Matt and Anne Edwards have lived in their ranch home in the suburbs for two years, and they'll be the first to admit the basement was bad. Real bad.
It was dark, wasn't really livable, and had electrical wires running out in the open.
Their basement was so ugly, in fact, the Arlington Heights couple won the Ugliest Basement contest by Matrix Basement Finishing System.
The Edwards won a basement makeover valued at $25,000, said Nick Richmond, president and co-owner of the Arlington Heights-based company.
"It was essentially the ugliest basement we saw; it had warping wood, which is evidence of moisture," he said.
The Edwards completely remodeled the main floor of the house after moving in two years ago and they had planned to remodel the basement themselves in 2011. But after tearing a few things down, they realized the basement required more work than they anticipated.
"We quickly realized we were in over our heads," said Matt. "Homeowners need to realize a basement is not a day project, not something you can just put on the to-do list."
Prior to the makeover, Matt and Anne were just using the basement for storage. "Now our dog Lucy enjoys running from one end of the basement to the other. She loves all the open space," Matt said.
Matt got the surprise of his life when Richmond and other Matrix representatives showed up earlier this year with a giant $25,000 check and a video camera rolling to record the event.
The Ugliest Basement contest, which started in December, was open to anyone living within 50 miles of Chicago. The Edwards and other applicants submitted photographs of their basements, with a letter explaining why their family deserved a makeover.
It took three days in mid-January to complete the demolition, which included tearing down a drop ceiling and the old walls and basement electrical, said Matrix co-owner Brian Barrick. The remodeling, which included wall-to-wall carpeting, was completed within eight weeks.
Matrix installed six-inch can lights throughout the Edwards' basement because the couple wanted it to look like the rest of their house. The couple gained about 65 percent living space, Barrick said. The finished basement is just under 700 square feet, while the ground floor is about 1,100 square feet.
"It's the best and lowest-priced way to gain extra living space," Richmond said of a basement remodel. "You can go up or out (add on), but both will cost you four- to five-times as much"
The Edwards have converted one part of the finished basement into a family room with a large screen TV and couch. "Its where we hang out," Anne said. "(It's) a nice place for our 10-month-old daughter Katherine to crawl around and play."
The family may soon add a desk and pool table to another area of the basement, along with hanging art pieces, Anne said. They also plan to use the extra room for family functions and gatherings. "It feels like we have twice as much space," she said.
Richmond said Matrix started the Ugliest Basement contest, which was heavily promoted on its Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Vimeo accounts, to create an awareness of the company's basement wall finishing system.
"We really want people to see there is a better way to remodel basements instead of using drywall."
Matrix uses a seamless thermal panel wall system that is impervious to mold and moisture and is fire resistant, environmentally friendly, energy efficient and extremely strong, according to the company's website.
Richmond said the seamless panels connect so beautifully they are completely indistinguishable from other walls in a home.
The panels are produced at Matrix's manufacturing plant on Algonquin Road, and installed with a process for finishing seams to eliminate unsightly divider strips or vinyl tape. Barrick said the finsished walls have nearly double the insulating properties of drywall.
"The most common comments we get from customers are about how much more energy efficient their complete home is," he said.
"This is our third year in business," Richmond said. "Last year we contracted about 350 basements and this year will be close to 400."
Matrix customers are often families with young children or families that just need more living space, with over half of their customers finishing their basement for the first time, Barrick said. The company also installs the ceilings and completes all aspects of the basement projects.
"We do everything from A-to-Z when it comes to basements," he said.
The Edwards hope their remodeled basement adds 10 percent to 15 percent to the value of their home. "The new basement provides a cozy feel. We were very pleased with the results," Anne said. "I have already recommended it to my friends."
Hundreds of applicants sent Matrix letters, videos and pictures. The company narrowed it down to four finalists, and then picked the Edwards as winners.
"Social media allowed us to gain more entries and continue to showcase what we have done," said Jeremiah Royer, who manages Matrix's social media accounts.
You can view videos, photo galleries, blogs and customer testimonials on the Matrix website, mymatrixbasement.com, and the company will have a demonstration booth at Naperville Ribfest from noon to 10 p.m. through July 3.
"It was a little bit of a rush," Matt said of the videotaped moment when he was surprised by a knock on the door and a $25,000 check. "And a big weight off our back, to be able to have the basement done the way we want to."