MICHAEL FITZSIMMONS DECORATIVE ARTS
Over 30 years specializing in the Arts & Crafts field
Basements + Family Rooms
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These are two shots of the tv area in a basement family room in a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Oak Park.  The original condition was typical of many of the houses of the period - low ceiling, dark, cramped spaces, and in this case, areas with a dirt floor.  We dug down in order to get the necessary ceiling height, and then poured a new concrete floor with radiant heating which we then stained to the color of rich antique leather.  The walls are sand-coat plaster, left in the natural color, and all the wood is cypress.  The original limestone foundation walls were exposed, cleaned and repointed.
On the left is a view of the wetbar area into the wine cellar.  Original leaded glass windows and doors which we found in the basement were reused for this entry.  On the right is the billiard area, with a custom-designed leaded glass fixture and built-in benches and stereo cabinet.  Teh concept was to not fight with the low level of natural light in the space, but rather to make it a virtue by introducing textured fabrics in warm colors, thereby creating a cozy, inviting and relaxing feeling.  If needed, the recessed fixtures can provide more than enough light, but the owners prefer to keep the space a little on the darker side, which is nice.
On the left is another view of the billiard area, showing a part of the mural I designed to wrap around the entire room as a single composition.  Each element was carefully considered to provide a two-dimensional backdrop for vases and other objects to play against, as the shot on the right clearly shows.  Flat, water-based pigments were used to melt into the sandy plaster, and become part of the wall rather than appear to sit on top of it.
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These are before and after views of a basement media room that we recently completed.  The ceilings are low, and there are just the usual small high basement windows, so I did not want to attempt to make it a bright space with natural lighting, which would have been futile.  Instead, the space seems bright through the use of high contrast colors and values.  The walls are covered with a beautiful rich grass cloth that has a subtle golden sheen over a nice saddle brown base.  All the woodwork, which is aniline-dyed poplar, is quite dark, which makes the walls the mid-tone in the scheme.  On the left is a little dry bar with a beverage refrigerator and a microwave for snacks, and open shelving for glassware and plates.  The right hand side contains a craft and art supply center.
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These are views of the main room, with a very comfortable sectional and a flat screen tv.  Since this was intended to be a room that the whole family and friends would enjoy, it had to function for teenage children and adults.  While not quite up to the level of finish of the rooms upstairs, it still has a quality that is decidedly not "rec room."  The walls, ceiling and floor, the "envelope" were kept close in color and value, allowing the few bright spots of color, namely the sectional, pillows and artwork, to really pop.  It is a comforting and comfortable space to be in, and is used constantly by the family.
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Here are two more views of the main space.  The picture on the left gives a good view of the DVD cabinet, while the photo on the right shows the game table, with a custom-designed high-back settle and some very comfortable new Windsor chairs.  While not a large room, it nonetheless provides beautifully for the needs of the family - a warm, inviting and comfortable space to watch tv or movies.
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These are before and after shots of a showcase house room I did last September for a local charity.  The picture on the left reflects the state of the room when I got access to it.  The slate tile floor was already in, and the original fireplace had been clad in local limestone.  The windows, which look into wells, were glass block.  A curious detail of all the rooms in the basement of this house was the use of commercial storefront doors.  This gave me the idea of making this room into an Arts & Crafts pub, but with a slight twist on the theme.  I wanted to create a space that would be comfortable for and accommodate the activities and needs of all members of the family.  I put a seating group in front of the fireplace, a small game table under one window, and a small bar at the other end.  There was a large home theater in one of the other rooms, so I did not have to install more than a small tv, for which I was thankful.  The concept for this space, very loosely, was Ralph Lauren meets William Morris.
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This is a view towards the fireplace, both before and after.  Paradoxically, by bringing the paneling up to about 5 feet, and painting the remaining wall and ceiling the same color, the room feels higher than it really is.  Both the leather sofa and the pair of chairs are on the low side, which helps to reinforce the feeling.  The wicker chandelier is something we have made exclusively for us in two sizes.  The one shown is the larger, 31" in diameter.  Because it is hanging over a place in the room that you would not normally walk under, we could lengthen the drop a little.  This kind of fixture, which reflects light off the ceiling, is a wonderful way to softly illuminate a room without casting hard shadows.
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The view looking towards the bar.  The owner of the showcase house had already installed the cabinetry, which was stock lumberyard grade, but had left all the other decisions to me to specify.  We put in a traditional wood bar counter with a heavy, shaped  wooden rail nosing like you would see in old neighborhood bars.  The tile backsplash, in a warm, orangey-amber, picks up some of the color notes from the fabrics and rug in the room.  I wanted a palette that would appeal to men, but not be so "clubby" as to turn off women.  The rug on the floor, Tulip and Lily Harvest, is part of the GuildCraft Collection that I helped to develop.  It is a beautiful, rich rug in a wonderful color combination that really served as the inspiration for the rest of the colors in the room.
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This is a basement in a large house in the northern suburbs.  We had just completed work on the first floor spaces, and the clients asked up to help with a family room and home theater downstairs.  The basement was absolutely typical of any house of the period - low ceilings, cement floor, boiler and water heater right out in the open, and pipes running everywhere.  The only was it could work was if we could relocate all the mechanicals to a single room, and to move the pipes to the exterior of the space.  Luckily, we were able to accomplish both of these, and the resulting room, while still small, was opened up.  The picture on the right shows the finished result.  There is a small wet bar at the back, with a pool table in front and a game table next to it.  The space is not large by any means, and so I differentiated the three areas through the use of patterned cork tile floors; a different pattern for each area, which makes the room look larger than it really is.  We found three leaded glass windows at a salvage source, and used those with back lighting to add some color and interest.  There is a small tv on the wall which is visible from anywhere in the room, but the main theater space is located off to the right of the game table.  The ceiling was deliberately left open, both to refer to a medieval banqueting hall, which was the inspiration for the space, as well as to keep the space from feeling too claustrophobic.
