Thursday, June 12, 2008

House in Progress: Attic to Aerie

I just spent the better part of two days cleaning my 10-year-old daughter's room. You read that right -- two days. I love her dearly, but oh my god that girl is a slob. I found food under her bed that I'm pretty sure has been there since last summer.

Anyway, since I finally got the room presentable, I thought I'd take a few snaps to document the achievement. (Trust me, the room has never been this clean, nor is it likely to ever be this clean again. I told Laurel that she's not allowed back up there until we're back from our house-swapping vacation, and I was only half joking.) It's also the first chance I've had to document our completed attic renovation since it was finished two years ago. Forgive me -- the room has been a pigsty since the day she moved in.

When we first looked at this circa-1939 house, the attic was just a big, raw space. The previous owner had put in windows and skylights in the hope of eventually turning it into a master bedroom, but had stopped there. Nick and I knew we needed to finish the conversion to make the house workable for our family, but also knew that it wasn't an ideal space for our master bedroom. (I'm 5'10" and Nick is 6'2", and much of the space isn't suited to anyone over 4'8" without raising the roof and adding all kinds of dormers -- an expense we were in no financial position take on at that point.)

Our then-7-year-old daughter -- who along with her big brother had furiously resisted every Sunday open house we'd dragged her to during the year we'd actively been looking for a new place to call home -- climbed the stairs to the attic, took one look around at the dark and dusty space, and happily declared it "my future bedroom and art studio." The girl has vision, and who were we to argue?

As I said, though, the space was extremely raw and a bit awkward. The "walls" were merely the slanted underside of the roof and consisted of nothing more than insulation stuffed between ceiling joists. The ceiling sloped straight down to the floor, so while the overall space looked huge, a good portion of it was only a few feet tall.

About half of the attic floor was raised up several feet to accommodate the half-level below, and there was no actual floor there -- just more insulation stuffed between exposed floor joists. (I made the mistake one day of stepping between the joists instead of on them, and accidentally put the better part of my leg through lath and plaster into the room below.) The Douglas Fir floor in the rest of the attic was orangey and very distressed. One part of the floor sloped at a 30-degree angle, following the line of the vaulted ceiling below. The drop from the upper level of the attic around the steep stairwell was precarious.

What's more, dangerously low ceiling ties and roof supports were scattered all over the attic, making it difficult to walk more than a few feet in some areas without hitting one or both of them. A bank of exhaust pipes and ducts burst through the floor right in the middle of the room and ran up through the roof. In short, the attic was a major project -- but we needed it done, and we needed it done quickly and relatively cheaply.

Once the house was ours, we called in Karen DiNardo, a general contractor in Oakland who'd recently finished a beautiful bathroom remodel at our old house. After consulting with a structural engineer and an architect (both of whom we paid by the hour rather than pulling them in to oversee the whole project), we agreed on a plan: Instead of installing drywall, which would be too heavy for the floor to support, we opted for 8-by-4-foot sheets of plywood grooved to look like old-fashioned beaded board. With the engineer's OK, Karen and her crew raised many of the ceiling ties and removed or relocated some of the roof supports. Window trim, baseboards, and other finish carpentry were simple lengths of MDF. Everything would be sprayed out in glossy white.

The architect took on the space-planning aspect of the project, helping us figure out what areas to close off and how to carve out distinct zones while still leaving the space looking and feeling open, and devised a simple railing to prevent falls around the stairwell. He also came up with the ingenious idea of recessing bookshelves into the walls wherever possible. I can't tell you how invaluable all that shelving has been when it comes to keeping our daughter's things under some semblance of control.

We were at a loss about how to install a budget-friendly floor in the raised areas. I can't stand wall-to-wall carpet (plus, I knew it'd quickly get filthy, given all of Laurel's messy art projects) and we wanted to match the wood floors that were original to the space, but couldn't afford to. Karen suggested simply screwing down maple plywood. We agreed, then had the floors in the entire space -- both fir and maple -- stained a deep, dark chocolate hue to tie them together, to camouflage the doug fir's beat-up condition, and to ground the otherwise all-white space.

Once the room was ready for Laurel to move into, we realized that the furniture she'd had in her previous, 10-by-10-foot bedroom barely filled one corner of her new space. We were essentially out of money after forking over a down payment and settling up the tab for the attic conversion. But luckily, I managed to find most of the extra furniture and other items we needed for next to nothing on craigslist and from IKEA, eBay, and the Alameda Antiques Faire.

