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Color Down Under

Sometimes neglected, your basement might get the least love in your house but it doesn't have to be that way. Paint color is the final touch but before that we need to think about the fundamentals when designing this room. What are you going to be doing down there? What's your floor and lighting all about? Are you thinking about finally finishing your basement? We walk you through it all the way to the finish line with paint color!

Ep 17: Color Down Under

Krane: Welcome to Let’s Talk Color.

Woolf: I’m Amy Woolf, principal designer at Amy Woolf Color and Design.

Krane: And I’m Amy Krane, founding designer at Amy Krane Color. We’re both professional color experts who specialize in architectural color. We met while training and years later the conversation is still going strong.

Woolf: We both live our lives immersed in color and design. We often agree, but sometimes we don’t because color is personal. Color truths, however, are universal.

Krane: In each episode we’ll unravel the mystery of choosing color for your home or business, both inside and out.

Woolf: Welcome back to Let's talk paint color. Today we're going to be talking about a topic that was requested by one of our listeners and that topic is the basement. My first question is, what are you doing? Is it a TV room? Are you doing laundry? Is there an office down there? So really, when I think about doing basements, the first thing I think about is function. What's going on and how can we support whatever functional thing is happening in that basement with the use of good color choices. The next thing to consider, of course, is lighting. Lighting is huge. Recently, we did a basement project where the clients were using the basement as a TV room and a playroom and a little bit of an office area. When the client called and said they were looking for paint colors, she also told us that they'd be getting new lighting. And so of course, what I said was, "get the lighting first and then we'll come out and pick the colors for you because color is reflected light." And if the light's going to change, there's no point in selecting paint colors with bad lighting, because then you'd get the new lighting put in and everything's gonna be different. Yeah, lighting, lighting is big. I think a every room needs more lighting, but... Especially basements, right?

Krane: Absolutely, I mean, a very fundamental place to start is what kind of basement do you have... Some of us have houses where the basement is a finished basement and others, their basement is unfinished or partially unfinished. They're generally two different kinds of basement. Your basic below grade basement, which may or may not have little tiny windows up high to give you a little bit of natural light, or none. And then there's the other kind of basement called a walk-out basement. A walk-out basement is where the house is built into the side of the earth, either naturally where there's a berm there or you build it up so that three sides of the basement have no window because they're below grade or ground level. And the other side, you can walk in and out, hence the name walk-out basement. Usually people have sliding doors there, and that's going to give you a different option for natural light.

Either way though, it's a space that does not have a lot of windows and so I agree with you, Amy, lighting is so important. You can't figure out what kind of lighting you want or need until you figure out the layout and the layout comes, as you said, from the function. So is it a workout space? Is it that plus laundry? Is it an office? Is it a watching TV kind of place? We can choose color to support and enhance whatever function you come up with. But the fundamental questions is, what am I doing down there? How am I lighting it? And often you've got an unfinished floor. For newer houses or those built in the past 100 years or so people have poured concrete basements. And that means you have a concrete floor which is cold amongst other things. So after you decide on your function and your lighting a good thing to decide is what kind of floor makes sense. There are lots of different considerations... Everything from the look, obviously, to furthering your function. Are you doing something that you really don't want to be slipping while you're doing it? Do you want it all warm and cozy? And all of these questions and answers will dictate what the best route is for your floor. Amy, what are some kinds of floors that you think make sense or are nice options for basements?

Woolf: To me, I think one has to consider moisture. And I know, I have a lot of clients who say, "Oh, you know, the guys at the flooring store really think I should put in tile or something that's more moisture-resistant than carpet." I have a poured concrete floor in my basement. Part of the basement is unfinished and the rest has carpet in it. And it's doing okay. It's holding up fine but if we had any water issues at all it would be kind of a nightmare. There are definitely other houses in this neighborhood where they have had water issues so if that's any even remote risk, I think it makes a lot of sense to do something waterproof on the floor. At least water resistant and then throw an area rug down for that warm cozy-ness. Maybe it's an area rug for a TV space. Maybe it's rubber matting for a workout space. Maybe it's just plain tile floor, if it becomes an arts and crafts or a laundry space, and you can have some fun with that. I'm a fan of that vinyl composition tile. It's very commercial, super functional, but it also comes in great colors and you can have some fun with it.