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This is another view of the same space, looking directly into the bar area, and you can see how small the space is, yet all the desired functions are accounted for.  The support beams could not be moved for structural reasons, so they had to stay where they were.  We had them sandblasted, along with the ceiling joists, which helped to clean them and give them a nice, worn, weathered look.
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These are shots of a basement family / media room that I am just finishing.  The clients are a young couple with a baby girl and another child soon to arrive, and wanted to make this large space function for a variety of uses.  The picture on the left is the before view, just as I saw it on my first visit.  The space lacks warmth, and there really is no sense of what its purpose is.  There was a small kitchenette on the left, which was intruding into the space and cutting off the flow.  The picture on the right shows the finished room as it is now.  In the main seating area, a spacious sofa, upholstered in a wonderful coppery chenille, is flanked by a pair of lamp tables with a matching pair of lamps, MFDA exclusives.  The upholstered armchairs are in shades of soft green, and the rug, Tulip & Lily Harvest, is rich and luxurious in shades of scarlet, gold, dull green, brown and purples.  There is a game table and chairs in the alcove, with a custom leaded glass chandelier and brass sconces providing, along with the recessed cans, three levels and sources of light.  The ceiling height is around 6'10", but the paneling, at just under 60", makes the room seem taller, and larger as well.  It is now the warm, cozy, comfortable and inviting space that they had hoped to achieve. 
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On the other side of the space, an "L" shaped area had no real purpose or function assigned to it.  I thought it would make a wonderful playroom for their daughter and new baby.  I kept the same paneling as in the grown-ups area, but painted it a more child-friendly green.  Under the window, I widened the dado cap molding to become a little toy shelf, on which sits a very charming collection of stuffed animals.  By painting the doors the same color as the wainscoting, the room feels anchored.  The table and chairs are from Pottery Barn, but are exactly the type of thing you see in period photographs of children's rooms.  The rug in the foreground is a prototype for one of a group of rugs I am creating based on illustrations by Margaret Iannelli, who, along with her husband Alphonso, had a design studio in the Arts & Crafts period in Park Ridge, Illinois.  In addition to producing thousands of illustrations for various children's books and magazines, it appears Margaret was responsible for the design of the sculptural sprites for Frank Lloyd Wright's Midway Gardens, and Alphonso sculpted them.
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This is the little kitchenette that we had to take out, and the extent of the provision for the tv. On the right is a shot of the cabinetry that I designed to hold the electronic equipment, the DVDs, video tapes and so on, as well as the sink and refrigerator!  The sink is hidden behind the cabinet door on the far left, and the refrigerator is located in the lower cabinet right next to it.  There is a microwave hookup in the upper cabinet on the far right.  I did not want any of this to show, because I wanted the whole space to read like a library or den, not a kitchen.  The tv had to be moved slightly, and we ran all the wiring through a tube in the wall, so nothing shows.
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This is a little nook at the bottom of the stairs, and is the first thing you see as you come down.  I actually love the bright, striking color they chose, but it was not right for the period of the house or the overall concept we were developing.  The photo on the right shows the re-done result.  A generous built-in bench, with a soft cushion and big pillows, sends the message "comfortable resting place" immediately.  My thought here was that when my clients were entertaining friends or family (they both have big ones), there would be four areas for separate activities: the game area at the far end, with seating for 4, the television area, which can accommodate 7 to 9, this little seating group, which can seat 6 with the leaves on the table out, and then the "playroom" space, which is to the right of this area.  The bench is configured so that anyone sitting there can easily see the television and the kids playing.  My clients purchased the painting above the paneling on their honeymoon.  I believe it is of Scotland, or maybe Ireland, but in any case is perfect in the space.  The wall sconces are dull, unlacquered brass with off-white fabric shades, perfect for the vintage feeling we were hoping to achieve.  The space looks elegant but welcoming, grown-up but inviting, beautiful but not off-putting, which is just what I had wanted to do for them. Click here for more picture of this elegant space.
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     This is a basement that we recently finished.  The concept, an English pub, was generated by the hammered brass fireplace hood that was the first thing purchased for the space, almost before demolition had begun, and combined nicely with the fact that the husband brews his own beer.  The family has three children, two boys and a girl, so the space had to function both as an entertaining space for the adults and as a game and family room for the kids.  Nothing could be too precious or delicate.  In order to create the required head room, the floor had to be dug down a foot or so, which allowed for the installation of radiant heating under the slate tiles.  An antique corner pub bench was located at an antique store, and the entire bar was built around it.  The steel beams and posts, required to hold the rest of the house up, were boxed in with rough-sawn oak planks.  The disguise is entirely convincing.
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     On the right is a view from behind the bar towards the flat screen tv and theater area.  As you can see from the games, drum set, guitar hero equipment, and bookcase full of DVDs, this room is thoroughly enjoyed by the family.  This is how it should be.  Good design results are ones that create spaces that can be used and enjoyed, not just looked at.

