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Even new homes now cater to lower-level living

The following is an article published in the Sun Chronicle written by staff writer Janette Sears on Sunday, February 25, 2007

It’s no secret that for many years New England homeowners have put their Yankee ingenuity and sense of thrift to good use by turning at least part of their basements into family rooms, traditionally complete with dark wood paneling and perhaps a ping-pong or pool table thrown in.

A wine cellar is part of the lower-level living  scene at the  North Attleboro home of Peter and Debbie Retos. (Staff  photo by Tom  Maguire)
A wine cellar is part of the lower-level living  scene at the North Attleboro home of Peter and Debbie Retos.
(Staff  photo by Tom Maguire)

But more recently, area builders say they’ve seen a growing trend of buyers requesting that the basements of their brand new homes be made into living space, complete with everything from bars to wine cellars to mini-movie theaters.

Builders call it “lower-level living.”

“Certainly, there’s a trend to use every possible livable square foot inside of a house, and that can include several levels or basements,” said Andrew Crane, president of the Home Builders Association of Massachusetts. “I have seen a lot of people considering that livable space as the lots become less and less perfect.”

Crane noted that even if homeowners are not planning to finish off their basements right away for that extra level of living space, they are keeping the option open by installing basement heating systems and allowing for higher basement ceilings. Greg Spier, president of Maystar Realty Corp. and the exclusive builder of the Stonehurst subdivision in Foxboro, says he first noticed the trend to lower-level living in the late 1990s.

“They don’t call them basements anymore,” Spier said. “People started realizing that the basements could create livable area at a fraction of the cost of adding on to their existing home. Additionally, it avoided having to destroy landscaping, and potential issues with local zoning and setback requirements.”

In the past five years, Spier has finished about nine lower levels in Stonehurst. He noted that many people want the lower levels for their children as play areas or for adults to have their own space away from the rest of the family. Pool tables, home theaters and pub areas are some of the most popular ways of utilizing basement space.

Spier also noted, however, that while a finished lower level can be very elaborate and very costly, they can also be very affordable.

“Not every basement has to have a walkout area with large windows to create warm and inviting lower levels,” he said. “We work within people’s budgets to create new living space within their homes. Prices for lower levels can range from the low of about $25,000 to well over $100,000.”

One such modest lower-level space Spier and construction superintendent Mark Lightbody have created is in the home of Paul and Lorraine Hubrich at 2 Lakeview Terrace in Foxboro, where only half the basement space was finished.

Spier built the Hubrich home about nine years ago with a two-car garage, which takes up about half the basement space. The other half of the basement was turned into an English pub-style space that features dark-brown wainscoting topped with matching chair rail and rustic red walls in the billiard area, where the floor is done in a terra cotta shade of ceramic tile.

While shooting a friendly game of pool, guests at the “Hubrich Pub” have their pick of three wall-mounted flat screen TVs to watch.

The first TV is situated high on a corner wall near the pool table, the second is high above the granite-topped bar and the third and largest of the TVs, a 52-inch high-definition model, is on the wall of the sitting area.

This area also offers easy access to the outdoor hot tub through sliding glass doors. Within the sitting area itself, guests can enjoy watching TV from the beige sectional sofa, or they can sit on the window bench beneath two additional windows that directly overlook the hot tub.

The bar is equipped with a stainless steel beverage center, refrigerator and freezer, and sink.

“We wanted a sport room – a room away from upstairs where we could entertain people in a larger room,” Paul said.

But the Hubriches also enjoy many a relaxing moment alone in the lower level, with just their three dogs.

Even when there is plenty of space upstairs, many people still want that lower-level living space, according to Rick O’Brien of O’Brien & Meeks Construction in North Attleboro.

“I first noticed the trend of lower-level living about three to four years ago when almost all of my potential buyers would ask, ‘Is the lower level finished?'” O’Brien said.

“Buyers’ requests would range from standard family rooms, offices or exercise rooms to the higher end features, such as wine cellars, bars, and theaters,” he said. “After listening to multiple requests from our buyers we decided to incorporate these features into our new model home.”

Since doing so, seven out of 10 buyers have requested a finished lower level, O’Brien said, adding that in the past five years his company has finished about 40 basements in different styles.

Peter and Debbie Retos are among the homeowners who requested a finished lower level in their Westwood Estates home in North Attleboro.

It was the model home, in fact, that sold the couple on adding an extra 2,200 square feet of lower-level living space to the 4,000 square feet of living space that their custom colonial already had designed into its upper two levels.

