Renovating the Basement Apartment

You’ve seen our new house and project,

(if you missed that, check it out here: Our New House! Mid-Century to Colonial Revival).

The basement apartment was an intriguing part of this property for us, both thinking about the possibility of my parent’s future someday, as well as our retirement and having supplemental income.


It was less than desirable to live in.

(our plan is to move into the apartment while we renovate the rest of house, so far we’re just living in the mess though) Here is what it was before, how we’re renovating the basement apartment and a little, (actually huge) surprise I found in it! Renovating the Basement Apartment

The house was built in the mid 60’s / 70’s with 2 basement apartments. On the one side of the basement, we’ve decided to undo the apartment and incorporate that space into living space for the main house, (more on that in a later post) but the other side of the basement we’re keeping as an apartment. It just needs work… a lot of it!

This is what the living room and entry looked like when we first looked at the house before buying it: Renovating the Basement Apartment

The closet by the door was actually only about 12″ deep, since it was a little too small for any good coat storage, we decided to just take it out… good thing too, because that’s where we found the leak in the basement through the foundation.

There was a very strong musty odor in the basement,

so all the paneling, (which covered everything!) needed to get ripped out. Fine with me, I’m not a fan of paneling. Renovating the Basement Apartment

Behind me when I took this pic of the living room there was a wall dividing it from the kitchen. (unfortunately I must not have taken a pic of that because I can’t find one…)

But it was there and around the corner was this kitchen: Renovating the Basement Apartment

You can just barely see the edge of that dividing wall between the kitchen and living room on the right side of this picture above, just behind that green bottle of detergent.

Then passing by the kitchen, down the hall towards the bedroom… Renovating the Basement Apartment

Was the bathroom: Renovating the Basement Apartment

The toilet was too close to the sink for code, the electric panel was in the bathroom, which is against code as well, and the ‘closet’ at the end of the room was plumbed for a washer and dryer but in reality was so awkward to try to access, it needed to be reconfigured… (just a few things wrong with this room, LOL)

At the end of the hall was the bedroom: Renovating the Basement Apartment

The window was completely covered, letting no light in whatsoever, as well as not being a legal egress window.

We started by ripping everything out… paneling, carpeting, even the kitchen cupboards. My carpenter did most of the demo, but his wife helped with the demo as well…

The kitchen cabinets went out on the curb for free and lasted only a few hours before someone picked them up. We decided the upstairs cabinets in the main house were in better condition than the ones we’d just removed from the basement. I decided that I’d refinish the upstairs ones and reuse them in the basement apartment. Renovating the Basement Apartment

Here is the apartment from the living room looking down the hallway, now with everything out. Renovating the Basement Apartment

Where the wires are hanging is where that dividing wall was between the living room and kitchen.

I got busy outside with the upstairs kitchen cabinets. The previous owner smoked and I could smell a hint of it in/on the cabinets. Renovating the Basement Apartment

They needed to be primed with BIN primer. That’s the only primer I know that actually seals cigarette smoke and nicotine from leaking out. It’s a primer with shellac in it that uses ammonia for clean up… and stinks like ammonia when you’re painting. A good respirator is a must, the fumes are enough to knock you out!

Since we were removing the cabinets to move them downstairs anyway, I decided I’d take advantage of that removal and use BIN spray primer outside on them. Renovating the Basement Apartment

Several cases of BIN later, I had completely primed inside, outside, upside, backs, fronts… everything.

That’s the good part.

Bad part is that I tried then to spray paint them for the finish too, but something funky happened with the spray paint I used, and it left some cabinets with a rough chunky finish. ARGH!!! I couldn’t see it outside in the sunlight, but once they were dry, I could feel it!

After I sanded the chunks off taking the finish back down to a smooth finish, and repainted them with a brush, they were good to go. Oh well, that extra layer of paint just sealed them better I guess.

While I was doing all this painting and repainting, we were also doing the final move from our 100 year old house. Ideally, we would have rented back another month from the buyers, giving us time to get the apartment finished, but the new owners were super excited to get in their new house, so out we went… into a ripped up mess, now with no kitchen. All the time I kept thinking, ‘I wonder what it’s like to move into a lovely, clean, all finished space… I’ve never experienced that. Just think, you can come in and unpack your boxes right into the cupboards where things will go…’ how wonderful. Haha… I sound a little jealous… I guess I was… But in reality, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I really do love to put my own style and design on the space, so I always select a house that needs updating for just that reason.

Back to the basement apartment issues…

I have a very sensitive nose… I can smell everything… I could still smell a musty smell in the basement, even after we removed just about everything we could. Then I realized that the top of the concrete blocks were open and the insulation sitting on top of them, insulating the section of what would be the basement ceiling on the exterior walls had paper backing on it and over the years had absorbed the moisture in the basement from the blocks, thus was now the source of the musty smell. On a side note, that’s a very good lesson in using a dehumidifier in the basement! It’s important to have it constantly running from spring through fall, at least here in the Midwest. Otherwise as the humidity rises, things will absorb that moisture and the outcome isn’t good, it’s stinky!

I spent a good portion of the day removing the stinky, musty old insulation and recovering the top of the blocks with special foam insulation board that I custom cut each piece to fit on the concrete blocks in each cubby area. Funny how when one watches ‘Fixer Upper’ and Chip does the demo, it seems so fun and easy… that’s because there’s not ‘smellevision’! Ewwww… stinky!

