finished basement bar with recessed lighting

Turning On to Finished Basement Lighting Ideas

At roughly one-third to half the cost of a comparably sized aboveground addition, finished basements are one of the best ways to add functional space to your home. However, there are a few important caveats that come with being partially or fully underground. One is that they are more susceptible to moisture. Another is that they may receive little to no natural light.

Of course, functional space isn’t really functional if you can’t see well enough to function. That’s why when we finish a basement, we should always have a plan to smartly and attractively incorporate lighting. In this month’s blog, we will share finished basement lighting ideas that will be sure to add both substance and style to your understory.

Basement lighting basics

It should come as no surprise that the first consideration of any basement lighting layout is the law, which is dictated by local building codes. Requirements vary depending on whether a space is deemed “non-habitable” or “habitable.”

New Jersey building code decrees that:

  • Non-habitable rooms (e.g. staircases, hallways, cellars, basements, landings, furnace/utility rooms) must have “natural or artificial light available at all times, with illumination levels of at least 2 lumens per square foot in the darkest portions.
  • Habitable rooms “have at least one window or skylight facing directly to the outdoors,” spanning at least 8 percent of the floor area of that room.

It may surprise you that finishing a basement does not necessarily make it habitable by the legal definition — it must be maintained with a set temperature range via connection to a home’s HVAC system. In other words, even if it looks pretty, it can’t be too cold.

If a basement room is habitable, code requires at least one lighting outlet and a corresponding wall switch, located near the room’s entrance (if it’s not a kitchen or bathroom, a floor lamp can serve instead of overhead or wall-mounted lights). Connecting halls or stairs must have their own lighting outlet and switch.

Basement lighting layouts

As we discussed in a previous blog about kitchen lighting layouts, there are three levels of lighting to consider when conceptualizing a space:

  • Ambient lighting: Intended to illuminate an entire space.
  • Task lighting: Focused lighting for specific tasks or activities.
  • Accent lighting: Meant to accent or highlight a certain feature of the room, usually for decorative purposes.

finished basement recessed lighting

Basement lighting types

Recessed/can lights

Recessed lights, also known as can lights, are by far the most widely utilized in modern finished basements. These cylindrical units (i.e. can-shaped) nestle into the ceiling (i.e. they are recessed), only revealing their trim. Pairing recessed lighting with dimmer switches allows fine control of luminosity and mood, and clustering them into zones can help define functional areas.

Ceiling lights

More traditional ceiling lights, which come in flush-mount and semi-flush mount varieties, are located in the center of the room and serve as ambient lighting. They check the box for meeting code requirements and can be aesthetically pleasing as well.

However, semi-flush mount lights may not play very well in basements with lower ceilings, as the fixture itself hangs below where the unit is mounted, increasing the risk of (literal) head-on collisions.

Sconce lights

Sconce lights attach directly to the wall and can be focused upward (for ambient lighting) or downward (for task lighting, such as reading). Sconce lights might be controlled through the wall switch or by a switch on the unit itself.

Floor lamps

Floor lamps offer versatility through portability — simply pick them up and move it to wherever it’s needed. You can plug them into a wall-controlled outlet and switch them on or off as you enter or leave a room, or you can place them next to a couch or seating area and use the switch on the lamp. They would function excellently in a den or game room.

Tray lights

As their name suggests, tray lights are housed within a tray that is installed along the perimeter of the ceiling. They are primarily used as accent lighting, as they do not generate much in the way of brightness (great if you’re reproducing a home theater, lounge, or nightclub vibe). A skilled interior carpenter will ensure they are integrated unobtrusively.

Track lights

Track lights are a popular form of task (e.g. above a basement bar) or accent lighting (e.g. above a painting, mantle, or trophy case). They consist of several units oriented along a solid metal or wire lighting track, which mounts to the ceiling. The major appeal here is the individual lighting heads can be swiveled or slid along the track without the enlistment of tools — you’re the director!