Here's a look at the finished space:

The India Rose laundry bag is from RianRae, and the Hemnes dresser is from IKEA; I dressed it up a bit with purple glass pulls from Auntie Gin's eBay store.

The art table (and Saarinen knockoff) is IKEA's Docksta; the Ant-like Morrow Chairs are from Pottery Barn.

The daybed is perfect for reading and daydreaming, as well as hosting friends for sleepovers. Eventually, we'd like to replace the vent with a petite window. The ticking-stripe rug and toile quilt were from Pottery Barn via eBay, and the dotted pillows are from Tonic Living.

The room is a lot more girly than I'd be comfortable with in any other part of the house -- but hey, it is for a little girl. And it's actually more toned-down than Laurel probably would have liked. The paper hearts all over the place -- as well as the American Girl posters and the, umm, Emma Watson (aka Hermione Granger) shrine -- are her contributions to the design. She's a pretty prolific young artist, too, and we need to get some of the pieces she's proudest of mounted and hung. She's been begging for a chalkboard wall, too, but I'm pretty sure chalkboard paint won't work on the grooved paneling, so I've been on the hunt for a big, vintage school chalkboard so that she can doodle on the walls to her heart's content.

Left: The IKEA Lillberg Loveseat was a craigslist find, painted white; the Optics Floor Mat is from Koko. Right: Laurel has never once done her homework at this desk ... but at least it's neat and organized now! The magazine boxes are filled with her collection of Martha Stewart Living -- yes, god help me, my child is a Martha fanatic. (I swear she did not get that from me.) The rolling metal Helmer Cart behind the desk is from IKEA, and holds her art supplies.

Left: Watch out, Rami Kashou -- this girl does draping like nobody's business. Right: A closeup of the stained maple plywood used for the floor in the elevated area; the circular rugs are actually bathmats from IKEA.

Left: Simple, unfinished pine bookshelves recessed into the wall in the reading area and in other areas of the room and then trimmed out and painted to match the rest of the space were a stroke of genius on our architect's part; the vintage chair was an eBay find; the white flokati rug is from PB Teen, purchased on eBay. Right: The bedding is a mix of linens from Anthropologie, West Elm, and PB Teen (all purchased on eBay); the "headboard" is actually a folding screen; the vintage glass lamp and floral lampshade are both from eBay; and I found the marble-topped bedside table at the Alameda Antiques Fair.

Left: More built-in bookshelves hold toy-corralling boxes and bins. Right: The vintage harlequin was a thrift-store find.

Left: The swing chair was originally from Urban Outfitters, purchased practically new from a craigslist seller. Right: The capiz shell chandelier is from West Elm.

Top left: I bought a selection of colorful pom-poms in various sizes for a few bucks each at Cargo in Portland on my last trip there. Laurel found the landscape portrait at the Oakland Museum White Elephant Sale; she was extremely proud of herself for snagging "original art" for just $5 -- and I'm extremely proud that she already gets that the "original" part of that equation is important (never mind the relative quality of this particular piece). Right: I used the Rasterbator to create the wall-sized image over her keyboard. Bottom left: The throw pillow was made by sewing together two $2 placemats from the Crate & Barrel Outlet and stuffing it with polyfill.

Here's the kicker, though: This is the view our daughter wakes up to every morning. Lucky girl.

Next up on House in Progress: Our dramatic dining room makeover!

42 comments:

Terri said...

Just WOW! That is a fabulous space for a kid to grow up in!!! You all did such a great job with the attic.

I hope that you will blog about the house swap when it's over. I have heard about them for years but never "knew" anyone who swapped before. I will be interested to hear all the pros and cons.

Can't wait to see the dining room make over!
God bless.
Terri

corine said...

Wow is right! (and it pays to be up at 3 and 4 am, right terri?)

I love everything about the room, and the transformation is unbelievable. The first picture is straight out of a magazine. I love the dangling balls of colors against the white ceiling. Also so clever and fun are the dots of rugs. And the Harlequin is beautiful.

Sparkle Thots by Ruth said...

wow... i'm in awe. I'd love to move in and stay. gosh! i think your house swap partner is in for a real treat!

Funky Finds said...

all i can say is WOW...what a stunning, comfortable & beautiful place. can i move in???

easytomiss.com said...

Wow! What an amazing room for a little girl! If I were her brother, I'd be jealous!

rachel best henley said...

what a dream for any girl to live in! it looks like she has more space than some studio apartments. amazing job!

drey said...

