a pretty good idea for flooring. I guess I just didn't want to rule out a possibility.

    I do love irises...but I wonder whether I could end up creating something rather cutesy or overdone. I'm not the cutesy type. More the simple, direct type.

    Thanks again, guys.


  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Wellspring, good to see you on this side... I stumbled in a few weeks ago and have been learning a great deal.

    Just to pick up on that water in the basement thing, just for the record if it's rainwater, a carpet need not be a loss if it gets wet. Our basement was once a suite, and is carpeted with wall-to-wall. We get rainwater in there almost every year, we suck it up with the shop vac, and the carpet actually gets a good cleaning and looks fine. What isn't so good is the drywall at floor level, which got spectacularly moldy after a few years, so my husband ripped it out, just leaving the concrete. So if water is a serious threat, you might do something insane like carpet the floor, but tile the bottom part of the wall if that part is concrete. I'm not here to say it's fun sucking up the water, but that it can be survived, with forethought.

    About irises painted on the wall... funny you should mention this. Last week I succumbed to one of my weaknesses, deep-discounted wallpaper borders that I don't need. I got two rolls of a very nice border featuring a riot of irises. It's about 10 inches wide, a roll is usually 5 yards, and even when not on sale such things run, if memory serves me, under $20 and are thus easily affordable. I just searched on line for Iris Wallpaper Border or some such term, and there are several, such as the one linked below on Amazon. Perhaps your husband can tell you if you like it! It's not cutesy at all, rather quite authentic looking, even with a stone wall, which mine doesn't have.

    What I love about decorating with wallpapers or borders is that you can pull colours for the rest of the room from them - makes that whole process so easy. Obviously, you pick papers that have the type of colour you want in the room, and go from there.


  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago


    With it being a basement and with the wicker furniture you'll be using, I could see a synthetic sisal look rug looking fantastic. Not only would it eliminate any worries about water issues but it would really give you the outdoor/organic look that you seem to be after.

    We used a wonderful camel color indoor/outdoor wall to wall carpet that resembled sisal in my SO's basement when we were getting ready to put it on the market.

    It was inexpensive and looked terrific. I used a leftover scrap of that for a redo of my folk's basement bath a year later. That bath (and the rest of the basement too) did occasionally have water issues....solved the problem nicely.

    Water issues aside though I think the look would be just what you're after.

  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hey, Karin-

    Cool to hear from one of the comrades from over there. I like your tile solution. It's something I might do in the large family room, which also has the old, not-to-code paneling and has seen some occasional water. The most troublesome seepage wall might be a good candidate for this treatement.

    Thankfully, we've had no water for 7 years and counting. Still, I expect something to happen some day. This year was the biggest test -- so much water, so little sun, the farmers are still harvesting. They were in the fields right up to the current snow storm. All that rain, second highest in record, and no moisture in basement. Still I expect human error or mechanical malfunction at some point! Hence our attempts to choose flooring and wall treatments wisely.

    When we dry-walled in this bedroom, we asked for extra moisture "protection". The dry wall is slightly higher off the concrete than normal and has some sort of water repellent? It doesn't sound like a perfect solution, so I keep my fingers crossed. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but we did the initial work on this room 2 years ago. It remains empty with the bare concrete floor...My motivation is that I need a guest room. My parents used to visit and stay in a hotel. Dad died last April, and it just seems totally wrong that I don't have a room suitable for my mom to stay in.

    And thanks for the wallpaper border idea. I like that. And, yes, it would help with the color chase. I think I'd like the irises on the wall or walls, but not the bed cover. Have the irises be irises on the wall, but only let them show elsewhere through color touches or very small details to be discovered here and there. So I think the bedspread should be something solid, maybe even a texture...crochet...not sure what I'm thinking of here, but I'll know it when I find it.

    And, Jant, I'm interested in your synthetic sisal suggestion. Would it give the warmth / comfort of carpet? I'll put it on my "consider" list...

    Thank you to everyone. Finally, I feel as though my ideas are connecting and coming together.

    I'll probably borrow some textures and colors from this room to help with the sm guest bath just across the hall.

    That just leaves the family room...The biggest questions there are the flooring and the fireplace, which is the room's main focal point.

    All of these responses are very helpful. Thanks again.


  • 14 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hi again,

    They are normally poly propylene and ours was very comfy on the feet...unlike regular sisal...which I CANNOT imagine in a bedroom! It might be the in thing but yikes... I just googled synthetic sisal and lots of sites came's one with some good pix.