Finishing our Basement: Adding a Fireplace and built-ins

When we built our house one of the items on our list was to be able to entertain our friends and family with lots of space to move around.  Building a ranch style home really allowed for this especially with our ability to have a large open walk-out basement. 

We decided as we were building that we would hold off on finishing the basement for a few years.  We wanted to live in the house and feel it out before we decided on how to arrange it spatially.  We did put in the 2 bedrooms and a bathroom because it was obvious where those had to go due to window placement in order to make them legal.  My dad also encouraged us to do all of the electrical and drywall work during the building process to save us the hassle and mess later.  We ended up living in our home for nearly 5 years before we decided to take the plunge and finish the basement.  There were a few reasons we knew we were ready:

1. We saved up enough money.  We wanted to pay for all of the work in cash and not have to take out a loan or put anything on a credit card.

2. We had an almost two year old and another on the way.  The house was getting overtaken by their stuff and we wanted to be able to have a more designated play space for them.

3. We were currently using the 3rd bedroom on the main level as a guest room but would be converting it into a nursery.  We love having a comfortable space for our friends and family to stay when they visit and wanted to have a finished guest bedroom and bathroom for them to use downstairs.


Here is what part of the unfinished space looked like:

Blurry view of back wall, future bar to the right
View from other side of basement of the left side of the space (I couldn’t find a true before)

It was basically a large blank canvas for us to curate and there were a few must haves on our list:

  1. gas fireplace with built-ins
  2. full bar
  3. finished bathroom with a deep soaker tub. 

The bar wasn’t much of an issue since we planned for it during the original construction of our home and had it roughed in, but the tub and fireplace would be add ons to a semi finished space. This post will focus on the fireplace and built-ins.

As I mentioned in a previous post, adding items to finished spaces can be time consuming and costly.  So of course I had to have a gas fireplace added to our basement.  First we had to decide where to put it.  Pictured below are the two spots it could go:


We struggled with making this decision because it was so permanent. We loved the idea of a fireplace flanked by two windows but also had dreams of beautiful built-ins surrounding a fireplace.  We ultimately decided that putting the fireplace on the back wall would be ideal. With this layout there would be less wasted space due to furniture placement allowing us to utilize the whole space more efficiently.

Now that we had a spot picked out we were ready to select the fireplace.  We ended up going to Merritt and Sons, a local family owned supplier with great customer service.  Sherill, one of the owners helped us pick out the perfect gas fireplace.  Next we called a few contractors to get bids on installing a gas line. We couldn’t believe how high some of the bids were.  Our fireplace dreams were crushed and we decided the cost wasn’t worth it.  So I called up Sherill and asked for her help with picking out an electric version. That way I could still have the look of a fireplace with a fraction of the cost.  She did not think that was a great idea for such a large space and explained that electric fireplaces work better to heat smaller areas.  She gave me a number of a guy she uses to install gas lines for many of her customers and mentioned that he was well priced.  We called him up and his bid was 1/3 the price of the others!!!  We were getting our fireplace!  Now the challenging part was trying to figure out the best way for him to run the line from the utility room (where the gas line originates) to the fireplace, cutting the least amount of holes in our ceiling.  Luckily I took a million pictures of our house during construction which gave him a pretty good idea of where our trusses were.  He ended up only having to cut 1 hole in the ceiling!  My dad patched the hole for us and did a great job matching the ceiling texture.  I was going to post a picture of the spot but I can’t even find it.

We framed out the fireplace, drywalled, and had an electrician come out to add cable and electricity for above the fireplace as well as on either side of the fireplace. The two outlets on either side of the build out would be hidden inside of the built in cabinets that would flank it. This way we can plug all of the entertainment equipment inside the cabinets and keep them hidden.

Fireplace and drywall installed


As many of you already know, my brother is a cabinet maker so I worked with him on designing the perfect built-ins for the space. We wanted them to be floor to ceiling with cabinets on the lower half for some closed storage as well as a bookcase on top with shelves for decor and books.  Here is the rendering my brother created for the space:


It really helps me visualize the space to see it all laid out. Once we gave him the go ahead, they began the fabrication process. We chose to go with a shaker style cabinet just like the rest of our home.

Built in uppers in the shop ready for delivery

Lowers getting installed in the dark


We painted the cabinets white dove by Benjamin Moore, which is the color of the white cabinets and trim throughout our home.  We decided to stain the “counter top” of the built ins to add some dimension and warmth so I stopped by my local Sherwin Williams to get some stain samples.  I brought in a strip of Maple and they applied several of the stains I chose to give me an idea of how it would take the stain.  Below are the stain samples.

Stain samples
Stain samples-this is where the stained shelf will sit.

We chose to go with Minwax warm chestnut (the 2nd from right) but once the stain went on the actual piece it just looked so light.  It was as if the wood was bare.  It’s crazy how each piece of wood takes stain so different even if it is the same species.  My dad and I decided to go into the shop and combine some different stains to get the color we were going for.  We played around for hours mixing stains and applying it to the underside of the piece.  Finally we found the perfect mix and stained the two tops ourselves.


The before is stained with the Minwax we chose and the after is the Minwax stained shelf along with a mixture of other stains to give it a richer color. Here is a close up:

They just needed a coat of poly and they were ready for install.

For the fireplace surround and mantle, we opted for something that was classic and craftsman with clean lines. Our fireplace upstairs is so modern and I wanted the downstairs to be a good mix of modern with traditional elements. We also wanted it to mimic the trim throughout our house.

Fireplace mantle installed. Deciding on which direction to set the tile.

We found this herringbone mosaic tile on amazon and installed it around the fireplace.  We went with a charcoal grout for contrast and love how it turned out.  Initially we planned on using this tile as a hearth as well but after consulting with the fireplace company, she assured us that a tiled hearth was not necessary so we ended up running the flooring right up to it. For the floors, we went with a Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP) called Lifeproof in the color Woodacres Oak and ran it throughout the entire basement. The decision to use this material for flooring was made due to the fact that I hate wall to wall carpet! Also, I have dogs, kids, and a husband so spills and accidents are bound to happen. This stuff is life proof! It even says it in the name. LVP is easy to install, durable and easy to clean so it was a no brainer for us.

Tile installed. Waiting for it to dry before grouting.

We chose to paint the wall above the fireplace Hale Navy by BM to tie in the color of the island in the bar area.

Once everything was installed and all of the paint and grout was dried, it was time to decorate! I could’t wait to put things on these shelves, rearrange the decor a dozen times, and organize all of the cabinets. Built ins are a great way to add architectural interest. Our goal for our home is to add these elements and customization to make it unique and function for our family.

Shelf decor is still in the works

What the shelves currently look like
current shelf styling…..for now.


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