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 Lake Home

April 19th, 2018 by Mary Schmelzer

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Project Background

After searching for just the right lot for the new home, the owners of this custom home found a lot that needed some clearing and the removal of an existing home. Starting with an outline for a home that was designed for Texas, we reworked some ideas to make the house buildable in Minnesota, orienting it to the best views, and with a more reasonable budget. The house is built slab-on-grade with frost-protected shallow footings. The mechanical room is housed in the garage and tricky ducting took place to get heating/air conditioning to all the rooms.

Main Floor Living Space

Custom cabinetry transforms the back entryway, storing outwear, gardening gear, and pet spplies with ease and elegance.
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The powder room is conveniently located between the back entry and main living space.
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A formal dining room is ensconced in custom trimwork and stone detailing, inspired by the local landscape.
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Off the dining room, the great room’s striking ceilings and full-height fireplace are both stately and welcoming. The main rooms of the house (dining room, living room, kitchen, and breakfast nook all feature ceilings of differing heights. The changes in ceiling heights make some rooms more cozy, more public, or frame excellent views of the lake.
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Dark timbering accents the ceiling’s shape and adds a traditional lodge feel to the space.
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Just to the side of the great room lies a sitting room, sunlit and overlooking the lake. It is a perfect place to still be connected to the main areas of the house, but in a more quiet, reflective space with views open to the lake and to the lanai with its outdoor fireplace.
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Glass doors lead to the patio, where an outdoor fireplace and soft seating promise hours of summer relaxation.
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Kitchen

In the kitchen, ample counter space and bar seating make cooking (or sharing) a meal easy. Wall-mount cabinets provide storage, while different mounting heights showcase the homeowners’ stoneware collection.
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Alcoves in the island provide additional storage for cookbooks and servingware. Natural granite countertops serve as a beautiful and functional workspace.
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Classic textures and colors bring the space to life–
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–while sleek steel appliances keep the kitchen feeling timeless, not dated.
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Master Suite

In the master suite, vaulted ceilings and glass doors overlooking the lake provide a feeling of spaciousness and light.
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A sliding door seperates the bedroom from the sanctuary-like master bath.
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A clawfoot tub next to big windows makes for a soothing soak any time of day.
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Double sinks and medicine cabinets keep the space organized and functional.
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Out the window, the property is lush and inviting–even in the rain.
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In addition to the striking architecture, the landscape around the home promises to mature to be truly remarkable. Part of the lot’s appeal was the opportunity for striking landscape elements. The owners are avid gardeners/landscapers and it will be fun to watch the plantings mature and the hardscapes evolve to create a complete package of home and setting.

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Custom Home in Randolf, MN

February 2nd, 2018 by Mary Schmelzer

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Working together with a family who had purchased a beautiful, secluded piece of property, we created a one-story home nestled in the wooded site which has access to the Cannon River.

One of the owners has a health condition which may result in a future loss of mobility. To prepare for this possibility, we planned for wide hallways, an extra space in the master bedroom and bathroom, and plenty of clearance in the kitchen and main areas. The laundry is on the first floor, and the entry from the garage is at an even level with the first floor. A large walk-in pantry reduced the need for as many high wall cabinets. The stairs to the lower level is also a generous width.

To meet the needs of a busy young family, cubbies in the mudroom corral each person’s hat, mittens, coats, shoes and backpacks. Right off the garage entry, it is a great place for all those daily items to stay, rather than creep into the kitchen and other living spaces. A family room, guest bedroom and bath were finished in the basement for play space and additional storage. A large, open kitchen means the kids can be involved in meal prep, or be at the seating area doing homework or eating a snack while Mom and Dad are working in the kitchen.

A screened porch allows the family to enjoy the views and nice weather but be protected on rainy days or when the bugs are out. Large enough for dining, it is an extra room that can be enjoyed most days of the year.
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A transitional-style kitchen, with open shelving, contemporary range hood and traditional-style cabinetry, is light and bright with the white counters and open storage, which also display the owners’ antiques and dishware.
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An ample kitchen island brings extra storage–and a place for the family to gather as meals are prepared.
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Cubbies just off the kitchen make a home for each family member’s coats, boots, and mittens.
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A walk-in pantry with wire drawers, shelves, and a chest freezer means that ingredients are always easy to get to and take storage pressure off the kitchen and bathrooms. It is also easy to stock and inventory when everything is in clear view.
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A spacious screen porch provides extra living space in warmer months.
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In the master bath, his and hers sinks bring function and ease to busy mornings. Wide, short windows mounted in the exterior wall behind the sinks (see reflection in the mirror) flood the room with light but eliminate the need for curtains or shades. The glass shower wall/door lets the light flow between the shower and the main bathroom. A zero-entry shower means if mobility becomes an issue, the bathroom is prepared. In the meantime, the large shower and openness makes for a spacious master suite.
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A tiled shower with glass walls makes the room soothing and bright–even in the middle of a cold northern winter.

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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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Contemporary farmhouse update

August 4th, 2017 by Mary Schmelzer
The contemporary farmhouse is sided and waiting for paint. The garage is now built.

The contemporary farmhouse is sided and waiting for paint. The garage is now built.

It’s been several months of construction and things are moving along with the contemporary farmhouse from the earlier post. There are a number of updates:

3 types of insulation

3 types of insulation

Insulation has gone in. Roxul insulation is being used in the walls and fiberglass batt insulation is going in the attic. Spray-foam insulation is applied to the window headers which tend to be places that leak heat.