Krane: Right. Those are often up on a raised platform of sorts and the tiles click into it raised off the floor.

Woolf: Well, there's a floating floor.

Krane: Yes! A floating floor. Thank you. Yeah. I'm thinking of a floating floor where you can put the luxury vinyl tiles onto. Another thing I really like is when you put an epoxy paint down on a basement floor. They can be such wonderful fun colors and kind of glossy without being slippery, which is a really great combination. But obviously ventilation is a really big deal when it comes to putting down any kind of oil-based paint or anything that isn't latex. So you do have to deal with the fact that it's kind of a messy process to put epoxy down on your floor.

Woolf: You know my floor paint story from when I built this house, right? So when I built this house... First of all, I'll say this is a LEED certified house. I live in a LEED-certified house in the first LEED-certified neighborhood in the state of Massachusetts. So it's kind of like buying an organic box of strawberries. Everything costs a little more and it's very green and good for the environment. For my office and my husband's art studio though we left plain unfinished floors in place and I decided to come in one weekend before we moved in and paint the floors with floor and porch paint. And the smell was... I have no words. It was so bad, and I thought, "Here I have this LEED certified clean and green house and I've just basically ruined it.”

Krane: You voided your warranty!

Woolf: Totally, and you know, it was October already and it was really too cold to leave all the windows open but I had to crack the windows for, I don't know, like a month. So Amy's right about ventilation. If you're going to be doing epoxy or floor paint... But that was 15 years ago and I do know that there are floor paints now that are supposedly lower odor, less obnoxious, less toxic. So I think they are probably options out there that one could use, either floor paint or epoxy to create a durable surface in a basement. Does that epoxy you mentioned have speckles in it?

Krane: No. No, I'm thinking about a solid, solid colored epoxy floor. When I wore a different hat earlier in life I was a producer and we used to shoot in shooting lofts. They were spaces that started life off as industrial spaces then were revamped to be spaces to shoot in because they had a beautiful natural light, big open unobstructed square footage and some of them had concrete floors. Occasionally they were painted in a white epoxy. So just a solid white. I think because a basement is almost always lacking any architectural adornment or interest that many other parts of your house will have, it's kind of a bigger challenge to make it great looking and fun and interesting. The job is really to create a whole new environment down there. Create a new world from almost nothing, from possibly concrete walls and a concrete floor. And it makes it a challenge, but it's definitely very doable. As we said before, starting by delineating what areas are going to function as what, and then using furnishings and paint color big time to create the vibe you want and create the atmosphere that you want.

Woolf: I think because it's away from the main part of the house and there's visual separation, you could kind of have a little fun in a basement. Especially if you're doing something like laundry. Something that feels a like drudgery. Why not put a happy color down there? I had a laundry room, two houses ago, that was blue and orange... My favorite combo.

Krane: Go Mets!

Woolf: . Yeah, no. Not quite that blue and orange. I think it was Farrow & Ball Orangerie and Parma Gray. So... That's happy. Whatever makes you happy, you can do that in a basement.

Krane: Why don't we talk a little bit about colors that might be good for certain functions and areas. We have touched on this when we've talked about bedrooms and home offices. You know, color is so proficient at creating an ambiance. Let's talk a little bit about the kinds of colors you might want to use based on the function of the space. Like if it's all about being a cozy den or an area where you're going do viewing media, that kind of thing. Certainly dark colors could be great without being dour. You can choose some dark colors that really create a nice, warm moody area for watching TV. Embracing the fact that there isn't natural light there, like some beautiful browns or navy blue or charcoal gray if you want.