“When you walked into the model you could see that they were utilizing as efficiently as they could all the square footage that was in the basement,” Peter said. “But, it was the workmanship that really mirrored what you had on your upper levels, and really leant itself to just a continuation of the home and that you could do a lot down here.”

Although the Retos home was only built three months ago, they say they have already gotten more use out of the lower level than they thought they would.

Along with their teenage son, they are particularly enjoying the home theater, which comes equipped with the latest technology, a projector mounted onto the ceiling, a 108-inch screen, multiple speakers strategically placed throughout the room, and staged theater seating, with comfortable leather recliners.

Outside of the home theater, the remaining lower level is done in a decor as elegant as the first floor, including a double volute oak staircase that opens to a spacious and wool-carpeted landing area beneath a 9-foot ceiling.

In addition to the home theater, the landing area leads to a spacious room where a large sitting area, complete with 50-inch plasma TV, is flanked by a bar area on the left and a billiard area on the right – all open to one another. The ceiling in the landing area, though suspended, is still 8 feet high.

And, the space just doesn’t seem to end, as a left turn through an angled door leads to the carpeted 16- by 18-foot exercise room and a double set of French doors off the billiard area leads to the temperature-controlled, cedar-lined wine cellar. Another set of French doors off the other side of the billiard area leads to Peter’s home office, while yet another set of French doors leads to a full bath and back to the landing area.

“It used to be that at family gatherings, parties or when friends came by, the adults always ended up around the island in the kitchen and the kids scattered somewhere else around the house,” Debbie Retos said. “Now with the lower level the youngest ones enjoy the added space. The teenagers enjoy the home theater room and pool table and the adults can congregate around the bar by the big screen. There’s something for everyone and plenty of space for all … Of course, we also enjoy the quiet Saturday night watching a movie ourselves in the theater.”

Janette Sears can be reached by phone or fax at 508-222-2442 or by e-mail at janette@janettesears.com.

SIDEBAR:

So if new homebuyers are opting to use their basement areas for lower-level living, what are they doing for storage?

Greg Spier, president of Maystar Realty Corp. and builder of the Stonehurst subdivision in Foxboro, says his company typically does not finish the entire lower level of a home, leaving 20 to 30 percent of it unfinished for storage of outdoor furniture and various other items.

Additionally, in larger homes there is typically a walk-up attic for storage. And Spier said his company helps homebuyers organize their garages and lower-level storage areas with shelving and systems that help maximize storage capacity.

– JANETTE SEARS

It’s no secret that for many years New England homeowners have put their Yankee ingenuity and sense of thrift to good use by turning at least part of their basements into family rooms, traditionally complete with dark wood paneling and perhaps a ping-pong or pool table thrown in.

But more recently, area builders say they’ve seen a growing trend of buyers requesting that the basements of their brand new homes be made into living space, complete with everything from bars to wine cellars to mini-movie theaters.

Builders call it “lower-level living.”

“Certainly, there’s a trend to use every possible livable square foot inside of a house, and that can include several levels or basements,” said Andrew Crane, president of the Home Builders Association of Massachusetts. “I have seen a lot of people considering that livable space as the lots become less and less perfect.”

Crane noted that even if homeowners are not planning to finish off their basements right away for that extra level of living space, they are keeping the option open by installing basement heating systems and allowing for higher basement ceilings. Greg Spier, president of Maystar Realty Corp. and the exclusive builder of the Stonehurst subdivision in Foxboro, says he first noticed the trend to lower-level living in the late 1990s.

“They don’t call them basements anymore,” Spier said. “People started realizing that the basements could create livable area at a fraction of the cost of adding on to their existing home. Additionally, it avoided having to destroy landscaping, and potential issues with local zoning and setback requirements.”

In the past five years, Spier has finished about nine lower levels in Stonehurst. He noted that many people want the lower levels for their children as play areas or for adults to have their own space away from the rest of the family. Pool tables, home theaters and pub areas are some of the most popular ways of utilizing basement space.

Spier also noted, however, that while a finished lower level can be very elaborate and very costly, they can also be very affordable.

“Not every basement has to have a walkout area with large windows to create warm and inviting lower levels,” he said. “We work within people’s budgets to create new living space within their homes. Prices for lower levels can range from the low of about $25,000 to well over $100,000.”

One such modest lower-level space Spier and construction superintendent Mark Lightbody have created is in the home of Paul and Lorraine Hubrich at 2 Lakeview Terrace in Foxboro, where only half the basement space was finished.

