Basements, if they’d ever gone away, are back.
As Long Islanders spend more time at home amid the coronavirus pandemic, a renovated and repurposed space has become an unexpected bonus — a sanctuary for the music lover, hobbyist or workaholic.
“We’re all making our house work in a different way,” said Andrea Nellis, of Rockville Centre, who transformed her basement into a craft room to indulge her decades-old love of knitting.
Other Long Islanders have set up or are spending more time in underground gyms, game rooms and caves stuffed with memorabilia.
“They need some place for a separate area,” said Michael Goldberg, of Alure Home Improvements of Commack, which has remodeled several basements. “Everybody’s in everybody’s space. This gives another space to go for privacy.”
Mike Cesarano and Eila Mell’s basement might be one to remember.
Descending the steps of their Westbury home takes you into a world of memories he cannot let go — when the ’73 Mets made it to the World Series, the Batman show was on TV and the ‘89 Batman movie starring Michael Keaton.
Cesarano, 53, an associate professor at Queensborough Community College in Bayside where he teaches theater, ran cables through his basement to transform it into a shrine to sports and the performing arts.
Hanging on a string is a decorative moon from the first play Cesarano directed, “The Fantasticks,” at Queens College in 1988. Flip it over and the sun is on the other side. “Act I takes place in the moonlight,” he said of this timeless room. “Act II takes place in the sunlight.”
Ikea glass cases display vintage toys — including a veritable army of action figures, from the original “Star Trek;” "G.I. Joe;” “Planet of the Apes;” and “Starsky & Hutch.”
Custom-made bookcases hold titles on movies, TV, baseball and theater as well as DVDs — such as “Frequency,” a time travel movie with the 1969 Mets as part of the plot; “Young Frankenstein;” “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle;” “The Graduate;” and “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”
There’s a closet full of jerseys of Major League Baseball teams, and models of baseball stadiums sit on a round glass-top table.
Cesarano calls his basement a “fun space that’s customized to my tastes as opposed to the rest of the house. … a pop culture, nostalgia room.”
Sam and Michelle Morhaim, of the Village of Mill Neck, wanted to turn a boring, empty basement into a space their teenage daughter and two twenty-something sons could enjoy.
That was the end of summer 2019.
Three months and $150,000 later, the 2,000-square-foot basement was transformed into a multipurpose space and an entertainment center, complete with a custom-made wall unit housing a gas fireplace, gym, kitchen and bathroom. Getting a certificate of occupancy took another three months.
The wait paid off. Their daughter lives at home and their sons in Miami, but the family can gather in that room to play board and video games, watch television and eat. “It gives them a place,” Sam, 55, said. “They feel like it’s their own.”
There’s a pool table, air hockey table and a 75-inch screen, along with a kitchen and a fireplace. “You control it with a remote,” Morhaim said of the fireplace. “And it saves on heat. It has a blower. It increases the heat in the room.”
The gym has a treadmill, an elliptical trainer, a boxing bag and free weights.
“We have pretty much everything,” Sam said. “We can control all the media and the speakers with our phone.”
Home suite home
Step into the basement of Jim and Susan Armstrong’s Hauppauge home and you find yourself in a modern workplace, with neatly partitioned desks.
The Armstrongs converted their basement into a home office suite with many, if not all, the amenities of a conventional office — there’s no water cooler. They have two workstations bought on Craigslist for about $400 each, plus routers and other technology.
Jim, 57, president of DSM Engineering Associates, which has an office in a commercial building in Hauppauge, spends a lot of time at his home office these days.
DSM, with about a half-dozen employees, offers consulting services in energy efficiency, monitoring building systems remotely, reporting and documenting energy use.
Jim and Susan, 56, who specializes in analyzing energy system data, have been working from their basement connected to the rest of the house via Ethernet. They brought in and set up Voice over Internet Protocol phones from the main office and use software to share files.
“You wouldn’t know that I wasn’t sitting in my office or anywhere else,” Jim Armstrong said. “Technology was key to facilitating this transfer seamlessly.”
Steve and Tammie Ross’ basement renovation aimed to strike the right chord with their guitarist son.
Another Alure Home Improvements project, it turned the space in their Old Westbury home into an acoustic lab using sound design principles, with a recording booth, sound studio and TV area — the perfect space for Kevin, 18, a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, to play, practice and produce music.
It's equipped with a keyboard, guitars, drums, acoustic tiles and Owens Corning acoustic panels.
As a nod to an interest in carpentry Steve, 52, shares with his other son, Ian, 21, there is also a shop with woodworking tools.
“It used to be an open space,” said Tammie Ross, 53. “Now there’s more room definition ... separation of rooms.”
The project cost nearly $200,000. Like many basement revamps, it added a bathroom so people don’t have to go upstairs.
The Rosses, however, aren’t done. “We’re getting controlled refrigerators for wine storage,” Tammie Ross said.
Sometimes, all you have to do is reorganize a space — as did Andrea Nellis, of Rockville Centre.
She took on the project back in 2012, when they moved in. “It was minimal work,” said Nellis, 51. “We re-carpeted, put furniture, painted.”
Now the Nellis basement has a little something for nearly everyone in the family. “It’s a multipurpose space,” Nellis said. “There’s a craft room, a playroom, a laundry room.”
The craft room includes a work table and shelf with her knitting projects, and a cedar closet that stores Nellis’ yarn collection. There’s even a small gym complete with a chin-up bar and hand weights and now, space to store food.
“I have more food in the basement than ever,” Nellis said. “There’s also an extra refrigerator."
With the family stuck at home, the basement serves as a game room, too.
“Now it’s set up for video games,” Nellis said. “There’s a foosball table and a basketball game like the one at an arcade.”
A house within a house
Nancy Lupo didn’t just redesign a basement: She designed a playhouse.
The Owner and designer for Interior Design By Nancy, based in her Dix Hills home office, created a colorful playhouse inside the basement of a Woodbury house.
“This project was literally done probably two weeks before the coronavirus hit,” Lupo, 48, said. “It was perfect timing.”
A colorful 8-by-8-foot playhouse, complete with a picnic table beside it, became a home within a home.
“This was a little out of the box for me as a designer,” Lupo said. “This was a lot of fun, to be able to use any color that we wanted. We made it a bright, fun spot for the kids.”
Rob Cortese, owner of Tool Time Construction, based in Huntington, built the project, which started with an unfinished basement, high ceilings and the mission to create a playroom for the family’s two children.
“We had a blank canvas,” Lupo said. “The walls were the foundation and the floor was cement. We were able to reimagine the entire space.”
Lupo created a room with a TV, sofa and dry bar, along with cabinets, countertops and stools to do art projects along with a playhouse with a 4½-foot-high door and slide.
“Stairs go on top of the playhouse,” Lupo said. “You can look over a railing into a playhouse or go down a slide on the left side.”