Renovation photos by Genevieve Renee

Too often, basements get a bad rap. These dark, subterranean spaces are either ground zero for horror movies or, at best, a rabbit warren of uninspired storage rooms that ultimately turns us all into zealous hoarders. Clean, efficient planning was never really a basement's original M.O.; as such, pickle rooms everywhere are left to languish. 

But what's forgotten in our collective apprehension of the much-maligned basement is that they€™re also treasure troves of extra space, often doubling the square footage of a house. As it turns out, Calgary designer Louis Duncan-He's clients wanted just that€”an extra 2,100 square feet to their existing 2,100-square-foot rancher in the Varsity area. But they were looking for a basement that didn€™t feel like a basement. 

With a young toddler and a baby on the way, the homeowners€”who spent all their time on their main floor€”needed to get their hands on some extra space fast. €œThey wanted a very California-chic, Pacific Coast natural feel,€ says Duncan-He. €œAnd it needed to be bright and airy, but warm and homey too.€

The designer's background, while not the traditional route, was perfectly suited to bringing their ideas come to life.  €œI spent 12 years in corporate advertising so I€™ve always been in a creative field,€ he says. €œTaking something abstract and making it tangible is what I€™ve always done.€

When he and his physician husband moved from B.C. to Calgary for work, he stumbled into design by accident. €œWe were hosting a party and there were all these young physicians in the room,€ he says. €œThere was this sad girl sitting on the floor and when I asked her why she was so sad, she said she was going through a divorce and hating her house.€

Duncan-He immediately told her he€™d help her get on her feet. €œI got you!€ he said drunkenly. €œI'll help you design your house!€ The next morning, she promptly called him and that led to the next client and the next and eventually the homeowners of this project.

One of Duncan-He's design challenges was that this basement with its 8-foot ceilings had very few windows. €œHow do we make it bright and airy?€ he wondered. To accomplish that, he felt an overall tension between the natural and the refined was key. Throughout the space, natural materials dovetail seamlessly with elegant fixtures and finishes for a perfect balance.

Bathroom Bliss

The bathroom feels anything but basement-y: clad in soft powder blue, the double-sink vanity is broken up by a linen storage tower hewn in white oak with echoes of driftwood. €œBecause they wanted a natural sensibility, I balanced the neutral blue with a white oak so it was airy, organic and easy to look to it,€ says Duncan-He. The pretty marble quartz countertop from Vicostone offers a perfect foil to the contemporary matte black hex-tile floor with off-grey grouting that allows the geometric shape to pop.

Meanwhile, the wallpaper was chosen for its illustrative quality but also its monochromatic tone. €œBecause the homeowners saw this space being used more by their children and visiting family/friends, they wanted a mix between fun and playful with chic and elegant,€ says the designer.

€œI love mixing metals,€ he says of the champagne gold vanity sconces and lower cabinet hardware mixed with the matte black mirror and faucet. €œThe owner naturally has more of a feminine sensibility and likes things to look pretty so I added a few touches here and there that nod to that.€

Living Large


€œWe wanted to bring in a little of that westcoast surf shack vibe, but not overdo it,€ explains the designer of the shiplap feature wall. Originally, there was also a large fireplace, but it sat at a diagonal and blocked the siteline from the door. The owners opted to nix it in favour of a more open feel and so Duncan-He replaced it with a media wall.


The homeowners also wanted a comfortable lounge area, but wanted it friendly for their two-year-old. The Cello from EQ3 was called in€”€œIt's modern and low, but quite plush and inviting,€ says the designer. Cognac leather accents were added to €œtone down€ the neutrals and so the Cello ottoman in cognac can be pulled up to the couch and invoked as a footstool or stay centred as a coffee table.

The adjacent post€”a structural beam€”needed to stay so was clad in white oak veneer. €œI always say that if there'ssomething that needs to be there, you have to make sure it doesn't look like a mistake,€ says Duncan-He. €œIt's got to be purposeful and like an intentional a design feature.€

Work It Out


€œThese clients are very fitness conscious and love to be healthy and in shape,€ says the designer. €œThey wanted a really beautiful and useable gym to take away the day's stresses€”but it needed to be functional.€ The solution was a home gym with a decidedly boutique hotel vibe. Duncan-He split the gym into two parts: one side features equipment while the other side€”a yoga and pilates space€”features a white oak herringbone-pattern floor with an arrow that points to a feature wall where the wife takes some me-time. A light tray ceiling wasn€™t the easiest to pull off with just 8€™ and electrical to hide, but €œit was an exercise in working with what we had and making it intentional.€


White oak veneer€”the same veneer used for the pillars€”was used to create a custom bench with storage.


The preserved moss wall installations were first prototyped by the designer at home (€œMy physician husband is very handy!€), but are now mainstays in Duncan-He's work. €œOnce you install it, it will always look that green€”It's a touch of nature without committing to a large plant!€

What's in the Box


A cozy wallpapered 24€ x 53€ nook recessed into the wall for the client's young daughter means she can climb in with a parent and read. €œThat wall was actually tricky because it was on a diagonal so we decided to drywall over it and balance it out to create a focal point for her,€ says the designer. €œThe clients wanted the space to feel special for her so we put potlights inside and wallpapered it.€

A custom cushion in creamy leather offers a slightly tone different from the leather accents throughout the rest of the space €œso It's not so matchy matchy, but still ties in,€ says Duncan-He.


Kitchen Confidential


A round dining table and chairs with overhead Sputnik-style chandelier in black and glass add drama and sophistication to an otherwise diminutive kitchenette. The pint-sized kitchen counter features the same marble quartz from the bathroom as does the kitchen hardware; the shiplap echoes the living area's media wall. €œI believe in creating design that's balanced by taking textures and materials and spreading them out; it creates continuity but also slight variances too,€ says Duncan-He.


Child's Play

 The designer originally conceived of a playhouse for the small area off the livingroom, but the homeowners were keen to keep the space open so it could be converted later. A rainbow wall detail in more muted colours keep with the organic feel, but also hint at playfulness.

There Will be Mud


The client's wishlist included a functional mudroom; as such, the designer crafted it in the same light blue cabinetry as the bathroom. Shiplap walls, matte black hardware and a white oak built-in bench all nod to that continuity throughout without being overly studied.




Design: Louis Duncan-He Designs

General Contractor: Strong Residential

Millwork: Casa Flores

Living Room/Main Area

Sectional + Ottoman : EQ3 Cello

Sideboard: Rove Pastoe

Sconces: House of Troy

Rug: Surya

Shiplap and floating shelves: custom install, white oak shelves

Chandelier: Matteo Novo

Table: Moe’s Ottago

Chairs: Structube


Tile: Glocal perfect natural

Custom millwork in white oak and harbour haze (BM)

Children’s Nook/Area: 

Mural: Cover these walls

Nook millwork and cushion are custom, Maxwell fabric

Rug: Ruggables Metro


Wallpaper: Cole & Sons Melville Neutral

Tile: Centura Sfumature 

Millwork: custom, white oak/harbour haze/cloud white (BM)


Flooring: rubber flooring by Nora

Moss walls: custom by Louis Duncan-He Designs

Sconces: House of Troy

Millwork wall: Custom, design by Louis Duncan-He Designs