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'50s-style basement rocks back the clock

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's always happy days in Lee Brewster Kuhn's basement.

"I've always liked the 1950s," Kuhn explained. The 50-something homeowner can visit the days of Sputnik and rock 'n' roll, of pop art and soda fountains, by just descending a narrow staircase to the lower level of her Fort Hill home.

Visitors instantly are immersed into an "American Bandstand" vibe as they spot a vintage jukebox at the foot of the stairs. The glowing automatic record player is from Kuhn's youth, as is the pinball machine tucked into a niche on one side of the room.

"My parents, Ruth and Jerry Brewster, had the jukebox, pinball machine, a bowling alley and a pool table in the basement in our home on Morningside Drive when I was growing up. I now understand that they had all of that there so all of our friends would come over to our house. Our parents always knew where we were on the weekends," she said with a laugh. "They were pretty smart."

She has fond memories of her father taking her to Elkins Record Store every year on her birthday.

"He would buy me the top 10 records for that year," Kuhn said, pointing to the hand-printed labels on the music selection list. Leslie Gore, the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles -- they're all there.

She's hoping to restore the machine to be able to play the records she has carefully stored. In the meantime, she's happy with the glow that adds ambiance to the room. Beside the jukebox, there's a guitar propped against the wall with a set of bongo drums at the ready.

A nearby bathroom is done in a Betty Boop theme, and a high-top pub table and stools complete the scene with a kitschy "leg lamp" made popular in the movie "A Christmas Story."

The centerpieces to the Rob Petrie-era room are the booth and bar done in turquoise and white vinyl. Kuhn didn't want typical red or black, and her daughter, Karen Ojeda, suggested the turquoise color. The whole bar unit is under-lit with soft lighting. Kuhn searched for the items and was pleased to find them online, and even more delighted when she discovered the company was in Charles Town.

"This company, Bars & Booths, sells all over the world, but they are located in West Virginia," Kuhn said. She worked with the sales rep to create her bar and booth to fit the space. The bar sits atop a rounded platform (that's conveniently on wheels making cleaning easier), and it has five chrome-based stools. A "back bar," complete with glass shelves and lighting, holds glasses and other knickknacks. The vignette is finished with a pale pink vintage-looking refrigerator that Kuhn bought from Bars & Booths. Nearby, there's a matching pink payphone.

Above the booth, a neon sign declares, "It's 5:00 Somewhere." Salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard and sugar are all in a diner-style rack, and a napkin holder and menu complete the look on the Formica-topped table.

Kuhn ordered the black-and-white checkerboard linoleum flooring from Home Depot to match the floor on the base of the bar.

It's not all vintage in the Kuhn basement. There's a flat-screen television, complete with surround sound, and a karaoke machine that's a favorite at parties. A comfortable black leather couch and chair, in the '50s style, allow guests to relax while watching a West Virginia University football game or a movie on DVD.

"I can seat 19 people down here," she said. Her son, Brian Kuhn, and son-in-law, Chris Ojeda, helped with the sound system and with moving all of the pieces into place.

Prints and posters adorn the walls, with the images of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Barney Fife, Lucy and Howdy Doody prominently displayed.

Last fall, as a kickoff to the newly remodeled space, Kuhn gave a '50s Halloween party.

"They came dressed in '50s costumes; we had a Mouseketeer, a soda jerk, a couple of 'Pink Ladies' and, of course, there were a lot of 'Dannys' in black jackets and white T-shirts."

Upon entering Kuhn's home of 29 years, visitors get no hint of the doo-wop basement hidden below. The main floor's soft palette, antiques and the gleaming kitchen are all current with today's design aesthetic.

Doug Wilson, her contractor, worked on many parts of the house before tackling the basement. The living room's cozy coffered ceiling reminds her of her childhood home off Loudon Heights Road. Built-in bookcases with a modern gas fireplace fill one side of the living room. Kuhn always wanted a craftsman-style home, and so she "eyeballed" a design for her porch and Wilson created a stacked stone facade and craftsman columns.

A former resident had added the basement after the house was built.

"He was an engineer, and he had it dug out," Kuhn explained. Steel columns were needed to support the house above. Wilson boxed in those round columns and Kuhn painted them turquoise, but the walls are white, allowing the basement room to seem spacious.

Kuhn, a fan of HGTV, has done a lot of the work on her home.

"They call me 'Roberta Vila' at my office," she said, referring to the popular television handyman. "If something needs to be fixed, they just ask me."

But when it comes to the basement, it was Kuhn's son-in-law, Chris, who asked the $64,000 question.

"Who knew she could redo a '50s-style basement and make it cozy?"

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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