The challenge: Darrell Kesti and Ahnna Juntunen-Kesti were hoping to remodel the mostly unfinished basement in their Minneapolis home to create usable living space. Ideally, they wanted a family room that could double as a guest room, with a bathroom and a sauna. "We're both Finnish, from northern Minnesota. We always wanted our own sauna," said Kesti.
The team: Architects Adam Jarvi and Chris Brenny, NewStudio Architecture; interior designer Lindsay Matenaer, NewStudio; contractor Dan Guidinger, Guidinger Construction, LLC.
The starting point: The basement of the couple's house, which they used for storage and doing laundry, was dark, with low exposed pipes overhead and an original boiler. "It was a very 1920s basement," said Jarvi.
Move or improve? The couple loved their house, and its vintage character and features. But they were considering looking for a larger house because their basement was so far from ideal. "Initially they were skeptical whether the basement could truly be transformed," said Jarvi. "Or would it just be putting a little lipstick on a pig? They asked us to take a look." Jarvi could envision how to "unlock the potential" of the basement, particularly if the separate utility room and laundry room were consolidated, which would require moving some plumbing. "People think it's [moving plumbing] more expensive than it is," he said, but for a major project, it's a minimal percentage of the total and often worth the investment. "A big part of what we did was help them understand relative scale," he said. The couple decided to go ahead with the project. "We wanted to stay here," said Juntunen-Kesti. "Once we figured out we could, we were pretty excited."
Reconfiguring the space: "In order to make everything fit, we had to rearrange things," said Jarvi. The laundry facilities were moved to the existing mechanical room; the new bathroom and sauna occupy the space that was formerly the laundry room, with enough space remaining to create a 15-by-20-foot family room.
Complex focal point: The bathroom was designed with two same-size compartments, one for the shower and the other for the sauna, both of which have glass fronts. "It makes them feel bigger," said Jarvi. The shower/sauna space was the most technically complex part of the project. "It's such a focal point," he said. "We wanted to give it the attention it deserved."
Window challenge: The wall that divides the shower and sauna had to be placed in the middle of an existing window. "We didn't want to remove the window; it brought nice natural light in," said Jarvi. Instead, they built a false window in front, so it looks like two separate windows. "We worked around an obstacle and turned it into a positive."
Simply white: The bathroom was finished with marble tile and white walls. "The palette is pretty restrained," said Jarvi. "The rich wood tone of the cedar sauna pops" against the white.
Warmth and light: To banish the dark vibe and bring more light into the new family room, "We added a new egress window, to make it less basement-y," said Jarvi. The pipes overhead are still exposed but painted white. "We didn't put a ceiling in," said Jarvi. "There was limited head space. We rerouted the piping to get it out of the way. It gives the illusion of a little more height." The slate tile floor has in-floor heating, as does the bathroom, which "gives it a nice warm touch; makes it feel comfortable," said Jarvi.
Family touches: The remodeled lower level showcases some contributions from extended family members. At one end of the family room is a small bar that was built by Juntunen-Kesti's father, Brad Juntunen, a woodworker. "It's quartersawn oak outside and cherry inside," she said, with a marble top and backsplash. "We wanted an area where we could store a coffeemaker for guests, and also have a wine rack and wine cooler."
The sauna features a vintage sign, "Sauna Rules," that once graced the sauna at the home of Kesti's father when he was growing up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. "It was a gift from my parents," Kesti said. "It's cool to incorporate family history in there."
Nordic accent: In the family room, a vintage Finnish flag is framed, lit like a piece of artwork and displayed prominently. "They're both Finnish-American and proud of their Finnish heritage," said Jarvi. The flag's blue Nordic cross in the mostly white room has the same effect as the warm wood of the sauna in the white bathroom — "a moment of color, celebrated."
The result: The couple's home now has 800 additional feet of living space where they enjoy spending time. "They were able to take a dark basement and create a light, comfortable area. It lives really well," said Juntunen-Kesti.
Before, the basement was unused, said Kesti. "Now we're in that room every day. It became a great space. My favorite thing is the character. With the open ceiling, it doesn't feel like you're in a basement. It feels like a loft."
And they love their sauna, which they use frequently, even in summer.
The couple now have a son, age 2, who also spends a lot of time on their lower level. "It's his playroom. His toys are down there," said Kesti. "But he hasn't had a sauna yet."