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Creating a Private Book Nook in the Basement

Updated: May 23, 2023

Back in 2012, when we first moved into our house, the basement was completely unfinished. We piled up our holiday decorations, the furniture that didn't fit upstairs, and all our old moving boxes and made a maze on the cement floor, then tried to encourage the kids to have some fun zooming in and out of the piles on their scooters.

Of course, the kids (then aged 8, 11 and 14) pronounced the basement "too creepy" to play in (since there was only one tiny window), so it became a sad and lonely space fit only for spiders and the occasional foray searching for the elusive Easter baskets.

The following year, we decided to finish some of the space to make it more usable, but the tremendous number of posts, pipes, vents and mechanicals made it difficult to determine the best way to divide up the basement into rooms.

Many of the overhead ducts hung down so low that if we covered them with a ceiling, it would only be about six feet high. To make matters worse, one particular duct sprouted an arm that came down to about four feet off the ground. We needed a solution that would allow us to cover the guts of the HVAC system while still leaving us useful space that would fit normal people and their normal furniture in it.

Eventually, after much discussion, experimenting with old furniture and floor tape to simulate walls, we finally reached a solution. We decided to dedicate one end of the basement to a workshop, the other end to storage, and to finish just the space in the middle (which happened to be where the stairs came down from the first floor).

The odd shape that was left after we wrapped several poles and ducts created an interesting 3-foot by 8-foot recess, and I announced that I'd be creating a reading nook there (no, there was no discussion!).

Even better, the way the wrap on each side of the nook was built, it left large cavities that could be carved out to make space for some shelves. I drew my design ideas for the nice carpenters who were completing the hardest parts of the job, and they were able to create exactly what I had in mind.

They framed out a 12-inch deep cavity in each of the "columns" on either side of the nook, to serve as bookshelves.

Then they built a hollow platform across the bottom of the nook as a base for our cozy daybed. Into that platform the carpenters added two drawers and a fun open shelf for toys and books.

On top of the platform, they framed two more boxes against the left and right walls, each 12" deep to create space for more bookshelves.

We now had four spacious bookshelves surrounding a generous platform for our daybed, and the whole thing was painted a warm ivory shade. The rest of the basement walls were painted a light khaki color with a deep red on several accent walls. Combined with the dark laminate wood floors, dark wood furnishings, and eventually some vintage oriental rugs in shades of red, the basement began to look like a cozy underground pub.

I hung a sturdy antiqued brass curtain rod across the front of the nook so readers could pull the satiny burgundy drapes closed for privacy. The can lights in the dropped ceiling are on a dimmer, so the space can become as bright and cheery or dim and cozy as you like.

A normal-sized mattress would not fit this space, so like the Princess and the Pea, I built up a soft spot to relax with a cot mattress, a down comforter and a vintage-looking quilt featuring the Union Jack on top. Then we just filled up the shelves and the drawers with all our favorite books and toys, and our secret reading nook was complete!

This space became everyone's favorite place to relax, including every person who ever came to visit us. Even when the boys reached high school and college age, and the friends who came to visit were all tough-looking athletes and serious gamers, there was never a time when I didn't come downstairs to find a whole pile of boys goofing around in the nook, huge feet hanging over the side! Somehow, this magical space brings out the child in everyone :)

The red curtains have even allowed our nook to function as a stage for budding actors and puppeteers.

As time went by, many of the books have been replaced by board games, but the kids still love the basement more than any other place in the house.

The boys have begun to move out and into their own places, but I hope the lure of our cozy spaces will call them back home to visit often :)

In the meantime, if you can't find me, check the book nook!

What would YOUR reading nook look like if you built one? Let me know in the comments!

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