These two views of a little office / guest room shows what can be done with a small space.  The rich, warm red color of the walls, a favorite of my client, is repeated with variations throughout the room: in the coverlet on the bed, the upholstery of the armchair, and the tiles, reproduction of DeMorgan designs, on the fireplace face.  The same multi-color slate used in the family room is used here as well, with come carefully-chosen spots for the few rare red ones helping to reinforce the color scheme.  An antique leather medicine ball is used here as a foot rest.

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A third floor library / family room - before. While the space, up under the roof, was conceptually appealing and engaging, there was just nothing going on style-wise.

The same view - after.  There are five distinct areas: bookcase, work table, computer desk, comfortable reading / relaxing, and an in-progress gallery display for showing and storing historical memorabilia.  It is a magical space.

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The same library, opposite the bookcase - before.  The problems here were to unify the three windows, rethink the too-large window seat, and create an area that would be enjoyable to be in. The area after, with a comfortable seating grouping, stereo components and additional bookcase storage.  Paradoxically, by making the window seat smaller, it became a more attractive place to sit.

This is a beautiful conservatory that the previous owners had put on a wonderful late 19th century house.  Since neither of my clients had any ability with plants, it had become a store room where the children sometimes did homework and what few plants were there waited to die.  The photo on the right is the same space now.  Since it is off the large kitchen, it is a perfect family room and homework area.  It also serves as an overflow party space.  It has become one of the most used rooms in the house, not the least because it has a wonderful view of the large backyard.  By the way, all the plants you see are artificial, and are healthy and thriving to this day.

 

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