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Elevating the uses of the basement

This isn't just any basement movie theater. For

This isn't just any basement movie theater. For this home theater in Centerport, the owners went all out to make sure that when those theater doors closed, the sound didn't travel. "What was great is that we had an acoustician here," says Carmela Posillico, who designed the basement. "When the doors are closed, you don't hear anything in the billiard lounge area, and even though the kitchen is right above, you don't hear anything." Credit: Carol Bates

Boring basements, be gone. There's no reason basements need to be restricted to a set of sagging couches surrounding a big TV. These unusual basements demonstrate that there's no simple formula for the land down under -- and anything goes when it comes to the lower level.

TOUCHDOWN UNDER: It took 22 months to build his Garden City home, but builder and homeowner Vinny Muldoon says he refused to skimp on any detail in his 3,500-square-foot two-floor basement.

Now, all that waiting and building has paid off, but not only for Muldoon and his wife, Dina, and their five children: Vinny, 23, Conor, 17, Katie, 15, Liam, 14 and Jack, 12. The basement is so popular that often the entire high school basketball team can be found using the basement's basketball court free of charge. "It brings people together," Muldoon says. "We let anyone in the village use it, and they use it to do whatever they want to do."

Muldoon's basement has a full sports court that can be used as a basketball court, indoor hockey court, football -- or any other sports arena. It's used in the winter when it's too cold to play outside and in the summer when it's too hot.

The basement also has a movie room that seats 20 people, a gaming area with a pingpong table and a pub -- which is the only part of the basement that's off limit to the hoards of kids that flow through Muldoon's home daily.

But young people aren't the only ones who appreciate his house.

Muldoon also uses it for fundraisers for friends who have experienced tragic situations, hosting 600 people in his basement and backyard for a charity event.

While Muldoon says the initial costs of building and designing a basement are high, it's not as costly down the line as making additions to a home. "It costs a lot of money to go down to the basement because you have to pour thicker foundation walls and you have to make sure that the opposing force of the soil doesn't break the walls," he says. "But this gives you a complete facility under your home, and that space isn't taxed nearly as much as it would be for an extension."

Muldoon says he loves his basement so much that he replicated it in another home he just built. But while it draws a loud crowd, he says the neighbors don't have to worry about the noise levels. After all, Muldoon thought of everything.

"It's soundproof," he says.

SPORTS CENTER: The family wanted to literally be able to bounce off the walls in this Jericho basement.

So they created an 11-by-20-foot padded sports room where the father could play soccer, hockey and basketball with his two young boys, 5 and 8. And if one of them just happened to run directly into a wall, he wouldn't get hurt, says Carmela Posillico of AMI Design Enterprises in Huntington, who designed the basement.

The sports court has inexpensive stick-ons of the family's favorite players and teams to add more character to the room, and there's space to store all their sports.

But the room isn't just for the boys' pleasure.

"There's also a window, and it emphasizes how they wanted it to be a fun space for the whole family," Posillico says, explaining that the boys' mother likes to watch them play through the window (where she is safe from getting whacked by a hockey stick or a ball).

The sports theme continues in the rest of the basement, with five TVs in front of their 15-foot sectional. While the sports fans are watching their games, they can glance at the sports memorabilia, which is framed and on display throughout the basement.

The owner has grown fond of watching sports on all five TVs at once, but the children also are plugged in -- they play their own sports games on their Xbox and iPod.

If parents or guests need a break from all the action, they can head over to the basement bar, which contains a long wine cabinet stocked with wines the family collects.

The basement also has a guest bedroom and bathroom.

LET'S GO TO THE MOVIES: This isn't just any basement movie theater. For this home theater in Centerport, the owners went all out to make sure that when those theater doors closed, the sound didn't travel.

"What was great is that we had an acoustician here," says designer Carmela Posillico, who designed the basement. "When the doors are closed, you don't hear anything in the billiard lounge area, and even though the kitchen is right above, you don't hear anything."

The theater is soundproof, and the speakers actually are inside the theater's eight leather reclining seats.

Outside the theater, the homeowners' names are shining in lights, and the velvet curtains lead the way to the elegant room.

The rest of the basement comprises a masculine billiard room, which has a copper ceiling and a slate floor, and a bar that has carvings etched into the wood that illustrate winemaking.

The homeowners who did the renovation -- and who have since moved and replicated this look in their new home -- have five children and more than a dozen grandchildren. So they got a lot of use out of their basement and wanted to make sure it was fun for children and adults of all ages.

WANT EXTRA SPACE? LOOK DOWN: With a little bit of brainstorming, you can transform your basement from tired to wired.

"Your basement can be an opportunity to have things you don't have room for that you always wanted: a meditation room, a sewing room, a refinishing room, an exercise room," says Aprile Marchesano, interior designer and president of Aprile Interiors in Northport.

The first question you need to ask yourself, Marchesano says: "What do I need?"

Many basements have mold problems, Marchesano says, and others are simply unfinished. Going from unfinished to finished can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and making a basement dry can be tricky.

Basements that aren't completely dry need to be painted with antimicrobial paint to help fight bacteria, mold and mildew, she says. A commercial-grade carpet also is a good choice for a basement that's in less-than-perfect condition.

Other limitations include the shape of the space itself. If it has low ceilings, it'll be difficult to have a basketball court, and if it is prone to leaks, you may want to steer clear of a library or anything that will be damaged easily by water, Marchesano says.

There are also budget limitations, but it's not difficult to make an inexpensive yet unique basement.

Kerith Flynn, an interior designer and co-owner of Margali & Flynn in Williston Park, recently helped her clients create a relatively inexpensive sports center in their basement. They put AstroTurf on the floor (you can find this for about $100 for a 9-by-12-foot piece) and painted the walls the colors of the husband's college lacrosse team.

Now, the couple and their four children play basketball and lacrosse in the basement.

"It just took paint and sports equipment that they'd normally use outside during the summer," Flynn says.

Kelly Dall, principal with Kelly Dall Interior Design in Greenlawn, says many homeowners tend to neglect their basements because these spaces usually don't have much natural light and sometimes the ceilings are low.

"In order to make any space a place that people want to spend time, these issues need to be addressed," Dall says.

To do this on a budget, Dall recommends measuring the space and figuring out what you're trying to achieve, the colors you want to use and the overall feel. Then, check out home design stores that offer decor at reduced prices, such as HomeGoods, TJ Maxx and Tuesday Mornings.

FOR SALE: WINE CELLAR, HOUSE INCLUDED: This wine cellar was a pile of dirt just a few years ago.

"It was a crawl space," says Joe Paternoster, owner of the six-bedroom, 6,500-square-foot Huntington Bay home, which is currently on the market for $3.995 million.

He and his wife, Donna, say they wanted to do something with the 500-square-foot spot, but, Paternoster says, "The last thing we needed was space."

After all, the rest of the walkout basement already contained a children's playroom, a lower kitchen cabana next to the pool, a 500-square-foot exercise room and a full bathroom.

So, he and Donna, who is an interior designer, say they decided to turn the space into a wine cellar. "It's a very special home, and a wine cellar of that magnitude is really a nice attribute," Paternoster says.

The excavation took about four months and filled 35 dumpsters with dirt. Construction took another six weeks.

The couple wants to downsize now, but they say they relished the few years they spent with their wine cellar.

"We would have six or eight couples over, and we'd taste wines that I would supply or that they would bring with them," says Paternoster, who owns a business that manufactures welding alloys.

Now that the house is on the market, he says he enjoys the feedback he gets from prospective buyers." They're shocked -- they can't believe it's behind that door," he said.

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