“Ingenious Idea” What To Do With A 100 Year-Old Basement

“Ingenious Idea” What To Do With A 100 Year-Old Basement

July 18, 2020 0 By Jeffrey Quinn

When we bought our century home, there was one room that plagued our creative plans – the basement. It’s not uncommon for 100 year-old homes to have a cellar-style here, so our options seemed to be, well, limited. But then we stumbled onto a clever idea for what to do with a 100 year-old basement that got us super excited – not to toot our own horn, that is!

Our family and friends all told us it was an “ingenious idea”, so we decided to share our concept with you. So what is this clever idea you ask? Converting our 100-year old basement into a vintage, nostalgic wine cellar.

Brilliant, right?! Well, we thought so!

So this post will walk you through the exact steps we’re taking to convert our basement into a unique, old-style wine cellar. Surely, this will be the talk of the town. So let’s dive in!


  • Intro: The Ingenious Plan For Our 100 Year-Old Basement
  • Step 1: Adding Appropriate Drainage
  • Step 2: Water Sealing & Solving Any Support Issues
  • Step 3: Acid Washing Walls To Expose Bricks
  • Step 4: Adding Dark Wood Accents
  • Step 5: Adding Finishing Touches & Design
  • Conclusion

Intro: The Ingenious Plan For Our 100 Year-Old Basement

So why a wine cellar anyways? To be honest, we’re not the biggest wine drinkers, but still, you have to admit there’s just something romantic and wistful about a wine nook, complete with exposed brick walls and dark wood beam accents.

Plus, my in-laws always made their own wines in the basement of their beachfront home. So I suppose the plan was (loosely) always to follow in their footsteps.

So regardless of whether we end up making our own wine or not, the space would still be a great place to store wine. Here’s why:

  • It’s Underground, Full of Rock & Naturally Cooler
  • There’s Essentially Nothing Else To Do Down There
    • Except for storage, in our case at least
  • It’s A Unique & Memorable Bonus Space For Would-Be Buyers
    • Should you decide to sell in the future!
  • It Accentuates the Room & Reignites Its Historical Personality
    • I mean, why hide it?

So let’s talk about how we’re approaching this reno project. We’ve broken it down into 5 steps, or phases.

Step 1. Adding Appropriate Drainage

OK, this is a big one. Having appropriate drainage is crucial for any home and I’m not sure if we’re alone on this one, but it seems centuries home can have their own set of drainage issues to be dealt with.

After all, the up-to-code rigors of a modern home build wasn’t exactly common 100 years ago! So here’s our case (and solution) to basement drainage issues.

Before I explain our problem/solution(s), it’s important to consult with a professional on these things since every situation, home and drainage issue is unique!

So for us (and most people), most of our water and drainage problems occurred during and after a big rainstorm – go figure.

For the longest time, the quick solution was a sup pump, which would kick on when the water in the basement reached a certain level.

And that worked fine – as a temporary solution.

But the real solution was digging out a perimeter trench and adding appropriate drainage. Using gravity and pitch, water would be captured here and be flushed outside through a drain pipe leading to the backyard creek that we dug out a few years back.

So now that excess water and drainage were resolved, what else can we do to ensure proper water sealing? On to the next section!

Step 2. Water Sealing & Solving Any Support Issues

Besides proper drainage, water sealing is critical for a home – especially century homes that were built before modern regulations and standards were really in place.

Again, this type of work really requires an expert, so be sure to consult with the appropriate person or company for your water sealing issues.

Besides sealing a basement from water leakage, I decided to add support issues in this section since this is (was) an issue we experienced in our own home.

As a century house, our foundation was essentially sandstone (field stone) boulders sitting in dirt. And that worked for the 100 some odd years our home’s been standing. However, as you may be well experienced with, the resulting crooked features it caused upstairs weren’t exactly sought after aesthetics for our home’s design.

Luckily, as I work in the HVAC and construction industry, we had a connection to get steel beams at cost and used 2 large ones stretched across the length of the basement ceiling to give additional support to the house.

This type of work is definitely not a DIY-qualified job, so check with a local builder to have any structural issues assessed and fixed.

OK, now that all the big issues are out of the way, on to the more exciting, visual parts of this century home basement reno!

Step 3. Acid Washing Walls To Expose Bricks

Exposing the natural aesthetic of sandstone is a great way to add a nostalgic pop to a basement (or landscape) design. As for our basement, the existing foundation is basically all sandstone rock, painted over.

If your situation is similar, be cautious since this paint is likely old and lead-based.

So our solution to cleaning it up? Acid washing.

We use a chemical called muriatic acid, also called hydrocholoric acid. This is strong stuff and it basically strips away the top layer or covering off rocks (and other materials). It should cost around $10 and can be bought at most home stores – or Amazon.

Just be sure to use extreme care and caution with this stuff. It’s a strong chemical and very toxic. Read the directions carefully and wait at least a day after spraying before you do anything.

Here’s an article from Bob Vila explaining more about muriatic acid!

You could also try alternative methods before opting for a chemical solution, such as power washing or scraping away the surface. Again, be careful with potentially hazardous material – such as lead paint – when scraping away old surfaces!

Moving on, let’s clean this space up more with my favorite addition to rock: wood accents.

Step 4. Adding Dark Wood Accents

What is it about dark stained woods with rock finishings? It’s Euro, it’s rustic, it’s nostalgic and romantic all at once. And when converting a century home basement into something practical, what better design could you ask for?

Adding dark wood accents can be done rather simply here by simply paneling in stained faux beams on the ceilings, walls and with furniture, tables and wine cases.

This is sort of a blank slate step and places like Pinterest could be your best friend. For us, we opted for exposed stained wood (faux) beams with shelving, tables and chairs echoing the same design.

Again, this was our personal design preference, so feel free to play around with a different aesthetic – even something more modern if that suits you best! There are no rules when it comes to what you like.

Step 5. Adding Finishing Touches & Design

Now this is the really fun part: finishing touches. These are the small parts that really bring a room together. Light fixtures, rugs, art and even light switches/pull strings can all tell a story about your design.

Since we’re designing with intention, it’s important that your finishing touches match the overall look and appeal that you’re going for.

For example, if the basement wine cellar reno is inspired from Italy via a Tuscan design, maybe opt for rod iron fixtures, darker colored woods, terracotta tiles and intricately designed center rug.

As with the section above, the choice is yours and these finishing touches can be easily switched out in the future as your tastes change and your preferences evolve.


So there we have it! Our fun solution for what to do with a 100 year-old basement. We absolutely love the process of renovating our old house and just because a basement can be technically termed a cellar (rather than a livable space) doesn’t mean it can’t enrich and add value to your home.

This post has covered a few steps we took for converting our century home basement into an old, vintage wine cellar. Hopefully, this provides at least some inspiration for you and your own basement reno.

By the way, we’d love to see your pictures and progress! So feel free to send us an email or leave a comment below to share your story!

Who knows, we could even use your renovations in our next post as inspiration for our other readers!

Anyways, thanks so much for stopping by today and be sure to check out our other pages for more century home inspiration, information and design ideas!

So until next time, remember to look for the unique opportunities in older homes – not always the problems.