CLJ Home Improvements owner Charles Johnston in his Robbinsville office, April 8, 2010. (Staff photo by Myles Ma.)

By Myles Ma

When Charles Johnston, owner of CLJ Home Improvements, finishes a basement, it isn’t just a tacked-on addition. His goal is to add another living space to the house.

“Our goal is to finish the basement as if it’s another level of your home,” Johnston said.

Johnston estimates that he has worked on more than 1,000 basements since he became the sole owner of CLJ Home Improvements in 2001. When he and a partner started the business, they named it J and G Contracting. When they started in 1993, they did all types of general residential work.

But when Johnston was left to run the company on his own, he chose to specialize in finished basements. Johnston estimates that about 90 percent of CLJ’s business is from basements.

The price and scope of the projects CLJ takes on range from as low as $5,000 to as high as $150,000.

“We’ve done them as simple as four walls and a ceiling,” Johnston said.

But there are many amenities people request that can increase the size and complexity of a project. Home theaters alone can increase the price by $50,000.

Johnston has also installed steam showers, saunas and custom bars and bathrooms, in basements as large as 35,000 square feet.

“We can take any raw basement space and maximize its use,” he said.

One of the design choices Johnston makes is to use sheet rock ceilings as opposed to dry ceilings. Johnston said sheet rock is the same material used throughout most homes, bringing the basement in line with the rest of the home.

Johnston has worked on many homes in Robbinsville, more than 100, by his estimation. He has lived in the town for 15 years, and his businesses, and the nature of living in a small town, means he bumps into customers often.

“It’s very common for me to go get a bagel at Dunkin’ Donuts and run into a customer — a satisfied customer,” he said.

With the rainy weather in March, many people have hesitated to do any work on their basements, especially if they are flood-prone, Johnston said. CLJ does waterproofing and mold remediation, Johnston said, so he can finish almost any basement.

While basements comprise most of CLJ’s business, Johnston also started a handyman division within the company a year and a half ago. Johnston’s employees can do minor repairs around the house, from putting together furniture to minor repairs around the home.

Though Johnston is a Robbinsville resident now, he grew up in Hamilton and graduated from Hamilton West in 1983. He lives with his wife Tiziana and his three children.

Johnston was very much born into this work; his father was a union carpenter and so was his grandfather. Johnston started out as a union carpenter in 1985, when he was 19, just the latest in a line.

CLJ Home Improvements is located at 35B Robbinsville-Allentown Road. For more information, call (609) 259-8204.