Like the semi-flush mount ceiling lights we mentioned earlier, they can cause clearance issues in basements with lower ceilings. This problem can be mitigated by locating the track closer to where a ceiling meets a wall, lessening the chances of anyone bumping into it.

Natural lighting

When we think of natural light and basements, we often think of the narrow hopper windows that hinge from the bottom and are just barely adequate for airing things out, much less capturing sunlight. As habitable spaces, we should expect more from our finished basements — in fact, in most states (including New Jersey), it’s the law that we have something more in the form of an egress (emergency exit) door or window.

Code requires that the following finished basement rooms have a point of egress:

  • Bedrooms
  • Rec rooms
  • Offices
  • Home theaters

In the event any of these spaces adjoin, only one of them needs an egress door or window — but bedrooms always take precedence. Deeper, below-grade basements must have an egress window well dug, with ladder or stairs for escape.

Egress doors and windows must first and foremost be openings through which human beings can easily escape, so they’re necessarily larger and operate differently than your standard basement hopper windows. With that comes the benefits of better airflow and more natural light — you might even forget that your basement room is in the basement!

See our friends at Egress Solutions in South Jersey to learn of all of the attractive possibilities available in a modern basement egress system.

Finished basements with Ayars

At Ayars Complete Home Improvements, we approach basement lighting design ideas like we do everything else — purposefully and with the big picture firmly in mind. We believe a finished basement should look like it organically belongs with the rest of your house — because it is part of your house. To see how this philosophy plays out in practice, visit our finished basement portfolio page for some prime examples

finished basement

Modern Finished Basement Ideas: Getting Downstairs to the Details

What is your idea of a modern finished basement? Don’t let other contractors sell you on the idea that laying a carpet down and installing some cheap drop ceiling panels qualifies as “finished.” There is so much more that can be done to convert your basement into a real, honest-to-goodness, bona fide living space that you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. But as with any successful home remodeling project, it’s all about attention to detail every step of the way. 

Framing basement walls

Once we have an idea of the design for your finished basement, how it will be laid out, and what features it will contain, we can move onto framing. We take great care in framing basement walls, because we know the setup phase is absolutely critical to the execution.

When framing basement walls, we are trying to accomplish four main things:

  1. Structural integrity — To help achieve this, we use steel studs for their sturdy and resilient properties.

  2. Fireblocking — Limiting the amount of oxygen that can get into spaces between walls (and in between ceiling joists) in the event of fire.

  3. Waterproofing — Moisture is the mortal enemy of any basement, finished or unfinished. When there is evidence of water issues (such as cracks) along the outside walls, it’s important we reinforce and draw water away from those walls prior to framing and hanging drywall.

  4. Housing and hiding our mechanicals — It’s what’s on the inside of walls that counts, too. You’ll need wiring, plumbing, and HVAC routed correctly for your modern finished basement idea to become a reality. The less conspicuous we can make these elements, the more “finished” your basement will look and feel.

Finished basement ceiling ideas

Many of those same mechanicals we just talked about have to run through the ceiling, too. If you favor a more industrial or nautical look (like that of the cabin of an ocean liner), painting the overhead joists and beams may suffice. 

Others may settle for the aforementioned drop ceilings, which is a gridded metal framework that hangs from the joists and is filled in with drop ceiling tiles. Although there are much better-looking options as far as those go than there used to be, most modern basement ideas steer away from them.

At Ayars, drywalled ceilings are our preferred method of finishing since it is more cohesively integrated with the rest of the home.  This opens up opportunities for a really polished look and feel with recessed lights, crown molding, and paint, just as you would see on the first and second floors.