I love it. It's absolutely great for a lil girl. it's a great well lit and sunny place for her to get into books and esacpe into faraway lands and toadstool houses! well done!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful! Very impressive!

Cinco said...

Congratulations, your daughter now has the coolest room ever!

Leah said...

Thanks, everyone!

And just for the record, her brother didn't want the room and doesn't seem at all jealous about it (highly unusual for him). He just hit 6 feet (at 13!) and says he'd bang his head on the ceiling up there. It's true -- I smacked my head more than once when I was cleaning up there yesterday ...

The room is perfect for our petite daughter, but we've told her that she has to stop growing now.

Leah

kelly said...

Wow! What a great job! It inspires me to want to re-visit our attic for potential remodeling. (Our attic ceilings are much higher, so we *could* successfully walk up there.)

I have a question for you -- were there already stairs leading up to your attic? If not, how did you "make room" for the stairway in your house? (Sorry if this is treading on future Before and After reveals here).

That's been my biggest problem in plotting our move upwards, so I was just wondering how you handled it.

Thanks for sharing this! Amazing work!

Leah said...

Hi Kelly,

Luckily, the stairs to the attic were already there -- they're original to the house, and are accessed via a door in our upstairs hallway, right between our bedroom and our son's room. So it was really a perfect setup for turning the space into a bedroom/art space/play area.

Before we found this place, we almost bought another house that had an even bigger, more amazing, full-height attic. But it had no access other than a pull-down ladder that completely blocked a narrow hallway when it was down. We would've had to lose a bedroom to build a staircase to the attic. Plus, that attic had no windows or skylights, so converting it would have been a fairly massive undertaking. (We actually know the family who wound up buying that house, and the attic is still on their to-do list because of some of those issues.)

Wish I could refer you to a great resource for attic conversions, but we pretty much made it up as we went ...

Leah

DJ said...

That's gorgeous!

What a lucky girl, indeed!

I was a complete neat freak as a child... still am as an adult.

Of course, it figures that my daughters would be utter slobs. I make them shovel out the mess completely four times a year, and figure, oh well. They'll be off to college someday and the rooms will be MINE, all MINE!

DJ said...

For your Portland trip, there's a woman in that town who is opening a shop called Ink & Peat soon, or may already have it open.

Her blog is at:

http://www.housemartin.typepad.com/

So you can see some of the nice things she sells.

Tracey said...

Oh my gosh- I would clean my 10 year old's room (and yes, it is a disaster also!) everyday if I had such fantastic end results! What a great room with a view. She is lucky!

katek said...

That is the coolest kid's space I've ever seen. It's far cooler than almost all adult spaces, in fact! You tapped right into all the bedroom fantasies I had as a girl, with the nooks and crannies, built in bookcases, daybed for reading... Fantastic. Honestly, it looks like a magazine spread.

Topsy Turvy said...

What a wonderful job you did! And you're right, she is a lucky girl!

-Lana

SGM said...

What an incredible room! My favorite feature is the swing--that would have made my life as a little girl. :)

i suwannee said...

oh that's gorgeous!

NEW YORK MUHTARI said...

I do not know what to say but the photos are amazing, the space is amazing..She is one lucky girl!!!

Katie said...

What an amazing room! I agree with sgm...that swing would be been AWESOME when I was a kid. It's a good thing I'm grown up, because otherwise I would be sooooo jealous. I hope your daughter knows how lucky she is!

Pigtown-Design said...

What a lucky girl and what wonderful parents to make such a great space for her!

Anonymous said...

Wow. That is just stunning. I appreciate the inspiration.

IRENE said...

What a wonderful post! So helpful and well inllystrated and researched! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

It's beautiful, Leah! I always appreciate posts like this with credits! Can I ask where you found the pillow on the swing chair? I have one very similar that needs a mate.

Leah said...

Anon. -- that pillow was a vintage find on eBay. It looks handmade, so I doubt there were a bunch of them made, which you could try to track down somewhere. There's a lot of incredible vintage fabric on eBay, though, so perhaps you could find a similar pattern and make a pillow to coordinate with the one you have?

Melissa @ The Inspired Room said...

Wow, you did a great job! And such a great job documenting it! Makes me wish I had been blogging over our last 20 years of room remodels. Just think of all the posts I would've had!

Thanks for the inspiration!

Barb McMahon said...

Absolutely gorgeous!

Cat said...

