If you’re new to the Washington, DC area, then the concept of an English basement may be very new or completely unheard of to you. This type of living space is fairly common in the Washington, DC area, especially in order homes, and if you ask just about any resident who’s lived in Washington, DC for more than 10 years, then they’ll tell you about their own experiences of living in an English basement.
Ready to learn more about the Washington, DC housing staple? Here’s everything you need to know about English basements in Washington, DC and how to make the most of living in one.
What is an English Basement?
An English basement is a common type of housing in Washington, DC. Though it isn’t really English or a basement, the English basement is the lowest floor of a townhouse that has its own front entrance, which is usually just below the sidewalk.
According to the Washingtonian, wealthy residents who owned some of the historic homes in Dupont Circle and other neighborhoods dedicated the lowest floor of the home to domestic workers who would be coming in and out to clean and cook for the family. They would have their own entrance and, depending on the family, they might even live there.
With the Great Depression came the New Deal and later World War II. These events brought thousands of new government workers to Washington, DC, many of them women, the Washingtonian states. With the opportunity to make money through rentals, home owners began renovating and renting out their English basements to these newcomers, many of whom were young and didn’t mind a few leaks or rats.
Today an English basement is really just a fancy name for a basement or garden apartment. English basements usually have a few windows that are at street level, and assuming the landlord is a good one, these units rarely have leaks or rats, provided that the landlord takes good care of the property.
What’s it like to live in an English basement
In general, living in an English basement is about the same as living in any other type of home, but if you have respiratory or other health issues, then there are some things to know before moving into an English basement.
For starters, not all English basements have been renovated for proper ventilation. If dust aggravates your allergies, then a musty English basement may be too much for you. When touring one, check that the windows can open and the air conditioner and fans work in every room. If the air can move, then you shouldn’t have an issue.
Mold from past water leaks can also be a problem in English basements. In a perfect world, landlords would fix leaks in a timely matter and replace anything that was damaged, such as ceiling or walls. If the landlord is careless, however, then mold and mildew can grow in damp, dark places. Considering that light can be limited in an English basement and generally cooler than the rest of the house, it’s not unusual to see mold or mildew growing in these units. Both mold and mildew can make you sick if your unit is not properly ventilated, so always check before signing the lease on an English basement.
Best design tips for an English-style basement
Maybe living in an English basement sounds less glamorous than a loft, but in Washington, DC, English basements offer renters the opportunity to live in some of the District’s most historic and beautiful homes.
Before you write off English basements entirely, here’s how to make the most of small spaces.
- Choose furniture that is multifunctional. A storage ottoman offers seating, table options and storage for pillows and blankets. Many tables have collapsable leaves so you can flatten and slide them up against the wall when they’re not in use.
- Add plenty of lighting. If your English basement doesn’t get enough natural light, add some artificial light of your own. Table and floor lamps brighten spaces and add a touch of style and warmth.
- Bring in cozy rugs. Most English basements do not have carpeting in case of leaks, but for those living in one, hardwood and concrete can be cold and hard on your knees. Soften the space by adding area rugs. Runners will cover long hallways while large area rugs under the bed and sofa will make moving around your English basement much warmer and more comfortable.
Living in an English basement can almost be considered a right of passage for anyone living in Washington, DC. With a little creativity and good design, your English basement can morph into a cozy home that you’ll want to show off to family and friends.
Ready to find your perfect English basement? Contact Atlas Lane today to see what’s available.