Tag Archives: entertaining

Building a Basement Tiki Lounge

Building a basement Tiki lounge: How we turned our drab basement into a retro tropical Polynesian retreat


I’ve always had a fascination and appreciation of Polynesian culture. I studied art and anthropology (including Pacific Island cultures) at the University of Hawaii Manoa on a year long program in college, and fell in love with Polynesia. We were fortunate enough to take our honeymoon in Tahiti and French Polynesia in 2010, and I’ve been itching to go back and explore more islands ever since.

When we decided to buy our first house last year, Paddy had a requirement that it needed to have a basement–with a bar. I was 100% in agreement, but it had to be a tiki lounge. We love the kitsch and retro nostalgia of the tiki bars of the 50’s and 60’s, when Hawaii’s statehood came to be and a booming post WWII economy allowed Americans to travel more. Polynesian culture and tropical exotica became all the rage, with restaurants such as Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s in California starting a nation-wide trend of Mai Tais and Zombie cocktails, “exotica” music and tropical fashion.

As luck would have it, we got a house with a basement. A finished basement at that. It was a dream come true.

how to build a basement tiki lounge
Our basement before

The quintessential item in a tiki lounge is a bar.

Scouting Craigslist, we came upon several retro bars for sale but the prices were either exorbitant or they sold so fast that we didn’t stand a chance. I finally found a bar for $200 that looked cool, but the photo was terrible. It was covered with stuff, and taken at a bad angle. It looked like it might be cool, or at least we could make it cool with some work. I noticed it had been on Craigslist for awhile, so I finally emailed the guy and offered him $100 for it. He told me he was selling items from a family estate far from where he lived, so he didn’t want to go there unless we were definitely going to buy it. We decided to go for it as long as I could get it in my truck, and settled on $150. It was an awesome bar, in an awesome basement that hadn’t been redecorated since the 1960’s. There was even a rotary dial phone on the wall in the laundry area. We had a hell of a time getting it out of their basement through the garage, and strapped it rather precariously into my truck with rope, but we did it and the vintage bar made it back to our basement.

We already had a couple of vintage bamboo bar stools that Paddy had acquired somewhere down the line, and we found a couple more rattan bar stools and a bamboo/rattan style futon on Craigslist as well, which we ordered a new tropical cover for and matching pillows. We had a lot of unpacking to do and other more pressing home projects, so we hung up our tiki bar paddle, a few vintage framed records from Hawaii and Rarotonga, and called it good until we had time and energy to deck it out.

how to build a basement tiki lounge
Basement bar decked out for our Christmas party, not quite tikilicious yet.


About 9 months went by, and finally we were ready to start finishing our tiki lounge. I wanted to go all out.

First, I measured the back wall of the room and the wall area behind the bar, and ordered several rolls of Lauhala matting (woven grass mats) on ebay (I found the best price on 48″ x 96″ rolls there), and four rolls of 36″ x 72″ natural bamboo fencing from Home Depot. We screwed the Lauhala mats to the wall, cutting out a section around the window. I used a stud finder to find the wall studs on the wall behind the bar, and marked them on the crown molding with masking tape so that we could easily find them later when we installed the bar shelves.

how to build a basement tiki lounge
Lauhala matting screwed on the wall
how to build a basement tiki lounge
marking the wall studs with masking tape to find them later

The matting was hard to keep completely flat, so we struggled a bit with some bubbles that kept appearing when we were installing it. We got it about as flat as we could.

When cutting around the window, it was hard to keep a straight cut line. Fortunately, we planned on covering the window frame with bamboo, so my bad cutting job would be hidden eventually.

how to build a basement tiki lounge
Not the straightest cutting job…

I had to cut out around an electrical panel next to the bar as well, and it didn’t look so awesome with the frayed grass mat edges. I got a roll of Lauhala ric rac on Etsy for $15.50 and used it to frame the edges around the electrical panel by gluing it with a hot glue gun. It looked much better and kept the cut grass from fraying any further. We did a border trim along the top of the matting on the wall as well, which gave it a more finished look.

Lauhala ric rac around the cut-out matting for the electrical panel gave it a more finished look

Next, I ordered a 30″ x 96″ Mexican palm thatch runner from Forever Bamboo. We were trying to figure out how to create an overhang behind the bar that we could drape grass thatch over to give it that authentic tropical tiki lounge look. I drew up a plan of a frame we could construct and hang on the wall, but Paddy thought we could find something pre-made. I couldn’t find anything small and pre-made online. While we were pondering this conundrum, I remembered that there were some closet bars in a storage room in the basement installed by previous owners. It was perfect! I was stoked–we didn’t have to buy or build anything!

how to build a basement tiki lounge
closet bars!

