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Find some forgotten square footage in the basement

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Sometimes, when faced with what we shall euphemistically describe as a basement with issues, a real estate agent's natural inclination might be just to shut the door quietly and tiptoe away, hoping that a buyer will fall in love with the rest of the house. But in space-crazed Manhattan, every inch counts -- even a lower level that's so paint-splattered that it might have caused artist Jackson Pollock to recoil. "It's a 1,600-square-foot duplex, a unique property, with the main living area and bedrooms on the street level," explained Kathryn Swift, an agent with Sotheby's International Realty in New York. "Downstairs, there's a 400-square-foot recreation room, plus a separate media room or home office and a half bath." Except that this homeowner wasn't using all of that valuable lower-level square footage -- about 800 square feet, total -- for any of those rather traditional purposes. This was a studio for a painter, one whose canvases were not filled wi...