At the end of the day, it’s easy for two Minneapolis couples to retreat to a quiet sanctuary. All they have to do is climb stairs that lead to the attic.
The couples’ well-designed attic conversions transformed uncomfortably hot — and cold — sloped-wall rooms into appealing sleeping and living spaces.
Nancy and Dan Griffin live in a traditional Tudor with coved ceilings and chopped-up rooms, but upstairs they’ve created a master suite that boasts open and uncluttered Asian-influenced spaces where Dan can meditate each morning.
Linda and Gerry Berglin’s remodeled attic in their Craftsman bungalow feels like it was always part of the house, yet it features a luxe bathroom, 10-foot ceilings and a closet as big as their kitchen.
“We’ve been getting a lot more inquiries about converting attics into usable space,” said Dan Hayes of Plekkenpol Builders in Bloomington. “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.
The starting point: The Griffins 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 home had only two bedrooms on the main floor and one tiny bathroom.
The couple were planning to start a family and also needed a guest bedroom for visiting relatives. So five years after buying, 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 nice 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. They chose feather-light, translucent shoji screens, which open to the closet, the bathroom and a meditation room. “They slide and don’t take up a lot of space . . . and look cool” she said.
Zen den: Dan walled off an area in a corner eave to create a cocoon-like room 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. “We didn’t want a lot of color,” said Dan.
Evolving bathroom: The couple enclosed a big, open gable and turned it into 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 a while, but I love the angles.”
They replaced a pedestal sink with a dark-stained wenge wood vanity covered with honed granite, and added new tile accents. “The new windows we bought in December with the wenge wood trim took the finished look up a notch,” said Nancy.
Biggest splurge: A glass and tile oversized shower customized to fit into a tight space. “That’s why we had to do the bathroom in two phases,” said Nancy.
The great escape: The Griffins ban clutter in their master suite to ensure a calm, relaxing environment.
The starting point: A 1920s Craftsman bungalow. The unfinished attic with open rafters and low, sloping walls was where homeowners Linda and Gerry Berglin 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 home. 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 perfect 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.
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.
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,” said Gerry.
Life-changing fire: The attic conversion was completed in 2002. But the Berglins ended up demolishing and redoing the whole attic space due to smoke damage caused by a fire in a fireplace ashbox in 2012.
Attic conversion tips
Here are some things to keep in mind before beginning your project:
-- Analyze how you want to use the space. “Bigger isn’t always better,” said Linda Berglin.
-- Interview three contractors and get references, said the Griffins, who had a bad experience with the first contractor they hired. “Work with someone you feel comfortable with,” said Nancy.
-- Tour homes to scrutinize other attic conversions. “Another project gave us the idea to open up the wall at the top of the stairs,” said Nancy.
-- Explore different heating and cooling options for your space. “Attics tend to be too hot or too cold, and it has to be comfortable up there,” said Dan Hayes of Plekkenpol Builders.
-- Attic bathrooms typically have large walk-in showers and more storage cabinets instead of a space-sucking tub.
-- When remodeling existing spaces, you may have to modify the roof structure to meet building codes.
-- Add skylights and windows to bring natural light into dark rooms.
-- Make sure the attic suite is well-insulated. Most contractors recommend installing energy-efficient spray-foam insulation.