The challenge: Minneapolis homeowner Caroline Hale-Coldwell had taken on a huge family archiving project, which consisted of scores of boxes of letters, photos and family memorabilia. She needed an office with enough room to spread out, as well as lots of file drawers and cabinets.
“I wanted space to sit and dig in,” she said. “With lots of light.”
The design team: Architects Christopher Strom and Theo Grothe, Christopher Strom Architects, St. Louis Park, 612-961-9093, christopherstrom.com. The contractor was Crown Construction.
The solution: Hale-Coldwell already had set up a makeshift desk and metal files in her third-floor attic, but the room was gloomy, with only two tiny windows and claustrophobic slanted walls. With minimal insulation, it was uncomfortably cold in the winter and hot in the summer.
The architect firm’s attic makeover included building a new shed dormer and inserting a big skylight to increase headroom and draw in more natural light.
To build the dormer, Strom and Grothe restructured the roof and added wood beams. “City zoning code limits dormers to half the length of an half-story attic,” said Strom, “so we had to be a little bit creative.”
Lastly, they laid a new level maple floor over the original sloped floor.
“I love attics, and it was really one part of the house we hadn’t touched since we bought it,” said Hale-Coldwell of her early 1900s two-story home.
Smart storage: To create more storage space, the team removed part of a brick chimney housed in the attic. New archiving storage includes built-in bookshelves and file drawers; a louvered door opens to a deep storage niche on one wall.
Treetop view: One desk is tucked beneath a skylight, and another is tucked inside the shed dormer. “They’re different and charming in their own right,” said Grothe.
“The skylight feels like I’m sitting in a bubble,” said Hale-Coldwell. “It’s beautiful even in the rain and snow.”
The two desks and a counter on top of the filing cabinets create several layout areas for archiving photos and documents.
Temperature-controlled: Strom added energy-efficient spray-foam insulation, which keeps the attic comfortable and the entire house warmer.
Simple staircase solution: The stairs leading from the attic were steep, and felt like you were going down a tunnel, said Hale-Coldwell.
Strom took out a half wall at the top of the staircase and replaced it with iron spindles and a maple handrail.
Attic-conversion concerns: Most attics weren’t designed to be inhabited, said Strom. “There’s more involved than just finishing the space — you have heating and cooling concerns, and have to make sure the floor is rigid enough to walk on.”
Converting an attic into an office is a sizable investment, added Grothe. “But it can make the rest of the house more comfortable because of insulation and improved windows.”
Inviting space: Hale-Coldwell choose a peppy yellow hue for an accent wall to play off the fresh white-painted cabinets, woodwork and light gray walls. And although the attic isn’t any bigger, it feels more open and airy, she said.
“It’s new and uncluttered and peaceful up there,” she said. “I can really focus on my project.”