At first we thought that hanging the supports upside-down would be best to give the bar the sloped-overhang we originally pictured.


Unfortunately, while this looked cool, it would have been better on a very high ceiling. It covered up too much of the wall that we planned to use for bar shelves.

how to build a basement tiki lounge
tiki lounge grass thatch overhang using closet bars.

We put them right side up, which helped hold it up a lot better.

how to build a basement tiki lounge
tiki lounge grass thatch overhang using closet bars.
how to build a basement tiki lounge
tiki lounge grass thatch overhang using closet bars.
How to build a basement tiki lounge
Finnigan wanted to help.

Next we un-rolled the fencing and propped it against the wall and then Paddy screwed it to the wall below the matting. We had one electrical outlet we had to cut bamboo out of, but fortunately it was very low on the wall and we only had to cut a couple pieces off at the bottom end of the second roll. Paddy was able to do this (carefully) with a small hand saw.

How to build a basement tiki lounge
bamboo fencing as wainscoting.
how to build a basement tiki lounge
Cut out in bamboo fence for electrical outlet

As luck would have it, we had a couple pieces extra on the end of the last fence roll, so Paddy cut the wire holding them on and took them off. We screwed them to the wall above the fence roll to create a border and a more finished look.

How to build a basement tiki lounge

Next, we got some inexpensive brown shelves and supports from Home Depot and screwed them into the wall studs behind the bar in front of the matting. The top shelf still wasn’t very visible with the grass overhang, and it was bothering us. It was also hanging at about eye-level and was very annoying if you were behind the bar.

We remedied this by getting two thin pieces of tack board cut 18″ wide by 48″ long (our bar overhang was 96″ long), which Home Depot cut to size for us, and put it under the grass to give it a wider “shelf” to hang over. It worked perfectly.

how to build a basement tiki lounge
Putting tack board under the grass overhang to lift it up and out further
how to build a basement tiki lounge
tack board under the grass overhang to prop it up and out further

After the bar was set up, we had to do something about the window frame and my bad matting cut-out job. I ordered a four-pack of 60″ long 5″ diameter split bamboo poles from Sunset Bamboo. Unfortunately they sent us full rounds, and it was a several week ordeal with a call tag and a reshipment to get the right items, with very poor customer service. We finally got the right product though.

Two of the 60″ lengths we were able to install over the window frame on the top and bottom without cutting, and the middle ones we cut to size with a chop saw. We put screws in the wall and the window frame and wired the bamboo poles on, so that they would be easy to take off if we ever wanted to.

how to build a basement tiki lounge
Installing the bamboo split poles over the window frame
how to build a basement tiki lounge
Installing the bamboo split poles over the window frame

We were finally ready to decorate. The best part.

We added some fun lights that we got from the party supply store below each shelf behind the bar–bouys and parrots. To illuminate the top shelf, we got the Dioder LED 4 piece light strip pack from Ikea for $29.99. You can daisy-chain them together like we did for behind a bar, or seperate them out into four segments to put inside book cases. It was an awesome purchase. You can choose from a rainbow of colors, or make the lights fade in and out of each color with a handy little control.

how to build a basement tiki bar

A guy in a nearby neighborhood had a “tiki sale” at his house where we picked up some vintage tiki mugs, a poster, a really cool vintage bamboo chair, and some postcards from Hawaii and Tahiti from the 1960’s. No tiki lounge is complete without tiki mugs.

how to build a basement tiki bar
Tiki mugs!

I got red and orange paper lanterns and pendant lights from Paper Lantern Store which added some warm funky ambiance to the room. The lime green rotary dial phone in the photo below is the phone I grew up with–and I’m so glad I kept it. It sits proudly in our tiki lounge in all of it’s lime green glory.

how to build a basement tiki bar

Shortly before we moved, I found this tiger print chair sitting front and center on display at the Ballard, Seattle Goodwill. I had to have it. The Goodwill employee I had write a furniture sale tag up for me said there was a lady who told her she was coming back for it. But she didn’t pay for it. And I had cash and a truck. I win.

Paddy added a Ralph Steadman poster from Hunter S. Thompson’s Hawaii-based book The Curse of the Lono. He’s a big fan.

