welcome to DIY Diaries. Each entry covers a new home improvement project. Here, interior designer Leanne Ford turns a cold basement into a home art studio.
Leanne Ford loves a blank canvas. But it turned out that creating one in her own basement was no simple task.
When the interior designer and her family moved into a historic home outside Pittsburgh three years ago, she knew the 3,000-square-foot basement, which was filled with belongings left from the home’s previous owners, wasn’t meant to be attractive.
“This was never meant to be usable space,” Ford said. “This is meant to be a basement.”
Ford, who is known for creating lines with Crate & Barrel, had always dreamed of having a home art studio. She wanted a space that served as her own blank canvas, where she could find inspiration and channel her creativity. But with a thriving design business and a four-year-old daughter to raise, dedicating a space to her off-the-clock artistic endeavors took a backseat.
“I’m an amateur artist in every way. I’m not great at anything, but I love doing all of it,” Ford says. “And I wanted to create a space that my family and I could play and get messy and create, and have all my supplies together.”
It wasn’t until the family decided to modernize their HVAC system that the basement’s transformation took flight. Assuming the process would take a handful of months, Ford soon discovered she was in for a rude awakening.
“I do this for a living and I was still so naive as to what I was about to embark upon,” she shared. “We opened up that can of worms, and then decided to make something special out of it.”
Step 1: The Epoxy Floors
Epoxy Floor Treatment: Pittsburgh Garage
Hoping to create the perfect base for her studio, Ford originally wanted epoxy floors. But when she realized how costly it would be, she decided to pursue a cheaper route. The experience was what Ford refers to as “my big disaster.”
Hoping to get rid of the typical gray basement floor color that chips up and looks messy, all the old paint was sanded off, revealing a beautiful creamy tan concrete below. But when the sealer was put on top, the result was anything but the high-gloss “lightbox” vibe she dreamed of.
“It looked so bad. It made it look like a bad spray tan,” notes Ford, calling it a “very expensive mistake.” Two more coats of sealer with a white tint were put on the floors, but unfortunately they were still blotchy. In what she calls her “power move pivot,” Ford brought in a new company, Pittsburgh Garage, to regrind the floors and put down the epoxy. It had to be planned for when the family wasn’t in the house due to the “wild odor.”
“If you’re going to actually do that in your home, have them do that when you’re out on vacation for the week,” Ford recommends. “That’s a very hot tip from somebody who did not do that.”
Ford says her greatest lesson from the epoxy disaster was to avoid cutting corners the first time around.
“Do it the way you want the first time. Any time I’ve ever tried to save a buck, I regret it later,” she said. Luckily, the high-gloss white color now looks “lovely.”
Step 2: The Clear Out
What She Used:
Trane 5 Ton 14 SEER XR14 60000 BTU Single Stage Heat Pump
Trane CleanEffects™ Whole House Air Cleaner
Trane Split System Heat Pump: XL17i Heat Pump
Trane Two Stage Hyperion Communicating Air Handler
ComfortLink® II XL1050 Thermostat
Two (2) EERVR200A1P00B
Four (4) BAYWHT10AVENTA
Since almost half of this basement was filled with the old boiler and radiator system, it had to be removed. Ford calls that process “a much bigger can of worms than expected.”
“This house had radiant heat, but they weren’t beautiful radiators. It was these horribly dumpy radiators that were in every room,” says Ford. She had tons of old wires and pipes, some of which were covered in asbestos, as well as the old boiler system pulled out. It freed up nearly 1500 square feet of space.
After that, the installation of the Trane forced air system began. While she calls it a “massive to-do,” she says the air quality in the basement is “scrubbed like hospital air now,” and is better environmentally as well as health-wise. Ultimately thrilled with the end result, Ford says his best tip is to “check, check, and double-check that you don’t need any old wires or pipes before you get rid of them.”
Step 3: Prepping, priming, and painting walls in Blank Canvas
Ford describes himself as “a lead foot with the white paintbrush.”
“If there’s a can opener, I’m gonna use it,” she laughs. That’s why there was no better way to create her own blank canvas than drenching the basement space in white paint. Originally cold and lacking much natural light, Ford wanted to use a white color that wouldn’t be out of place in a historic home but was crisp enough to brighten the room. She chose “loads and loads” of Behr’s 2023 Color of the Year, Blank Canvas (DC-003), because “it’s warm and welcoming but still clean and fresh with a hint of vintage,” Ford shares.
First, the space needed to be prepared for success against mold and mildew–common antagonists in a basement space. Ford chose KILZ® 3 Premium Primer, a heavy-duty, high-performance interior primer, in order to disguise surface imperfections and prepare the walls sufficiently.
Next they covered all the pipes, bricks, walls, surfaces, and exposed ceilings with BEHR DYNASTY® Interior Paint in semi-gloss because it’s durable and stain-repellent, while still creating the perfect backdrop for creativity. It was a significant job, thanks to the pipe-filled ceiling and gargantuan space. But now, it’s the “lightbox” that Ford dreamed of, creating a beautiful space while “keeping things really clean and tonal. And the white paint just helps do that.”
As always, any left over Blank Canvas paint Ford found himself with is now being used to paint (what else?) canvases.
What She Used:
Primer: KILZ 3 Premium Primer
Paint: BEHR Dynasty in the Color Blank Canvas selected from the BEHR Designer Collection
Stone Wall Paint: BEHR Dry Plus in the color Blank Canvas selected from the BEHR Designer Collection
Step 4: Designing and decorating the studio space
The spirit of salvage is strong for Ford, who says it was most fun she had designing the space was using all her materials left over from her projects. From left over cans of paint to a wall of doors pulled from upstairs, Ford did his best to find a place for everything. Drenched in Blank Canvas, the space could now focus on “letting it be about the art.”
The art studio portion of the basement was dreamed up as Ford’s “creative outlet, where I could go play that was disconnected from my work.” She paired pieces she designed herself, like a pendant light from her LF for Crate and Barrel collection, with a cream-colored Roly Poly chair from Too Good. Since the pottery studio needed running water, a stainless steel Reform kitchen was installed, with a backsplash made of salvaged marble. Ford used a Crate & Barrel kids Ottoman from when her daughter was a baby as seating for the Bailey pottery wheel.
One of the most imaginative examples of reuse is the wall made from doors she pulled off the rest of the house.
“I didn’t just throw it all away. I made sure things found their homes where we could,” says Ford,
While the basement overhaul was a massive project that ultimately took about a year to complete, Ford says the lessons he’s learned will last a lifetime.
“The main lesson I always learn through every construction process is patience,” says Ford. “I always tell my clients, whatever you think the timeline is, and whatever you think the budget is, double it.” But coming to recognize that would be the case in her own home proved to be a bit more challenging. “I think that was the biggest lesson in this–even I’m tricked by budget and timeline.”
With the renovation period behind it, the basement is now the vessel of creativity Ford has always hoped for. On the Saturday after the space was completed, the entire family came down to spend the entire day in the studio, working on their projects in a space designed to foster inspiration.
“It’s wild how, when you give your mind space, and you actually have a physical space, you can think freer,” said Ford.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest
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