Gain useful living space by upgrading that subterranean space.

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Basements can be cold and dark, and often get much less decorating attention than the rest of the house. But you can gain useful living space by upgrading that subterranean space.

We’ve asked Los Angeles-based interior designers Sayre Ziskin and Theodore Leaf for advice on transforming basements into well-loved rooms, while preserving their role as a practical storage space.

Crate & Barrel Petrie Chair, $1,099
Crate & Barrel Petrie Chair, $1,099

CHOOSE A PURPOSE

Leaf encourages homeowners to choose a particular purpose for their basement, or perhaps two purposes if the space is large enough.

Ziskin agrees: “Make a decision as to what you’d actually go down there for,” she says.

Some work best as home offices, while basements with little natural light can become gorgeous media rooms.

WARM IT UP

Many homeowners avoid their basement because it’s cold, Ziskin says. If so, tackle that problem first.

She recently decorated a basement with low-pile carpeting and then finished the edges with molding. It gave the room warmth while adding the sort of finished look you normally find upstairs.

Another warming trick: Ditch cold fluorescent lights in favor of warm bulbs, and add more light as needed.

“It’s important to have at least one overhead light,” Ziskin says, and you’ll want that to be a flush-mount since basement ceilings are often lower than ceilings upstairs. Then fill in with wall sconces, floor lamps or table lamps.

Lastly, include upholstered furniture with soft, warm textures (“Stay away from leathers and vinyls that feel cold and slippery,” says Ziskin), and finish the space with a big basket of cozy blankets.

West Elm Zigzag Circle Shag Rug, $299; Ikea Nordli Wardrobe, $349; Threshold Textured Stripe Throw Blanket, $25 at target.com
West Elm Zigzag Circle Shag Rug, $299; Ikea Nordli Wardrobe, $349; Threshold Textured Stripe Throw Blanket, $25 at target.com

GO LIGHT AND BRIGHT

Basements are great places to take design risks, so have fun.

“Why shouldn’t the floor be teal or bright orange? Make it happy,” says Leaf. “Put up that one wallpaper swatch you always loved.”

Also consider the positive impact of light, airy colors, says Ziskin. She prefers “a very light off-white or a very soft light gray, like a very light cloud color.”

INVEST IN QUALITY

The designers suggest decorating basements with the same level of quality and beauty you choose for other rooms. Details like crown molding and built-in shelves give basement rooms the feel of a “real” room.

Ziskin suggests lining one wall with floor-to-ceiling wardrobe cabinets in the same solid color for a neat, cohesive area where items can be stored out of view.

For open storage, choose shelving units with a bottom shelf that’s 4 to 6 inches off the floor, just in case of any flooding, says Leaf.

And choose good containers to put on those open shelves. “If you have a mishmash of plastic bins, donate them and get ones that match,” Leaf says.