Finished basement flooring ideas

Whatever finished basement flooring idea you have in mind, a moisture-resistant material should be a top consideration — because raised humidity and flood risk just come with the underground territory. Thankfully, basement flooring material options are numerous and varied. Here are some of our favorites:

  1. Luxury vinyl tile/plank: A major upgrade over conventional sheet or tile vinyl flooring on account of its thickness, durability, and impressive emulation of real wood and stone.
  2. Engineered wood: Engineered wood is less apt to warp in damper environments than solid hardwood and is virtually indistinguishable.
  3. Ceramic/porcelain tile: Naturally wear-resistant and water-repellant, ceramic or porcelain tiles are one of the best options for the long-term. You may want to consider an anti-slip finish for condensation and/or radiant heating to keep things warm underfoot.
  4. Plank (“wood-look”) tile flooring — Plank tile flooring combines the durable qualities of ceramic/porcelain tiles with the timeless look of wood. Because of their rectified (90 degree) edges, they fit together nearly seamlessly with almost invisible grout lines. 

Finished basement storage ideas

Many people conceptualize basement storage as tossing whatever it may be down the stairs into a dark abyss, never to be seen again. With finished basement storage, however, we’ll want to be more intentional and organized. And for a modern finished basement, we’ll want to be clever and creative, too. Here are some examples of the bespoke storage solutions we’ve drawn up for our clients:

  • Built-in drawers and cubbies
  • Under-stairs closet
  • Under-stairs reading nook with bench storage
  • Equipment storage area in foundation jut-out

Finish your basement the right way with Ayars

The best modern finished basement ideas begin and end with the details. Don’t miss a step on your way down to your favorite new living area; discuss your dream with the Ayars team today. 

finished basement sewell new jersey

Finished Basement Design Ideas to Take Your Lower Level to the Next Level

We’re going to be perfectly aboveground with you on this — that partially or fully finished basement you’ve been getting ideas about is fully in your best interest. 

If you missed our blog post about the benefits of finished basements, here are the three main takeaways:

  1. They can significantly increase the useful living space in your home
  2. They add serious value on the resale market (average of 70% return on investment)
  3. Hanging out there can actually help you save on energy costs — ground temperature is not as susceptible to the ups and downs as the air is, which means you do not have to expend as much energy keeping it cool in the summer or warm in the winter. 

Finishing a basement is almost always less disruptive (and expensive) than constructing a home addition, which is a major consideration if you live with family or work from home. Furthermore, there are nearly as many finished basement design ideas.

mickleton new jersey basement finishing

What kind of basement do you have?

Before you dream up and scheme up your newly finished basement, you must assess what you’re working with — and that’s dependent on how the foundation sits within your property. 

Standard lot basement

As its name implies, a standard lot basement is just that — standard. It’s your typical set of concrete walls buried underground, with narrow horizontal windows peeking up into the yard or driveway. They are not known for being light or airy, but you can use that to your advantage, creating a secluded space away from distractions (or judgment).

Walk-out basement

A much coveted feature with today’s homebuyers, walk-out basements allow you to step right out into a backyard or onto a patio and get some fresh air. They have a lot of qualities in common with the main floor, and in some cases are counted towards your home’s total square footage. They are associated with properties with a slope of at least 6 feet from front to back. You’ll often see elevated decks attached to these types of homes as well. 

Garden-level lot basement

Garden-level lots are the middle ground — due to a gentle slope, some of the basement will be poking out above grade, while some of it will be totally underground. While it will receive more natural light than a standard-lot basement, there is not enough clearance for a full-sized door for egress.

finished basement cubby under stairs

What can I do with my basement?

Smarter storage

Yes, we know basements have the reputation of being these dark voids into which things are thrown and never return. By incorporating a few organizational features into your finished basement design, you can still retain its traditional storage function while attaining a much cleaner and more attractive aesthetic. You might mount shelving onto the walls or into the walls, utilize a storage bench or ottoman to serve double duty as seating, or even tuck a cozy little cubby under the stairs, as we did in a recent project near Mantua Township, New Jersey. 