That’s where I found it…

In the corner, above where that shallow closet in the front entry was.

After I removed the fiberglass insulation, I could sort of see something else in there.

My eyes were blurry, mostly from lack of sleep and exhaustion but also because I’m at that age where I need reading glasses to see pretty much anything within 10 feet of my face.

I felt with my hand, fortunately, I had on latex gloves because of working with the fiberglass… I couldn’t tell what I was feeling, but it wasn’t coming out very easily. I at first thought it was some more insulation that was stuck. It just felt harder than the insulation…

I’m talking about the long dark corner in the ceiling there: Renovating the Basement Apartment

Hard to see what it is, right?

So I got up closer on the ladder and put my face right into the corner… Renovating the Basement Apartment

Can you see it?

No? I couldn’t either, so I turned on the flashlight of my phone and peered even closer: Renovating the Basement Apartment


Once I realized what I was looking at, and the fact that my face was like 2 inches from it, I did the best thing I could think of… I screamed! (I’m sure Chip does the same thing, they probably just cut that part out for the show)

Then I tried not to throw up…


Old bee hives just hanging there… And they were very ‘stuck’ to the top. Row after row of them.

Then it hit me… Whew! No bees! If that would have been a live bee hive, I would have been attacked for sure. Wow, am I so fortunate.

Yes, fortunate. That’s what I kept telling myself as I had to use a putty knife to pry the sticky hive piece by piece off the top, with my arm buried past my elbow in the tight space above my head, getting coated in old honey and broken pieces of hive in the 90 degree heat with sweaty humidity to boot… and… well this gets even grosser… are you ready?

There were maggots on the hives… Ew, it’s making me sick all over again just writing it.

I broke off and ripped out piece by piece, not allowing my eyes to look at it, (it’s like road kill, I don’t want to see it, yet my eyes are drawn to it like a magnet) It’s mind over matter, don’t look, just keep working, swallow hard, I had to just keep coaching myself. Throwing chunk by chunk of the maggot covered hives out the door onto the sidewalk outside. Eventually, I got all the hives out of the apartment.

Filling a large construction debris garbage bag, the bag was so heavy… that was a huge bee hive!

Oops… honey from the hive dripped all over just outside the door on the sidewalk and grass where I was throwing it from the apartment… I hate it when I make a mess cleaning up a mess… Now I had to address those piles of honey or they’d get tracked back into the apartment.

Yes, fortunate is exactly what I was feeling. Ha… liar! No, in fact, true confessions… my spoiled brat attitude was shining brightly for a moment, and what I was actually feeling was sort of angry that I was bearing this hive mess alone… where was my husband at? Oh dear, what a wreck I was… exhaustion doesn’t bring out the best in one does it?

He did carry the garbage bag away for me when he got home though… 🙂

Home renovation is hard… and that’s coming from an experienced designer that has renovated many homes, both for myself and for clients. Television makes it look easy and fast, after all it’s done from start to finish in less than 60 minutes, and they have cupcakes to celebrate, with their hair and makeup looking great. That’s not reality. That’s fantasy! (I can’t even find my mascara and even if I could, what would it matter, we don’t have a bathroom mirror!)

I love to renovate… Well, I love to take dysfunctional floor plans, ugly spaces and turn them into well functioning attractive spaces… but I don’t love living in it. Living in it is hard.

If you’re thinking about starting a renovation project, have at it!

But be forewarned, don’t kid yourself… it’s hard… harder than you think!

Ultimately it’s gonna be a mess, dirty and stinky. We can be crabby about it, but that isn’t going to change the reality of the mess. So we figure we might as well choose to be happy… it’ll still be a stinking mess. It’ll get better.

So, with that in mind…

On one of my daily trips to Home Depot I saw this guy in front of me and just had to chuckle, we all do what we gotta do, right?: Renovating the Basement Apartment

I guess if you have a small car and need a long board, that’s how it goes. I wonder if you’re supposed to have red flags on the ends of the board sticking out from your car if it’s coming out the sides instead of the back?!

Did you know I now offer e-decorating? I can help you with your decorating needs via email, without having to step foot in your home. If you’re interested in more information, visit my e-decorating site: Frame and Frills. I’d love to help you with your project!

Here are more posts on our whole house renovation:

Thanks so much for following along with me on this renovation process. Please feel free to follow and share this blog with your friends, as well as on Facebook and Pinterest, Flipboard, Bloglovin etc… the more the merrier! And don’t forget to follow on YouTube too!  I appreciate you stopping by.

Reader Interactions


  1. MJ says

    No way I’d do anything about bee stuff. It would wait till my husband got home.
    Or I’d call someone/anyone else to do it.
    (How to tell when a former fixer upper house lover gets too old to do it anymore).
    I can’t help still looking at the real estate listings for the perfect fixer upper. Even after deciding that my next home will be an apartment.
    Do it while you have the energy. I’m looking forward to seeing your completed reno!

  2. Sharon says

    I laughed hard, at the board sticking out the windows!….Where there’s a will, there’s a way!…Been there, done that!…We have renovated many a property….Always an adventure!

  3. Donnamae says

    Oh…what a job! Your description of those bee hives, made my own stomach queasy…I can’t imagine how you were feeling! But…I am sure the results eventually will be fantastic! ?

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