Home & Garden

March 1, 2014

Homeowners find new living space with attic conversions

A well-designed attic conversion can transform uncomfortably hot – and cold – sloped-wall rooms into appealing sleeping and living spaces.

A well-designed attic conversion can transform uncomfortably hot – and cold – sloped-wall rooms into appealing sleeping and living spaces.

Nancy and Dan Griffin of Minneapolis live in a traditional Tudor with cove ceilings and chopped-up rooms, but upstairs they’ve created a master suite that has open and uncluttered Asian-influenced spaces.

And Linda and Gerry Berglin’s remodeled attic in their Craftsman bungalow in Minneapolis feels like it was always part of the house, yet it features a luxurious bathroom, 10-foot ceilings and a closet as big as the kitchen.

“We’ve been getting a lot more inquiries about converting attics into usable space,” said Dan Hayes of Plekkenpol Builders in Bloomington, Minn. “Creating a bedroom and bathroom by far are the most popular.”

Many homeowners want to stay in their neighborhoods rather than move and are exploring ways to expand, said Hayes. They might not have yard space for an addition, so they’re heading upstairs.

“The appeal is you can create a nice getaway with its own modern bathroom and big walk-in closet,” said Hayes. “Typical old-house closets are only 3 by 3 feet.”

Here’s an inside look at two attic conversions.

Zen experience

The starting point: Owners Dan and Nancy Griffin bought their 1930s classic story-and-a-half Tudor in 2001. The slanted-wall attic had been used for a kids’ room, but with only newspaper for insulation, it was chilly in the winter and sweltering in the summer. The house had only two bedrooms on the main floor and one tiny bathroom, and they needed room for children and guests. So five years after buying the house, they took out a home equity loan and converted their 450-square-foot attic space into a master suite.

What they did: To open up the attic to create a bedroom, sitting area and bathroom, they gutted the existing space. The demolition included removing a cedar closet and knocking down a wall next to the stairs. Now the Griffins are greeted by a wide hallway and a light-filtering, wrought-iron railing at the top of the stairs.

Asian by design: “We really liked streamlined contemporary spaces and Asian-themed features,” said Nancy Griffin. Feather-light, translucent shoji screens open to the closet, the bathroom and a meditation room. “They slide and don’t take up a lot of space,” she said. “They’re very streamlined, unique and look cool.”

Zen den: Dan Griffin created a cocoonlike area in a corner eave in which to meditate every morning, with a sliding shoji screen at the entrance.

Peaceful palette: Crisp white walls are outlined with black wood trim to match the shoji screens. The TV/sitting area’s leather cream couch and white Ikea tables add to the neutral aesthetic.

Evolving bathroom: The couple enclosed a big, open gable for a bathroom outfitted with a shower and soaking tub. “I never thought we would have space for a full bathroom,” said Dan. “I hit my head once in awhile, but I love the angles.”

The great escape: The Griffins ban clutter in their master suite to ensure a calm, relaxing environment. “We wanted it to be an escape from the rest of the house and where we can decompress after a busy workday,” Nancy said. “And feel like it’s uniquely ours.”

Craftsman boudoir

The starting point: A 1920s Craftsman bungalow. The unfinished attic with open rafters and low, sloping walls was where homeowners Linda and Gerry Berglin had stored boxes of books. On the main floor were two bedrooms and a bathroom with no shower. “We really wanted a new bedroom,” said Gerry.

“But we wanted to make use of the raw space we already had,” added Linda.

What they did: Installed two Microllam beams and raised the ceiling to create spacious 10-foot-tall rooms while retaining the attic’s existing footprint. On the exterior, the modified rooflines blend in with the architecture of the rest of the house. They also added a shed dormer at the top of the stairs for a reading nook to hold Linda’s vintage furniture. The existing low roofline at the front of the house was the ideal spot to tuck the walk-in closet.

Vintage details: “We wanted the remodeled part to match the period of our Arts and Crafts home,” said Gerry. So they chose glass doorknobs on flat-paneled doors, Craftsman-style wood trim, hardwood floors and wall sconces. “We stuck to the bones of the house,” said Anna Berglin, an interior designer and the Berglins’ daughter. “On the stairs, we put in hardwood treads instead of carpet so it fit with the main floor.”

His-and-her bathroom: Gerry and Linda each have their own built-in medicine cabinet and pedestal sink. High awning windows draw natural light into the blue-green and terra-cotta master bath. “In the old bathroom, we were bumping into each other in the morning,” Linda said.

More than a headboard: For added character, they put in a long ledge topped with wood behind the bed instead of a plain Sheetrock wall.

Second furnace: They installed a new, smaller furnace on the attic level to provide heating and air-conditioning. “It also cools the main floor – so the remodel improved the whole house,” Gerry said.

Best part: “This is our sanctuary,” Linda said. “When we come up, we let it all go.”

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