Woolf: Right, well. The inside of a movie theater is always going to be black and the reason for that is that the light coming off the screen won't reflect off dark walls as they would light ones. So in the same way a home theater or just a cozy TV corner in your basement can have dark colored walls to absorb that reflective light. Not having it bounce around the room can be really helpful. It certainly creates that home theater vibe in a nice way. I don't know that I’d do black. I'm not a black wall fan, but really dark navy, like you said. A brown... I think of really dark purple, like an aubergine would be pretty wild and fun. And it's a basement, so why not? I think a gym is another really important room to talk about. I really think a home gym, or any gym, I'm always leaning into cool colors.

Krane: Well, I was going to ask you... Are you from the “energize the space” school of thought for colors in a gym or the “cool me down and make time go faster” school? Because one could be for warm or cool colors in there.

Woolf: So I'm going to say both. Yes, I'm going to say energize and cool. And that would be with turquoise, aqua, colors like that. Colors that are uplifting and energizing, and yet at the same time, cooling... I had a client a couple of years ago, called me on the way home from the gym, she was not in a home gym, but a gym in town, and they had repainted all the walls deep red because that was their brand color.

Krane: Oh, no!

Woolf: And she said, "Amy, I can't even be in the building. I had to leave."

Krane: That's so stupid. It's crazy, right?

Woolf: I could see like a cool yellow being a good energizing color. But that's fresh. I would never call yellow cooling, but if it was an icy, maybe.

Krane: Maybe you'd have different colors in there and you know, do some real combinations... Yeah, do some great color blocking and maybe you could put an orange, even a bright orange there if it's just one section. It would be kind of energizing. And then have your turquoise or your yellowy-green in another area. Kind of mix it up, right?

Woolf: Or maybe art work on the wall is the way to do it. Put the warmer, energizing type colors on the wall and then have really cool fresh art work that kind of balances it out and gives your eye a resting space... I would imagine that resting space concept could apply to color temperatures as well, to warm and cool colors. But yeah, dark red. No, please, under no circumstances would I ever approve that. Even if it's on brand... Oh man.

Krane: Yeah, that's crazy. It's so polarizing and the associations with aggression... Even if it's energizing, I agree. It's just absolutely the wrong color. I can't imagine any scenario where red walls would work in a gym. I basically don't think I'd put red in a basement. I mean, I don't know, maybe some deep garnet kind of deep red for just one little section. Maybe. But it's a very powerful color, red. I really think it should be used in moderation.

Woolf: I also feel like the colors in a basement, to me, I want them to evoke the outdoors, the natural world: sun, light, blue skies, fresh air. I'm almost always looking for something that brings a sense of lightness and brightness into a basement. There was that office that I did during the pandemic in the basement. No windows, completely land locked, and we did sky blue colors on the walls and the ceiling and beach art work. There was wallpaper that looked kind of like the ocean in a very gentle, soft way. It was kind of a Shibori...

Krane: It sounds transporting.

Woolf: Exactly, exactly. I want to bring... Oh, I hate that term. “Bring the outdoors in.” I mean the term has value and meaning, but it's become sort of watered down.

Krane: Overused!

Woolf: I mean can I hear that one more time? So I guess it goes without saying that we always want to bring the outdoors in.

Krane: I had these clients... We did their interior and the their exterior, and then their basement, separately. It was a virtual project a few years ago. It was completely unfinished and the husband was really handy. He was doing the work himself and I did something that I absolutely would not do in any other part of the house. We made the walls a bright white and he put glossy epoxy white on the floor. Then I designed this whole layout for color blocking on the walls. And we had these giant swaths of semi-gloss colors in all different shapes all over the walls. There were blues, greens, blue greens and gold. Then, I don't know if he painted them or if he bought these decals, but he put these giant images of soccer players on the walls. He had these teen age boys and they all hung out down there. It was a game room. The dad did some kind of hobby type stuff down there and the kids had pin-ball, a pool table and table tennis down there. So it was a rec room.

Woolf: That sounds wonderful.

Krane: It was very bright. The white shiny floor. I hope they're not going blind right now!

