How two Atlanta families turned their basements into great entertaining spaces

One is dark and cozy, the other light and bright, but both make for inviting places to hang out

“By keeping the main space open, you can have quite a large party,” says interior designer Becky Vocaire. “Almost everywhere has a view of the main TV.” A large sectional by Robin Bruce anchors the space. The farmhouse table is from Rustic Trades Furniture in Roswell.

Photograph by Marc Maudlin

For obvious reasons, the last couple of years have seen a boom in home entertaining. Many Atlantans have gotten especially creative with their basements, installing bunk rooms, game tables, home gyms, wine rooms, even entire kitchens. Here, two families take different approaches to decorating their terrace levels—one going dark and cozy, the other light and bright. Both make for inviting places to hang out.

Neutral Territory

A custom kitchenette is flanked by a refrigerator and wine fridge framed in cabinetry. Subtle white hexagon-shaped backsplash tiles add just a touch of pattern as backdrop for the custom steel-and-glass bar shelves. Textured barstools from Restoration Hardware fit the casual style of the basement.

Photograph by Marc Maudlin

Some days, this Oak Grove basement is a cozy place for book club and cocktails. Other days, Heather and Jonathan Lively’s terrace level hosts birthday parties, relatives, or just their family of five—with video games and shuffleboard rounds tapping into everybody’s competitive mode. Interior designer Becky Vocaire carved 1,500 unfinished square feet into a living room, dining area, billiards room, exercise space, and guest bedroom and bath.

Custom ball racks, cue holders, and triangle mounts were part of the billiard room design. In the main entertaining space, “planking on the ceiling helped add some dimension in that room since we were tied to a flat ceiling because it’s a basement,” says Becky.

Photograph by Marc Maudlin

Mixed metals were a deliberate choice to add visual interest to the neutral backdrop.

Photograph by Marc Maudlin

“We didn’t want this to feel like a basement,” says Becky. “We went with a brighter and more modern look than upstairs but added some warmth.” As part of its light-colored vibe, the designer created a custom kitchenette made of natural white oak painted a soothing “Functional Gray” by Sherwin-Williams. Special features include custom metal shelves in the kitchenette and planked walls and ceilings.

As in any well-planned basement, practicality rules. Phase Two of the Livelys’ lower level will include an outdoor pool, so the designer chose flooring that’s durable porcelain but looks like wood. French doors already in place will be the in-and-out point for swimmers. Colors that resemble sand and sea glass give the space a beachy vibe.

Blue Beauty

The Zulawskis’ entertaining area is divided into a media-watching section, a group of four chairs off a kitchenette, and a wine room.

Photograph by Marc Maudlin

After living in their Buckhead home for four years, homeowners Erika and Tim Zulawski finally figured out a plan for their unfinished basement. With Tim’s job as senior VP and chief revenue officer for the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United, and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a memorable entertainment space had always been high on the list. They landed on something like their own speakeasy.

Chelsea Barry, their interior designer, says, “The Zulawskis gave me an inspiration photo of an entertaining area that was dark blue and had a secret door to it so that you didn’t know it existed. Their basement was a fairly large area, so we were able to outfit the space with a lot of things: a man cave, ladies lounge, wine room, kitchenette/bar, kids playroom with bunks, a guest room, and a gym.”

A bookcase on the terrace level disguises the secret entry to the blue entertainment space. “Tim had a strong idea of a secret door of some sort, so that got my mind running,” says interior designer Chelsea Barry.

Photograph by Marc Maudlin

A mirrored wall and commercial-grade glass doors by Hercules dress up the workout room.

Photograph by Marc Maudlin

The long main room is divided into a media-watching section with another group of four chairs off a kitchenette and wine area. “Erika wanted a space to sit with her girlfriends if the guys were occupying the media area during a game,” says Chelsea. The chairs swivel in case everyone wants to watch TV. Custom paneling is stained in the sultry “Blue Note” by Sherwin-Williams.

Furnishings in off-white—sofa by RH, chairs from Caracole—contrast with the masculine vibe of the TV area. Circular coffee tables by Four Hands are easy to move. Dynamic lighting, including vertical sconces by Arteriors and an overhead light from RH, adds an artistic element.

Photograph by Marc Maudlin

White-oak cabinetry by Haggard Home and cream-colored marble lighten up the bar area, further distinguished by an arched ceiling. A window connects it to the sitting areas.

Photograph by Marc Maudlin

Chairs from Arteriors are swathed in blue to match Sherwin-Williams “Blue Note” wall paint and can swivel to catch sight of the television. The buffalo art is an homage to homeowner Tim Zulawski’s hometown of Buffalo, New York.

Photograph by Marc Maudlin

The other spaces in the 1,900-square-foot level get a lot of use, too, but the expansive entertaining room steals the show. In fact, it’s got a James Bond–type feature or two: Guests enter via a secret door disguised as a bookcase. Another door hidden in the paneling conceals equipment. “The hidden doors give the basement a fun and secretive feel, and I also felt like it gave my clients a lot of bang for their buck, design-wise,” says Chelsea. “Plus, their kids love showing people the hidden doors, and Dad got his dream of having this ‘secret’ space.”

This article appears in our Fall 2022 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.