Custom bookshelves in the living room

Custom bookshelves in the living room

The trim around the windows and doors, the baseboards, and the custom built-ins are being installed. Above you can see the custom bookshelves in the living room, sized to tuck under the windows, are being put to good use by the builder himself. During the design phase it is easy to say, “oh, we can plan that built-in for later, or maybe we can find something ready-made.” My experience has shown that later is often much later (years and years) and rarely can a person find a piece of ready-made furniture to fit and look built in. There are a few key places in a home that it just makes sense in which to include the built-ins right away. Heavy-usage rooms such as living rooms, kitchens and baths just function better right from the beginning if the built-in storage is included during construction. It also helps with flooring, lighting and electrical planning.

Soon to come is interior and exterior painting, cabinetry and flooring. Mark Allor, the builder, has been working with the Owners to keep the project moving along and getting their regular input on decisions that remain. Stay tuned for additional updates.

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An entertaining kitchen

June 20th, 2017 by Mary Schmelzer
The new kitchen is ready for friends and family or for a busy family's dinner.

The new kitchen is ready for friends and family or for a busy family’s dinner.

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Part of a house built in the 1970s, the original kitchen space wasn’t serving this active family very well. The well-used family room, while adjacent to the kitchen, was significantly separated so the cook couldn’t interact with the rest of the family. Also, the family wanted to entertain and felt that the place where their friends would congregate just didn’t have the space and flow to make for a good party.

Here are before photos:

the "before" kitchen had wallpapered soffits and tired cabinets

the “before” kitchen had wallpapered soffits and tired cabinets

The sink wall cut the kitchen off from the family room.

The sink wall cut the kitchen off from the family room.

We reconfigured the kitchen by closing off a doorway that looked through the adjacent hallway–and into the powder room. The range now occupies the space where the opening was. A big open curved peninsula provided a nice quantity of countertop for food prep, meals, and hanging out. Cutting back part of the sink wall allowed the peninsula to open up to the family room.

Traditional cabinetry dressed up the space. Removing the soffits allowed the cabinets to reach the ceiling. Several nice storage details were added to make the most of the cabinets: a pull-out pantry, a blind-corner base cabinet pull-out, a custom bookshelf at the end of the peninsula, and an above-counter microwave shelf.

This pull-out pantry can store lots of food.

This pull-out pantry can store lots of food.

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Several lighting configurations were employed to help light the kitchen: recessed fixtures, under cabinet lights, beautiful ice-cube-like pendants over the peninsula, and track lighting to enhance the cabinets and light the corners that could otherwise be dark.

The peninsula pendants look like melting ice and can be dimmed for different lighting needs.

The peninsula pendants look like melting ice and can be dimmed for different lighting needs.

Updates to the adjacent family room included a ceiling make-over where the dark “beams” and popcorn ceiling were removed; dark entertainment-center cabinetry was replaced with open shelving, new lighting and carpeting, and a pathway of ceramic tile where the carpet will get the most traffic.

The family room has a fresher, lighter look with open shelves and bright ceiling.

The family room has a fresher, lighter look with open shelves and bright ceiling.

Now the family is ready for a party–or for a family day at home–whenever the mood strikes. You can see photos on the portfolio page.

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Sewing/craft/hobby rooms

October 26th, 2016 by Mary Schmelzer
This sewing room makes use of an unfinished basement.

This sewing room makes use of an unfinished basement.

For many of us, our home is our refuge. Some people take that one step further and have a retreat: a sewing, craft, or hobby room. Why would a person need a dedicated space? Hobbyists and creative people know that having a their own space makes it easier to spend spare time doing what is relaxing. On the other hand, clearing off the dining room table for a work surface, digging through storage bins for supplies, and remembering what was being worked on the last time take precious minutes away from the hobby itself. Sometimes these “pre” activities (and the clean-up) are such a disincentive that it seems too much bother to craft/sew/etc.

Your personal creative or hobby space doesn’t need to be an entire room or studio. It can be a spare bedroom, a desk area, or a closet and folding table. What is important is that it work well for you and how you want to use it. If you tend to get into big projects that require a lot of space or supplies to be spread out at one time (or for a long time) a room on which you can close the door may make sense.

In the sewing room above, I helped the owner configure the best arrangement for cabinetry, the location of the main sewing machine, a sewing area for an occasional friend, and a dedicated cutting/layout table. The table is extra-high (the owner is tall), is on locking casters, and has planned places for rulers and cutting mats.

Stock cabinetry provides closed-door storage for sewing supplies

Stock cabinetry provides closed-door storage for sewing supplies

If you are a long-time hobbyist, you know supplies (“stash” as it is commonly called) are fuel for your creativity. Tools, patterns and materials can quickly overtake work space or provide so much distraction that time or focus are lost. So, how do you store them but keep them within reach? Well-thought out cabinets, shelves, countertops and hanging space provide the right mix of storage, access, locate-ability, and work area. Planned work spaces help reduce the set-up and clean-up time, allowing for more fun. The sewing/craft room in the above photo has a bank of stock cabinets under the window which stores tools, fabric and books. A TV and movie collection make the room a fun place to sew while watching TV–or to keep up on the latest techniques by video. The countertop can be used for set-off space, display or planning the next project.

What is your biggest challenge with your creative or hobby space? I have several creative hobbies myself, so I am always looking for ways to make better use of my space and maximize the time I have to create. After all, it’s about the dreaming and creating, not the digging for supplies or tools or cleaning up so there is a place to eat dinner!

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