All photography by Tracey Ayton
A moody palette, an open-concept layout and a few family heirlooms turned a dark and dreary basement into a suite so nice, the homeowners opted to live in it instead of renting it out.
When newly engaged first-time homebuyers Sarah Lackey (an interior designer) and Brady Horvath (an electrical contractor) started house hunting in Vancouver, their excitement was quickly derailed by escalating prices. Putting the ballooning real-estate market in their rearview, they set their sights on Squamish, B.C. The up-and-coming community, located 45 minutes north of the city, has been billed "the outdoor recreational capital of Canada." It's the perfect location for the outdoorsy couple—they love to hike— plus, it was close enough to their big-city clients in Whistler and West Vancouver.
"We were looking for something ugly because we couldn't afford anything else," says Lackey, with brutal honesty. This four-bedroom, three-bathroom fixer-upper was the third house they saw, and it fit their finances and hands-on mandate. But it was a tour of the basement that clinched the deal; while others dismissed it as a spider-infested concrete cave, the couple saw a raw and empty space with plenty of potential.
Though the duo had previously worked together on plenty of homes for the real-estate reno show Love It or List It Vancouver (where they met), when it came to tackling their own project, the process proved stressful at times— especially when, a few days into the reno, they hit a water pipe and almost flooded the entire space. Even though the mishap cut into their budget, it did have a silver lining: They discovered the old copper pipes were brittle and needed to be replaced, averting future disaster. In the end, the couple transformed the 640-square-foot subterranean space into a bright and functional suite, kitted out with vintage finds and family treasures. In fact, they were so pleased with the outcome that they decided to move into the basement and rent out the unrenovated main floor (though they're determined to redo the rest of the house after their wedding).
Highlight a design element with paint
The couple didn't keep any of the basement's existing design elements, except for the original black fireplace and brick hearth. Lackey and her mom painted the fireplace white, using 15 cans of high-heat-tolerant spray paint in a glossy finish, to bring it to life and to contrast the dramatic wall colour. Despite cries from others who worried the space would be dark and gloomy, Lackey chose black for the accent walls, installed rich hardwood floors and decorated with vintage wooden furniture. "I wanted to explore putting a dark table and cabinet against a dark wall," she says. "As a kid, I always wanted to paint my room black, but my parents wouldn't let me!"
Choose double-duty furnitureTo keep the space clutter-free, the furniture had to serve more than one purpose. The hide-a-bed sofa is perfect when out-of-town guests stay over, and the trunk serves as a coffee table while housing the linens for the pullout couch.
Kenneth sofa with Campbell Oatmeal fabric, vangoghdesigns.com.
Add personality with antiques"We wanted the space to feel natural and organic because that's where we live—we're in the mountains," says Lackey. The moment you enter the space, heated grey hexagonal floor tiles provide a warm welcome. The gothic-look dining table and chairs, which date back to the 1800s, are cherished heirlooms that belonged to Lackey's grandmother; they offer a perfect counterpoint to the otherwise contemporary space. "I'm fixated on the story attached to individual pieces, and I like having items no one else has," says Lackey. Her favourite vignette in the dining room is the antique hutch that stores her grandmother's teacup collection and displays mementos from close family and friends.
TIP: If you're opting for dark furniture, consider lightening up on the hardwood floor stain. This keeps the space from feeling visually heavy.
Opt for an open-concept kitchen
To enhance the open layout, the couple decided to go small in the kitchen to save on space. The centre island still provides ample room for gathering and cooking with friends. Since space was at a premium, Lackey included a pantry for small appliances, such as the blender and the microwave. Storage was key, but when money ran out for upper cabinets, Horvath repurposed the abandoned wood beams from the home's carport for functional floating shelves. A white- and glass-based palette on exposed shelving keeps the look clean and airy.
TIP: Before designing a space, measure every item in need of storage—including pots, pans and serving bowls—to ensure that a cabinet, shelf or drawer could house it.
Make the most of a small bedroom
"When we moved in together, we couldn't decide whose bed to keep, so we built a new one together over a weekend," says Lackey. A mix of pine stained in three colours gives the headboard its one-of-a-kind finish. They added built-in drawers under the bed for additional storage. With no room for a full-depth dresser, to save floor space, a shoe caddy was repurposed to hold smaller accessories, such as bathing suits and socks.
Add a floating vanityTo avoid additional costs, Lackey and Horvath built the washroom around the existing plumbing instead of moving its location. A floating vanity with deep drawers hides essentials, keeping them easily accessible, unlike traditional cupboards, which tend to have tons of unused vertical space.
TIP: Hang a wide wall mirror to open up a smaller bathroom.
Use a decorative vintage piece to corral smaller necessities, like nail polish.
Budget breakdownHere's how homeowners Sarah Lackey and Brady Horvath spent their renovation dollars.
Kitchen: Cabinets, counter, appliances, flooring and lighting = $9,950
Bathroom: Tub, showerhead, vanity, counter, faucet, lighting, tile, fan and plumbing = $3,795
Other: Interior door, service upgrade, drywall and other construction materials, insulation, paint and tiles = $10,400
Trades: Tile, drywall, plumbing and gas = $5,550
Contingency allowance: Burst pipes = $2000