By Lynn Underwood
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
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, 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.
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 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.
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.
“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,” she said. “They’re very streamlined, unique and look cool.”
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. “I was surprised at how agreeable Nancy was to it,” he said.
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.
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 awhile, but I love the angles.”
The basic bathroom felt spartan and unfinished, so the Griffins added enhancements several years later. 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 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,” said Nancy. “And feel like it’s uniquely ours.”
In their 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.
They 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.
“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.”
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,” said Linda.
For added character, they put in a long ledge topped with wood behind the bed instead of a plain Sheetrock wall.
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.
The attic conversion was completed in 2002. But the Berglins ended up demolishing and redoing the whole attic space due to smoke damage from a fire in 2012. “We did it the same as it was before,” said Anna. “We just tweaked some wall colors.”
“This is our sanctuary,” said Linda. “When we come up, we let it all go.”