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We found a pretty cool coconut lamp/chandelier  in Mexico, and a preserved puffer fish at a nearby antique mall in Burien, WA. We got a tiki mask at Home Depot and some glass floats at Party Display and Costume.

how to build a basement tiki bar

I re-covered all the bar stools with Tommy Bahama fabric from Joann Fabrics so that they would match.

My last addition to the bar was a painting of a hula girl in the moonlight that I painted myself.

how to build a basement tiki lounge

We would like to re-do the floors in wood laminate next year and get rid of the old carpeting, and get some tiki god side tables to replace the boring ones, but for now we’re going to call it good. We finished the tiki lounge just in time for a Forbidden Island party we threw and it was super fun.

One of the biggest elements of a great tiki lounge is kitsch. As years go by, I’m sure we will find all sorts of things to add to the bar in our international travels and wanderings through antique malls. Our tiki lounge will always be a work in progress.

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Tips for Throwing a Big Party in a Small House

Tips for throwing a big party in a small house: Don’t let the size of your house stop the fun. Ways to maximize your space and keep everyone mingling.


For the  eight years before buying our first house, Paddy and I rented an 840 square foot house in north Seattle, and we threw a lot of parties there. Summertime was easiest, because we had a pretty decent sized back yard (for city standards, anyways).

Our biggest party of the year, however was our annual white elephant Christmas party. Being a wintertime party, we had to get everyone indoors and able to move about and have a good time. The last year we lived there, we crammed 46 people in that house, and the party was the best one yet. Throwing a big party in a small house is possible. Here’s our tips for maximizing your party space:

1. People always congregate in the kitchen

Even when we lived in our small duplex apartment with the tiniest kitchen in the world, the couple times we threw a party people would still cram into the kitchen. It’s where the drinks are, and often the food. People go in for a drink and get caught in conversations. Therefore, expect your kitchen to be a main gathering area, even if that’s not what your intention is. Consider putting food or a bar in the living area to help people disperse a bit more if your house layout allows it. Always include paper plates for food so guests can take snacks with them to other parts of the house instead of hovering over the snack table.

throwing a big party in a small house
People will ALWAYS be in your kitchen.

2. Make sure there is plenty of seating in the living room or larger areas of the house

Folding chairs are great, you can store them in the garage the rest of the year, or rent them if you don’t have any. Put some around the perimeter of the living room, making plenty of places for people to sit and talk. Sure, it doesn’t look as nice, but people like to sit and converse almost as much as they love to cram in the kitchen (especially ladies in cute uncomfortable shoes).

throwing a big party in a small house
Have plenty of seating

3. Make an outdoor smoking area

You will most likely have at least a handful of smokers. We like to put up a 10×10 pop-up canopy outside the back door with Christmas lights or lanterns to provide a sheltered, ambient place for smokers to congregate.

4. Put a photo booth or activity in a spare room

Our last year we made a photo booth with an iphone (see my post about how to do this here) and put it in the guest room. It was a smash hit. Not only was it super fun and we got a lot of entertaining photos from it, but it dispersed people throughout the house a bit better. Don’t forget props!

iphone photo booth 032 iphone-photo-booth

5. Maximize fridge space with coolers

Put an extra cooler outside in the smoking area or next to your bar table with ice for beers. This will give more space for drinks and help with kitchen traffic.

6. Don’t forget logistics like extra TP, etc

Make sure you have plenty of toilet paper. This is something that is easy to forget when you have a small household, but is essential to having a large amount of guests at your house. Put extra rolls under the sink or in a basket somewhere where guests can find it if it runs out. Check the bathroom periodically during the party. Also, keep a trash can and a recycle bin in the kitchen or somewhere where they can be easily found.


Lastly, remember that not everyone you invite will show up. We usually get about a 30-50% turnout of who we invited. Paddy always had a mini panic every year at my Facebook invite guest list–“86 people?! What if they all show up??!!” Dude, they won’t all show up. That never happens. People appreciate that you invited them, even if they can’t make it. And you never know who will make it–we’ve had some long lost friends come out of the woodwork and get back in touch.

So don’t be afraid of throwing a big party in a small house. It was a tight squeeze at times in our old rental house, but people said they kind of liked it They said it was a little like a college kegger but for grown-ups.


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Crafty Adventures: How to Make a DIY iPhone Photo Booth

Crafty Adventures: How to make a DIY iPhone or iPad photo booth for your next party. It’s easy, cheap, and a lot of fun!

