An Old-House Attic Becomes New Family Space

January 22nd, 2019 by Mary Schmelzer

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The Owner wanted to know if we could reinvent the attic in her 100+ year-old house as a place for her teenage children to hang out. She was using the attic as it was built: the place to store things that she rarely needed to access. She dreamed of having a space where her kids could hang out with their friends, where she could know who was visiting without giving them ongoing oversight.

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The attic had been remodeled in the late 1960s or early 1970s, with a wall framed in to make what may have been used as a bedroom. The remodeling was done in a make-shift fashion and the rest of the attic was essentially unfinished. The windows were single-pane and there was no insulation in the walls, offering no barrier against Minnesota’s bitter winters. But the attic had character, including wide-plank original floors and windows overlooking the side yard and a beautiful park across the street.

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After walking through the attic, we envisioned a space that was much more wide open, with lots of natural light. Storage would still be available, but it would be contained to the kneewall closets and in storage furniture. The attic would be warm and cozy in the winter but cool in the summer, with year-round views of the outdoors. We knew it was important to have a space that could be used by the kids and their friends–so durable finishes and easily-arranged furniture were a must.

As with any remodel in a century-old home, there were plenty of quirks and design challenges. For instance, the attic stairs were more of a ladder than a staircase. There was no room for a new stair, so we worked with the building official to make them as safe as possible.
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Finishing the ceilings required insulating to the current residential code–causing the ceiling heights to change considerably, and insulating/finishing tricky spots around the gables and kneewalls. We worked on-site with the contractor to find the best way to frame in these non-standard areas, creating effective and homeowner-friendly solutions in the process. An additional quirk: the heating and cooling system, which was too complex to extend to the attic. Instead, the solution was a mini-split system that serves just the attic. Heating/cooling can now be controlled independently of the rest of the house whenever the room is used, which is often.

These challenges often lead to creative solutions and energy savings. It will be interesting to find out how much lower the overall heating costs are since the remodel. The original attic had no insulation, so any winter warmth seeped out the top floor. Now, insulation holds heat inside, and the door at the bottom of the staircase can be closed when the room is not in use.

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An important consideration in this project was allergens. One child has severe allergies, so it was critical that we found finishes–and insulation!–that would not trigger a reaction. Instead of carpet or an engineered flooring, the family took it upon themselves to reuse the original floor. After lots of vacuuming out the cracks between floorboards, countersinking nails, and general cleaning, the boards were painted a nice clean neutral grey. The floor adds immense character to the space and allows light to flow in and bounce around, and saved on material and installation costs for new surface coverings.

Another clever solution was to carve additional storage out from behind the bookcases. The shelves aren’t mounted to the wall, so sentimental but rarely-accessed things can be stored safely and out of the way.

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In the end, the family found a lot of flexible, comfortable square footage–without putting on an addition. The kids love having a hang-out spot to share with their friends, but when they are gone, Mom sneaks up to the attic and has the whole room to herself. For her it is a getaway. Instead of cramped, chaotic, and cluttered, this attic now feels serene and relaxed: the perfect place to unwind after a busy day.

If you have an attic, basement, or bonus room that could become family room and want to make sure you get the most out of your space, contact us to schedule an initial design consultation.

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Custom Kitchen Remodel in an Historic Home

July 30th, 2018 by Mary Schmelzer

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Mostly original, the kitchen in this over 100-year-old house had just worn out. The owners made a valiant effort to work in it as long as possible, but the lack of light, worn out-surfaces, inefficient storage and general layout didn’t serve these people who enjoy cooking. See the photos at the end of this article for the “before.” Kitchen windows were enlarged and a small doorway beside the range was expanded to allow a larger walkway and an eat-at island to be included in the space. The abundance of sunlight from the adjacent sitting area pours into the kitchen through the enlarged opening and through punched “windows” on either side of the range hood.

