An artful room fit for young artists

Basement gets a bright and sunny makeover

Melrose interior designer Justine Sterling’s finished project room for her kids.
Melrose interior designer Justine Sterling’s finished project room for her kids.(Jessica Delaney)

When Justine Sterling’s kitchen counters were no longer ample enough to accommodate her children’s arts and crafts projects, the Melrose interior designer decided to transform the basement of her 1920s Colonial into a studio for her budding artists.

(Jessica Delaney)

While Sterling and her husband had thought little about converting the basement into living space in the past, it was a very viable option. “It’s a walkout basement with two windows providing decent light, and it was partially finished,” says Sterling. “While it had a couple of plaster walls covering the foundation walls, it was very ugly with exposed pipes, a horrible acoustic tile ceiling, and old sticky vinyl flooring.”


At roughly 450 square feet, there was a good amount of space to create a project room for Sterling’s children, Ruby, 6, and Reid, 3. “We don’t have a playroom in the house, and I felt we could create a fun, functional place for the kids to hang out in.” To keep costs down, Sterling, who created CAD drawings of the layout, took on the role of general contractor, and worked closely with a carpenter to carve out the space.

The 8-foot drop ceiling made the space feel confining, so Sterling had the ceiling tiles removed. While there’s no sound buffer now and you can hear what’s going on upstairs, the space feels much more open and airy, and the newly exposed rafters have an attractive loft-like feel. Several black industrial-style Ikea pendant lights hang in between the rafters. After the tile was removed, Sterling devoted a bulk of the budget to having an electrician remove unnecessary wiring. “There was a lot of redundant wires, it looked very ugly,” says Sterling. The necessary wiring was spray painted white, along with the ceiling.

The concrete floors are clad with faux wood vinyl planks that have the look of bleached oak. A floating floor, which means that the planks attach to each other rather than the sub-floor, it won’t be affected by the moisture basements are prone to.


“The space needed to reflect our personal style,” says Sterling, who selected a neutral palette — black and white are the prominent hues — in keeping with the aesthetic of the rest of the house. Sterling, a South African native, favors infusing spaces with various textures and patterns for character and dimension. Overscaled graphic wallpaper by Wolf-Gordon adds flair to the staircase wall. “It’s a kid-friendly pattern, but it’s a little sophisticated too. I didn’t want to feel like you’re walking into a kid’s bedroom,” says Sterling.

Yet it’s clearly a lively children’s workspace. Reid and Ruby’s artwork—hung from Ikea picture rails and curtain rods with clips — fills the room with vibrant color. In this electronics-free zone, the kids paint, draw, and play games at their white craft table. The chairs bring in a South African touch. A modern take on Riempie chairs, they were part of a collaboration between West Elm and South African design studio Source.

“The kids are now able to spread out and be creative,” says Sterling. “It’s really nice for them to be able to see their work hanging up, too.”

Finding a place for storage

Besides creating a place for the kids, Justine Sterling realized that the basement space could solve some of family’s increasing need for a place to store shoes and coats by creating a mud room niche.


“It made a lot of sense to put a mud room here — we enter the house not through the formal center entry, but through the back door that opens into the basement,” says Sterling.

After careful measuring and examination of Ikea’s various cabinetry lines, Sterling found that this system from the kids’ line best fit the space, with about a half inch to spare. The cabinets and roll out drawers to the right are for Sterling and husband; Ruby and Reid keep their shoes and coats on the left. “The kids are really good about putting their stuff away as soon as we walk in the door now,” says Sterling who had a custom cushion made for the bench. “A mix of high and low materials adds personalization and keeps the space from feeling cheap.”

A mud room was part of the basement renovation in the Sterlings’ house. It includes drawers and cabinets and a custom bench for the whole family to use.
A mud room was part of the basement renovation in the Sterlings’ house. It includes drawers and cabinets and a custom bench for the whole family to use.(Jessica Delaney)

Jaci Conry can be reached at