People LOVE photo booths. Especially if it is an event where they are dressed up nice or for a theme party of some sort, such as a wedding, Halloween, luau, holiday party, etc.

There are a lot of photo booth rental companies out there in Seattle and across the country that charge a ton of money for professional style photo booth rentals. These are great for weddings and large events with a big budget, but I was determined to figure out a cheap and easy way to get create a photo booth for my party myself. I ended up creating an iPhone photo booth for our annual white elephant Christmas party, and it was a smash hit. Technology is awesome.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1. iPhone, iPad, or comparable smartphone or tablet with camera

2. Pocketbooth app (downloadable on the app store for $1.99)

how to make an iphone photo booth

This app is awesome. It gives you a classic photo booth strip of four photos, and you just have to click the green button to start it taking pictures. You can delete photos if you don’t like them, guests can email them to themselves, and the photos automatically save to your phone. You can also choose from black & white, sepia, color, and other filters.

3. A somewhat quiet, out of the way corner to set it up in (guest room, basement, somewhere away from the main party area)

Having it in a separate area will give your guests a little privacy to make them comfortable to be as silly as they want to be, and draw the party to other areas (instead of everyone cramming into the kitchen near the food and booze, which is what always ends up happening).

4. Tripod and tripod adapter attachment for your iPhone or tablet

We used our gorillapod, but a regular tripod will work just as well if not better. The adapter was bought on Amazon, and is adjustable to accommodate various phone sizes. I believe they make these for iPads and tablets as well.

how to make an iphone photo booth

5. A good lighting source facing directly at the people in the booth, (but not a blinding one).

I had a couple of square-shaped paper lanterns that I bought super cheap at Ikea for around $15.00 each. Lighting is imperative for good photos that aren’t grainy. The paper around the bulb diffused the light nicely, and the square shape helped them stand on their own.

how to make an iphone photo booth

6. A bench or two chairs, and a table for the tripod if needed

how to make an iphone photo booth

I had a little shelf that I used. I covered the top with Christmas wrapping paper, and put my props in the shelves below for people to easily access.

7. An extension cord to keep your phone or tablet plugged in the whole time so that the battery won’t die during the party

Your phone will get a lot of action, best be safe and make sure the battery doesn’t die and ruin all the fun.

8. A fun backdrop and props.

I used a piece of sparkly red fabric from Joann Fabrics (don’t forget to check their website for 50% discount coupons, they always have them) and some Christmas lights. Props get people into it–feather boas, reindeer antlers, funny hats, sunglasses, wigs, stuffed penguins, leis, coconut bras, rubber spiders, creepy dolls, anything that you think goes with your theme. Use your imagination!

how to make an iphone photo booth


There are a couple of things to consider when using an iPhone photo booth. First, make sure you can trust your friends, as people will have the ability to use and get into your phone. Our friends are awesome and our party wasn’t huge, so this wasn’t a concern for me. Another option is to create a guided access security option on your phone in the settings, which will lock your phone into one app and you can’t get out of it without your pass code. This is pretty easy to do, made for parents giving their phones to their kids to play games.

Also, if your phone is in the photo booth, you won’t know if someone is trying to call or text you. Or someone else might answer if they do…A way around this is to put your phone in airplane mode to hold all your calls and texts. Just make sure you have a wifi signal turned on so that guests can still email photos to themselves. You’re hosting a party, you don’t need to waste time with your phone anyway. You have guests to entertain.

Last– I didn’t think about it until after the party was over, but my phone is set to lock after an hour of no use. The iPhone photo booth was such a popular attraction at our party that this wasn’t an issue. Keep in mind though that you may need to adjust your iPhone settings to make sure it stays unlocked throughout the party.

Once you get it set up, test it out with various lighting options. If your party is going to mostly be after dark, don’t test it during the day unless the room has no windows. Make sure everything is all set up beforehand.

I tested mine with Finnigan. He was less than thrilled, but was a pretty good sport about it.

how to make an iphone photo booth
iphone photo booth

The lanterns worked really well for the lighting. The photo booth was a hit and everyone had a blast. I think I’ll have to do it every party from now on. Already thinking up different backdrops….

how to make an iphone photo booth
Finnigan, Paddy, and I
how to make an iphone photo booth
iphone photo booth
how to make an iphone photo booth
Photo booths are so exciting!

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