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The Screen

To transform an eyesore of a Chelsea basement into a laid-back home theater, architecture firm Messana O’Rorke and interior designer Betsy Morgan had to dig deep—into the dirt, that is.

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Photographs by Costas Picadas


An extreme intervention is sometimes the only way to create the perfect space. Once the three above-ground floors of this home were completed, Betsy Morgan turned her attention to what was once a low-ceilinged, ugly mechanical room. To give it the spacious feeling she wanted was going to take more than paint and new furniture. “We didn’t need to excavate,” says Morgan, “but if we hadn’t, it would have been cramped. Now it truly feels like a room.” The process involved clearing out about two feet of rock and soil, going straight down. Walls underwent a process called “under­pinning”—stabilizing the structure while extending the foundation downward. Morgan hired the architectural firm Messana O’Rorke to supervise the delicate earth removal, which also involved buttressing the side walls during digging. “We had to reroute the pipes and all the vents as well,” she notes. The ordeal of excavating over, Morgan set the mood she wanted: a relaxed, Moroccan-­vacation vibe.


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