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The large range sits in its own alcove, freeing up the main part of the kitchen for prep, serving and clean-up. The alcove harvested a few square feet from the sitting area, expanding the functionality of the kitchen. Sometimes it only takes a few more square feet, or better-utilized square footage, to completely open up new opportunities. This was just the case. Custom cabinetry throughout allowed the homeowners to make the best use of every nook and cranny. Clever storage accessories allow for maximizing the storage in the cabinets themselves. Custom-made brackets under the wall cabinets and island counter hearken to the original kitchen and age of the home.

Inspired by the imagery of Greece, the homeowners partnered with a local ceramic artist to make custom tiles for their walls. Each was designed, carved, and fired especially for this project. Classically-inspired and yet innately local, they bring a worldly yet approachable feel to the kitchen, and make the tiled areas of the kitchen a conversation piece.
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Scattered amongst the commercially-made tile, the variety and artistry of the handmade tile elevates the entire kitchen.
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As a solution to the radiator pipes that had to be exposed, the same artist painted them with an underwater scene. It is a charming surprise. The home still uses radiator heat, and a slimmer, modern model was chosen to replace the existing standard one. Custom cabinetry surrounding the radiator allows the heat to flow out through the louvers, and small shelves are built around the radiator itself, perfect for bakeware and other smaller items. The pulls on the cabinet were specifically chosen as a place to hang a damp towel (which will quickly dry in front of the radiator). Granite counters were chosen throughout, and especially over the radiator: it is the place where the avid bakers can proof their bread dough.
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A custom-built, granite-topped counter is perfect for entertaining–or rolling out pastry.
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Light pours in from the sunroom, making the kitchen warm, airy, and inviting–rather than cramped and dark, like before.
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At the end of the island, on the sitting area side, a custom TV cabinet makes casual viewing easy–without the “black hole” effect a big screen can have on a room.
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Above the radiator, glass-front doors show off the homeowners’ stemware.

[CLOSING REMARKS]

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Before, the kitchen had random-height and random-depth cabinets that had worn out. Once the cabinetry was out, the walls were opened and additional insulation was added to the exterior walls, eliminating the cold spots in the walls and floors that the homeowners had before.
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Additional light was one of the big requests for the new kitchen. Careful lighting plans allowed for not only additional borrowed light and daylight, but considerably more ceiling light, new island lights and undercabinet lighting. The new kitchen has many more options for how it can be illuminated for working in, entertaining or general functions.

The end result is a kitchen that blends in with the rest of the house, but is a much more usable part of the house as a whole, now that it is better connected to the sitting area, and can be an eat-in kitchen or a place to drink coffee and converse with whomever is cooking. It is also a great place to entertain, allowing people to travel through and around without getting in the way of food prep.

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Project walk-through: classic, bright master bathroom

December 8th, 2017 by Mary Schmelzer

In a 100+ year-old house, the master bedroom finally gets its own master bathroom. After living in the house for a few months, the new owners knew they needed a master bathroom. Through the design process, we collaborated to create a space that would make getting ready for each day easier and more enjoyable. Claiming an unusual space that had likely been used as a nursery, the small space between two bedrooms became the full bathroom.

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In the newly-remodeled space, reclaimed French doors lead from the guest bedroom (used as a dressing room) into the master bath, creating a bright and inviting ambiance throughout the second floor master suite.
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Aesthetic & Inspiration
The clients were inspired by clean, neutral colors and an elegant, spacious, unfussy aesthetic. Bright, natural light was a must-have for this project, and the whole bathroom makes use of ambient and direct sunlight. Here, a glassed-in shower provides plenty of light and keeps the airy bathroom from feeling compartmentalized.

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Project Features
A pocket door provides access to the master bedroom without the door swing taking up floor space. The master bedroom’s original closets were removed to allow the bed to sit just under the slope of the ceiling, creating more space in the bedroom and easier access to the master bathroom.