Woolf: It sounds like a wonderful, wonderful space for teenagers and as a parent of a former teenager, I think the thing you want most... What I wanted as a mom was all the kids at my house. Because that way I could kinda keep an eye on them. And also I just thought they were fun. But I would love to have a basement like that if I had teenage boys. I can just imagine a basement full of boys... Can you imagine the snacks you'd go through? ! Let's talk about full spectrum paints. Full spectrum paints are one of the things I also like to use in basements in addition to thinking about color. For those of you who are not familiar with full-spectrum paints, they are colors that are mixed without using black. And as we remember from middle school science, black absorbs light. And so, most paint recipes are made with a couple of colors and then some black thrown in to tone it. So full spectrum paints are made by using colors from the opposite side of the color wheel in order to get that toning... Theoretically, if you're absorbing light by using paint with black in it, then you're kind of stealing some of the light from the room. So I often like to use full spectrum paints in a basement. It could be Ellen Kennon full spectrum paints. Benjamin Moore has a line of full spectrum paints. So does C2, one of my faves and then there's Donald Kaufman of course, who pioneered that full spectrum thing in the modern era. So that's just another little trick. Every little thing helps. So again, going back to where we started in this episode to talk about lighting and making sure you have a good lighting plan. My ceiling is a dropped ceiling and all I can have are those troffer lights that fill in the spaces between the ceiling panels. They take the place of the ceiling panel. There's probably no worse light source than that. So I think it's helpful to think seriously about a lighting plan in the basement. You can have some table lamps if you can figure that out and just lots of different sources hitting lots of different latitudes.

Krane: That's a great point. I'm sure we've talked about this before, but when you are considering buying your bulbs, no matter what the fixture is, keep in mind that bulbs have color temperatures. They're measured in Kelvin and the lower color temperature bulbs with numbers like 2700 or 3000 are considered warm bulbs. You're gonna get light that's anywhere from orangey-yellow to yellow. Very warm, that harkens back to the color bulbs that we remember when we all used incandescent bulbs. And then as you go up through the higher and higher Kelvin you go all the way up to 5000 and 6000 and you get what's called daylight bulbs. They're very blue cold light and they can be very good for task lighting in very specific places in a house. But generally for most of your living spaces in a house, you really don't want daylight bulbs because it's got a real institutional feel to it. In a large space, you might want to mix your color temperatures based on what you're doing there. Maybe you're doing some kind of craft downstairs and seeing the actual color of what you're doing is extremely important. Whether it's painting or needle work or whatever it is, so maybe you want a slightly higher color temperature there so that the colors aren't skewing yellow. So it's not just about where your fixtures are and the kind of fixtures they are, but also the warmth or coolness of the bulbs that you're putting in those fixtures.

Woolf: For me, my sweet spot is always 3000 for living because it feels natural.

Krane: Me too!

Woolf: Not too golden glow, but also not harsh. Sometimes I might go to 3500. They're harder to find. Actually, 3000K is easy to find. But yeah, I know when LED bulbs first came out, I kinda got sucked into that daylight label because you look at something and it says daylight and you think, "Well, what could be wrong with that?" But you know the truth is we don't want to be living in what feels like an operating room. But I agree with you for specific tasks, task lighting, a higher Kelvin can be right. And it's weird, it's backwards, the higher the number, the cooler the light...

Krane: So again, going back to where we started, as color is reflected light, if your bulbs are more yellow or more blue, it's going to really affect how those paint colors look on your wall. So like Amy said, start off by nailing down your lights, even putting the bulbs you're gonna use in those fixtures, and then going on to choosing your colors, not just for the paint, but for everything. I mean the color light affects everything. Function first, lighting next, then colors.

Woolf: Right, exactly. We hope you've enjoyed this episode and that you'll join us again for Ley's Talk [paint] Color. You can find us at... Let's talk Paint color dot com. If you have any questions or any requests for a topic that you'd like us to cover, please let us know.

Krane: Thanks a lot. See you next time.

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