Spier built the Hubrich home about nine years ago with a two-car garage, which takes up about half the basement space. The other half of the basement was turned into an English pub-style space that features dark-brown wainscoting topped with matching chair rail and rustic red walls in the billiard area, where the floor is done in a terra cotta shade of ceramic tile.

While shooting a friendly game of pool, guests at the “Hubrich Pub” have their pick of three wall-mounted flat screen TVs to watch.

The first TV is situated high on a corner wall near the pool table, the second is high above the granite-topped bar and the third and largest of the TVs, a 52-inch high-definition model, is on the wall of the sitting area.

This area also offers easy access to the outdoor hot tub through sliding glass doors. Within the sitting area itself, guests can enjoy watching TV from the beige sectional sofa, or they can sit on the window bench beneath two additional windows that directly overlook the hot tub.

The bar is equipped with a stainless steel beverage center, refrigerator and freezer, and sink.

“We wanted a sport room – a room away from upstairs where we could entertain people in a larger room,” Paul said.

But the Hubriches also enjoy many a relaxing moment alone in the lower level, with just their three dogs.

Even when there is plenty of space upstairs, many people still want that lower-level living space, according to Rick O’Brien of O’Brien & Meeks Construction in North Attleboro.

“I first noticed the trend of lower-level living about three to four years ago when almost all of my potential buyers would ask, ‘Is the lower level finished?'” O’Brien said.

“Buyers’ requests would range from standard family rooms, offices or exercise rooms to the higher end features, such as wine cellars, bars, and theaters,” he said. “After listening to multiple requests from our buyers we decided to incorporate these features into our new model home.”

Since doing so, seven out of 10 buyers have requested a finished lower level, O’Brien said, adding that in the past five years his company has finished about 40 basements in different styles.

Peter and Debbie Retos are among the homeowners who requested a finished lower level in their Westwood Estates home in North Attleboro.

It was the model home, in fact, that sold the couple on adding an extra 2,200 square feet of lower-level living space to the 4,000 square feet of living space that their custom colonial already had designed into its upper two levels.

“When you walked into the model you could see that they were utilizing as efficiently as they could all the square footage that was in the basement,” Peter said. “But, it was the workmanship that really mirrored what you had on your upper levels, and really leant itself to just a continuation of the home and that you could do a lot down here.”

Although the Retos home was only built three months ago, they say they have already gotten more use out of the lower level than they thought they would.

Along with their teenage son, they are particularly enjoying the home theater, which comes equipped with the latest technology, a projector mounted onto the ceiling, a 108-inch screen, multiple speakers strategically placed throughout the room, and staged theater seating, with comfortable leather recliners.

Outside of the home theater, the remaining lower level is done in a decor as elegant as the first floor, including a double volute oak staircase that opens to a spacious and wool-carpeted landing area beneath a 9-foot ceiling.

In addition to the home theater, the landing area leads to a spacious room where a large sitting area, complete with 50-inch plasma TV, is flanked by a bar area on the left and a billiard area on the right – all open to one another. The ceiling in the landing area, though suspended, is still 8 feet high.

And, the space just doesn’t seem to end, as a left turn through an angled door leads to the carpeted 16- by 18-foot exercise room and a double set of French doors off the billiard area leads to the temperature-controlled, cedar-lined wine cellar. Another set of French doors off the other side of the billiard area leads to Peter’s home office, while yet another set of French doors leads to a full bath and back to the landing area.

“It used to be that at family gatherings, parties or when friends came by, the adults always ended up around the island in the kitchen and the kids scattered somewhere else around the house,” Debbie Retos said. “Now with the lower level the youngest ones enjoy the added space. The teenagers enjoy the home theater room and pool table and the adults can congregate around the bar by the big screen. There’s something for everyone and plenty of space for all … Of course, we also enjoy the quiet Saturday night watching a movie ourselves in the theater.”

Janette Sears can be reached by phone or fax at 508-222-2442 or by e-mail at janette@janettesears.com.

SIDEBAR:

So if new homebuyers are opting to use their basement areas for lower-level living, what are they doing for storage?

Greg Spier, president of Maystar Realty Corp. and builder of the Stonehurst subdivision in Foxboro, says his company typically does not finish the entire lower level of a home, leaving 20 to 30 percent of it unfinished for storage of outdoor furniture and various other items.

Additionally, in larger homes there is typically a walk-up attic for storage. And Spier said his company helps homebuyers organize their garages and lower-level storage areas with shelving and systems that help maximize storage capacity.

– JANETTE SEARS

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