Undistracted work

Need more space to get things done? Secluded and removed from the bustle of the main floor plan, finished basements make for excellent home offices, studios, or gyms. To further your focus, you might invest in a bit of soundproofing. There are several effective materials at dampening sound, from blown insulation and acoustic foam tiles to sound absorbing blankets and soundproof underlayment. 

The best solution for you depends on how much you’re willing to tear things up (for example underlayment requires removing existing main level flooring) and how much privacy you require. Are you after a true fortress of solitude, or do you need to just dial down the volume a bit? If you (or an in-law) really need to disappear for a bit, it may be a good idea to add an extra bathroom, bedroom, or even kitchen to your finished basement. They can fulfill the role of a completely functional studio apartment!

Uninhibited play

As good as a finished basement is for working, they may be even better for play. Think a playroom or arcade for the kids (or grown-ups), a home theater, a man cave to let your inner sports fanatic free, a band practice space — you’ll have so much room for activities, no matter what your favorite indoor pastime is. 

Finished basements are among our favorite project types at Ayars Complete Home Improvements — there are few things more satisfying than transforming an ugly, underutilized dungeon into a truly indispensable part of your home and your life that you can be proud of. Let us know about your basement design ideas — we’d love to help make it a reality. 

The Benefits of Finished Basements

Use Your Basement for More than Just Storage

Your basement doesn’t have to be just a dark dungeon where you store your Christmas decorations.  Finishing your basement can actually give you more benefits than you may think.  Not only can you add more living space and increase the market value of your home, but you can also increase your home’s energy efficiency!  Obstacles like low ceilings, disguising water heaters, and insufficient lighting are all issues that can be dealt with.


Most of us leave our basement space unfinished. Unattractive concrete walls and carpet scraps laid on the floor are only inviting to mold and mildew. The only time we use our basement is for storing things we don’t need.

Putting that space to use could be the best thing that can do for your home — it truly can come in handy for so many things. Here’s what you should consider when contemplating a modern finished basement design.


Most unfinished basements have a concrete floor, and to cover that, people generally lay down carpeting or wood flooring that traps moisture underneath, leaving the flooring vulnerable to mold and mildew. To avoid this, it’s a wise idea to install basement subflooring, which provides a level base for the flooring finish material while insulating and protecting against moisture infiltration. Options range from simple plywood 2x4s to rigid foam to specialty subfloor systems. The latter two choices do not sacrifice as much precious head clearance as plywood subfloor does while offering great thermal insulation properties.


After you’ve chosen the material, you can begin to focus on the aesthetics. Search all the floor designs that you might think will work for your space and the theme you have in mind. This could be a time-consuming and daunting task, so take your time and finalize a flooring style that will work best for you (or consult a design expert!)  You’ll need to consider these three attributes: durability, attractiveness, and water-tightness.

finished basement rec room


Begin by checking the basement walls for any excessive moisture. If there’s moisture on your walls opt for wall paneling. Unlike wooden framing that may rot or metal frames that leave ugly rust spots, paneled walls are made from durable high-density foam insulation. The paneling not only functions well but can also prove an attractive stylistic choice for your basement walls.


Suspended ceilings are a good option for your basement. They allow easy access to ducts, electrical cords, and cables. These ceilings are also water-resistant. Other important aspects to consider when choosing ceiling material are noise control and thermal regulation. Depending on whether you intend to use your finished basement for work or play, you’ll either want to keep the noise from the rest of the house out or the noise from the basement contained within.

Finishing touches

Last but not least comes lighting. Lighting is the crucial finishing touch that gives definition to your space and sets all the other design elements in place. In order for your walls, flooring, and ceiling to look perfect with the theme of the furniture, do not overlook the role of basement lighting in creating the perfect ambiance.

finished basement bannister

The possibilities for your new basement are endless. A finished basement adds value to your home as well as energy savings. Contact us for more information about how you can finish your basement or visit or project gallery below for inspiration.

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