I get some of my best inspiration from the great outdoors. Whether it’s the shade of a flower, the pattern on a leaf or the texture of a strip of bark, I’m a big fan of Mother Nature.

So I was particularly energized when Jane and Mark asked me to work on a project for them. The couple and their three children live in a lovely urban house by the lake, and all of them love the outdoors.

Their open-concept home has a great casual vibe, with a sandy-beach feeling. Their walkout basement, however, was another story — it had become a dumping ground for old furniture and castoffs. Jane and Mark needed more space and wanted to turn the unused lower level into a multi-purpose family room. They just didn’t know where to start.

One of the most common questions I hear about design: “Where do I start?” The answer: “Start with what you love.”


Since Jane and Mark love the beach, I decided to use a natural design approach to bring harmony and function to their basement, with a rustic, earthy feel. So I chose a gorgeous coastal palette of warm woods, deep browns, rich blues and pebbled grays.

I started by painting the walls a soft, warm gray. We tore up the old broad-loom carpet and replaced it with a cork flooring with a wind-swept texture.

This was a family room that had to function on three levels. Mark and Jane wanted a kitchen area to handle holiday overflow and summer barbecues. They also wanted a mudroom space for the kids’ sports gear. And all of them wanted a lounge where they could watch TV.

My challenge was to create three different zones in the one space and tie them together.

Off to one side I created a U-shaped compact kitchen area and installed a long gray countertop with a beautiful deep sink, a built-in microwave, lots of Shaker-style cabinetry and a stunning backsplash of glass and stone tile. I also brought in a full-sized fridge/freezer combo, an oven and created an eating area with counter stools.


Next to the kitchen I placed the new mudroom that leads out to the backyard. I added a built-in bench along the wall and tall storage cabinets to conceal shoes, boots and other items. I chose a lovely autumn slate for the mud-room floor, which not only can take heavy traffic but fits in well with my nature-inspired theme.

On the other side of the basement, I created the media room, which includes a charcoal-colored comfy sectional, a mid-tone zebra-wood coffee table and a rustic aged leather chair. I had fun creating additional seating by adding a few rocklike stools. They look like the real thing, but are actually made of wool so they’re soft and comfortable.

In front of the sectional there’s a big, new flat-screen television flanked by floor-to-ceiling cabinetry. But what gives the whole space visual punch is a huge, stunning graphic photo mural of a rustic beach scene that I had installed on the wall beside the sofa.

Throw in more artwork, lovely baskets, lamps and other accessories, and this beach-inspired family retreat was finally ready. Using a palette of seaside colors, textures and materials, I transformed Jane and Mark’s basement from dark and scary to light and airy — simply by going back to nature.

Interior decorator Candice Olson is host of HGTV’s “Candice Tells All.”