I think I need you to come to my house and help me decorate ;-) it is gorgeous. I see where your daughter gets her talent.

Hugs!!!

Emilee said...

absolutely beautiful! and your next trick should be to teach your daughter to clean it herself. :)

Leah said...

Emilee -- tell me about it!

Actually, she did help, happily and even eagerly. And she's thrilled to have her room clean again.

One downside of having such a large space is that, when it gets messy, it's hard for her (and even for me) to figure out where to start. It's a bit overwhelming. But now that the room is clean and organized, she really seems to be making an effort to keep it that way. I'll let you know in a few weeks if that keeps up ...

;-)

Leah

Anonymous said...

LOVE that you & your daughter are fans of the GIRLS ROCK! documentary.

Have you seen the book that the original rock camp in Portland wrote?? It's called "The Rock 'N' Roll Camp for Girls: How to Start a Band, Write Songs, Record an Album, and Rock Out!!"

Check it out: http://www.chroniclebooks.com/girlsrock

AT said...

Incredible! Truly. What a lucky girl.

If nothing else, this room proves to me that I need to be spending more time on eBay. :)

Missy said...

I found your blog off Cookie - it really is AMAZING. Way to go!

joanna said...

totally wonderfully fabulous. congratulations! what a lucky girl laurel is to have such a room and the parents to create it!

Jennifer said...

I'm late to comment, but WOW!!! What a beautiful space and how beautifully it's been decorated. I wish my apartment was half as nicely done. Your daughter is incredibly lucky to have this room (though "room" seems like an understatement for someplace as spacious as this), and I hope she carries fond memories of it for all of her life.

I love your blog and look forward to every new posting. Love from New York!

anewme4life said...

I had an attic room as a teenager but geez, it didn't look nearly as nice as this. Great job to you and all you hired to help. What a wonderful space to continue to grow up in. Just Wow!!!
Blessed Be, Teresa aka Tess
http://www.associatedcontent.com/tess1960

Julia said...

I definitely love your finished attic. My boyfriend and I are considering refinishing ours. We live in one of those houses built right after World War ll to accommodate all the newly married couples. My grandmother and grandfather bought it brand new, and since she now lives in her own home closer to her daughters, she is letting us rent it for a very low price. In a few years, we plan to buy it from her for about 40 k. It's a 4 bedroom 1 1/2 bath as of now, but we are wanting to finish the attic like many houses have done around us. I'm just worried about the price and hassle involved if we do it ourselves. I really adore how open your attic looks now. If I had not read the headline, I would have never guessed it had ever been an attic!!! We want our attic for a craft/sewing room, an extra bathroom, a workout room possibly, and a place for my boyfriend to work on auto parts since refurbishing cars is his hobby. Since, we are still in college and only 20, we probably won't be able to afford this for awhile. i am definitely going to have to show him this later today though. He adores interior design as much as me. I love your site, and I'm very glad insomnia led me to find it on this very early morning.

Kelly said...

What an awesome room!

Quick question - would you mind sharing how you finished the plywood floors and got them to look so gorgeous?! Seriously amazing job! I would love to see the plywood floors up close. We are looking for some low cost options for flooring and keep seeing people do amazing things with plywood and the color you used is exactly what we would love! Please do share!! :D

-Kelly
http://sliceoflife.toldbyme.com

Leah said...

Hi Kelly,

We sprung for maple plywood, which was a little more expensive than regular ply, but is made to be used as a finish surface. The maple veneer is too thin for a proper sanding, so our floor guy gave it a light hand-sanding before staining it a dark brown and then finishing with a couple coats of satin polyurathane. I don't remember the exact stain color, but we told him to get the darkest brown he could find.

It looks great up close -- the only difference between the plywood floor and a regular floor is that the "joints" between each piece are every 4 to 8 feet, vs. every few inches with regular wood floors. We're very happy with the finished look.

Steffi said...

Wow, absolutely amazing! My husband and I eventually want to finish the attic in our bungalow (i.e. in a few years when we want to think about expanding the family), so this is great inspiration! I really love how you left the beams exposed. It's a nice aesthetic touch, but surely creates an illusion of more headroom. I had to save down some of your photos into our "renovation ideas" folder. :) Again, great job!!

Lindsay Docherty Photography said...

Lucky girl indeed! This "room" is fantastic. At 27 years old I would love a place like this now! Bravo on the renovation and design - just beautiful!

 

©Copyright 2007-2014 More Ways To Waste Time and Leah Hennen. All Rights Reserved.