The antique claw-foot tub was placed under the window, allowing beautiful light to flood the room. Clean, pale colors in the tile and wall paint keep the room bright while allowing accent colors to really pop.

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Finely-detailed cabinetry makes the most of the limited space. The sink area occupies what used to be a shallow closet with bifold doors, so cabinetry with varying depths keeps the bathroom from feeling cramped. The cabinet color, a soft dove grey, is soothing without feeling cold or clinical.

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Antique accents, like this reclaimed light fixture and intricate mirror, mesh with the new construction for a space that reflects the era the historic home was built in.

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When the guest room is not needed for company, light flows from the bathroom into the guest room, making it a cozy place for reading and providing plenty of space as a dressing room. All in all, the project brings new life to an old space, making this home more livable–for both the owners and their out-of-town guests.

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Home plans (“blueprints”) now on the menu!

October 29th, 2014 by Mary Schmelzer

Do you need plans (“blueprints”) for your new home?

Are you planning a new home and have a pretty good idea what you want and some ideas of how you want the house to look?

Recognizing that not all people need the same level of design service, VIVUS now offers a plan-creation service for those people who need fewer design options and less-detailed customization.

Your home will be drawn custom for you, with the layout and the look that you want, on your building site. When finished, your plans will allow you to get construction pricing, to secure a building permit, and allow you to make all the selections that will go into the finished project. We work with you to provide a home that is exciting, functional, and attuned to your budget.

Additionally, if there are rooms or details you want to be further customized (built-ins in a great room, or custom-made cabinetry and details in the kitchen) those services can be added to make your new home reflect your style and allow you to get accurate construction pricing including those more-detailed areas.

Find more information here.

Don’t know which level of service you need (home plans vs. highly customized home)? Schedule a meeting and we can help you decide which arrangement better suits your needs.

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Northfield: the best US city for well-rounded retirement

October 29th, 2014 by Mary Schmelzer

Northfield has recently been named the best city in the U.S. for a well-rounded retirement, according to MONEY Magazine.

Well, now the secret is out! But what they didn’t say in the article is that it is a great town for those who belong to any age group.

Here is the article and some feedback from our local newspaper.

And here is the original article.

Whether you are contemplating a move to our area or already live here, VIVUS is available to help make your home the best retreat in your corner of the world.

Downtown Northfield's Bridge Square, (Photo courtesy of Northfield News website)

Downtown Northfield’s Bridge Square, (Photo courtesy of Northfield News website)

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Historic Home Addition in Northfield

November 30th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

Historic addition

John Tripp’s work is coming along well on East Fourth Street in Northfield. This project expands the existing kitchen and provides space for an entryway, laundry facilities, and a bathroom. The addition is on the right side, behind the pickup truck.

As with may historic renovation projects, this one had its challenges. Limited space on site, unknown existing structure capacity, existing plumbing and electrical, and the desire to add significant amenities to the home.

The small addition takes its cues from the front porch, staying low and discreet. Details from the existing home are replicated for a good fit. The final shape is the result of multiple study options of smaller additions. Kudos to our client for understanding the interior value a larger exterior addition afforded: ample dining area, efficient kitchen, and reasonable other spaces inside. This decision cost more upfront but will result in more functional space and no future remodeling to this area.

Our architectural design services can help improve your home, whether in Northfield, Lonsdale, Minneapolis, or London!

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Union Street Wrapping Up

September 4th, 2008 by Peter Schmelzer

Colors applied judiciously add interest

Construction is nearly complete for our addition on Union Street. The Owner has done a great job painting the exterior, pulling colors from the existing house.

Exposed steel, wood deck and quarter-sawn cabinetry

The cabinets are looking good; door pulls were being installed when I took this shot. We are pleased with the project; the various materials come together nicely and provide a strong contrast to the historic interiors. It was fun when the Owner came into our office after seeing the new stainless steel counters in place; his smile was a mile wide and he was jazzed!

Tomorrow is the final walk-through. The green roof plantings will wait until the spring.

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