After 13 Years, Athena Calderone Made Her Cinder Block Basement Liveable

For more than a decade, the beauty of Athena Calderone’s Amagansett, New York, home stopped at the basement door. It was here that things transitioned from breezy and bright to cobwebby and cold. Really, that’s to say it looked like your average basement. As you walked down the creaky stairs you were greeted by cinder-block walls, shelves stocked with cleaning supplies and extra toilet paper, old laundry machines lifted up on a makeshift platform, and the occasional cricket or mouse. “The space had been underappreciated and underutilized for almost 13 years,” says the EyeSwoon founder. 

Like a lot of people during the height of the pandemic, Calderone got the itch to finish the raw space and make it livable. Square footage was on her side—it’s rare to have a basement that’s the full footprint of the upper floor. “My son wanted a space where he could hang with friends and watch TV, and Victor, my husband, wanted a recording studio here so he didn’t have to go back into New York City to work,” explains Calderone. Bits and pieces of framing had been installed over the years with the intention of at least having a dry storage area, so Calderone used those bones as a rough layout and steered clear of moving any plumbing, electrical, or vents around. “We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel,” she notes. 

After taking necessary safety precautions, like widening the staircase and adding treads, she and her contractor, Chris DiJorio of North Haven Builders, got to work on carving out the various zones for movie watching, music making, and laundry folding. 

Let What’s in Stock Lead the Way

old basement with laundry machines on platform

The laundry space, before.

Because Calderone wanted to get the space up and running for her family as soon as possible, she relegated herself to materials that were in stock. Fortunately for her, some of her best ideas come when there are limitations involved. While she originally had classic square terrazzo checkerboard tiles from Clé in mind for the flooring, when the company told her that it only had 12-by-24-inch rectangles on hand, she went with the flow. In fact, she ended up loving the look so much she carried the pieces up onto the baseboard.  

old wood basement steps

The stairs, before.
floor tile being installed

The flooring installation, in process.

Sticking to her tight timeline, Calderone didn’t have her contractor bother with custom millwork for the laundry space. Instead they sourced kitchen cabinet drawers and four Shaker-style closet doors from Wayfair that were ready to ship and painted them all the same olive green hue after diligently priming everything. The only bespoke addition was the small panel above the refrigerator. “When we installed everything, it looked weird, because the stacked washer and dryer went almost right up to the ceiling and the fridge stopped much lower,” says Calderone of landing on the quick fix.

Camouflage Crawl Spaces

tile wall cut out

The barely there square outline in the laundry room backsplash isn’t a crack—it’s a door leading to a crawl space. There’s a plumbing valve back there that Calderone and her husband may need to access in the future, so instead of not doing anything on that wall at all, they worked with it and had the tiles adhered to the magnetic cutout. That way, “when and if we ever need to get in there, we can pull it off,” she shares. 

Skip the White Paint

Here’s an unexpected tip: White walls and ceilings in a basement can come off as stark and distracting. “Using darker colors in a small space or one that doesn’t have a lot of natural light has the adverse effect you think it would,” notes Calderone. The question was, what was the right hue to use? She made the expensive mistake of having her painters move forward with a warm cream color without testing it in small swatches first. “It turned out way too white with a yellow tint,” she remembers. The muted taupe she landed on next was perfect: “It envelops you,” she says. And it doesn’t draw your eye up to the soffits.

recording studio

The recording studio walls got a special treatment before the charcoal paint was applied: They’re filled with high-density insulation to help not only keep things quiet for Calderone’s DJ husband when he’s working, but to prevent his music from leaking out. For the same reason, she ditched the ceramic tile for carpet tile to act as an extra noise buffer. “It’s a man cave in every sense,” she says with a laugh. 

Shop Your Own Home

With the construction done, it was time to decorate—a venture that proved to be an opportunity to make use of items that were gathering dust. A too-small Noguchi lantern that Calderone had originally purchased for her Brooklyn home turned out to be the right fit for one corner. “I was very cognizant of making sure to counterbalance the cool, fluorescent ceiling lighting with things that had a warm glow to them,” she says of her fixture choices. She also went through her art archives and hung a painting she bought back around 2009. The coffee table came from her outdoor terrace. “When I see something that I love, I’m not reliant on what its original use was meant to be,” she explains. “You should never rob your functional spaces of decorative objects.”

sink in bathroom

Her other styling trick: Bring in objects of different heights, from tiny wood stools to tall floor lamps, so not everything is on one plane. 

Save Room for All Things Practical

linen closet

surfboard storage

Surfboard Rack, Shelving, and Containers, Wayfair

For her plethora of cookware and styling props, and basement-y things like bikes, surfboards, and firewood, Calderone dedicated a section of the space to just storage. While the area boasts a clean poured concrete floor, it’s nothing fancy (the basic wire shelving was another Wayfair score). “We weren’t going to invest money where we didn’t have to,” she points out—even if this project was 13 years in the making.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.