ATTIC UPGRADE

  • Article by: ELIZABETH LARSEN , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 19, 2009 - 12:03 PM

A maze of seven rooms on the top floor of a traditional Minneapolis duplex is transformed into an airy loft space worthy of an art collector.

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It all started with a bed.

When Jeff Ross decided to renovate the attic of his Lowry Hill duplex, he knew that the starting point would be an exquisite king-sized platform bed that he'd bought at Ligne Roset. Comfortable, spacious and beautifully designed, it was elegant without being ostentatious.

Today, that bed seems to float a foot above the walnut floors in Ross' new bedroom like a sculpture in a carefully edited art collection.

That's not a coincidence.

Ross, an art collector, hired Minneapolis-based Domain Architecture & Design to convert the attic -- a wallboarded gerbil maze of seven rooms -- into one loft-like area. In addition to creating a unified space, he wanted a place to showcase some of his favorite pieces, including a large-scale Robert Polidori photograph of Petra, the ancient archaeological site in Jordan. Architects Lars Peterssen and Joseph Max Johnson delivered by installing a hidden skylight that highlights the photograph and gives the previously dark space a hit of clean light.

Natural division

To keep costs down, Peterssen and Johnson decided not to change the original roofline of the attic. The happy result is a space that is naturally divided into four distinct zones that flow seamlessly into one another.

One gable was converted into a cozy nook that resembles a high-design kids' fort, with a hanging fireplace (from fireorb.net) suspended above a round marble hearth and surrounded by comfortable floor cushions. "It's where I read the Sunday paper," Ross said.

Another gable, which serves as Ross' library, is home to a red leather Eames lounge chair and a low built-in bookcase lined with classics. A built-in flat-file, which Ross uses to store his collection of drawings, has the same proportions as the bookcase, but its drawers ingeniously slide back into the insulation space rather than take up real estate in the room.

Most of the bathroom is tucked behind the massive Petra photograph. But the architects and Ross decided that the Waterworks tub was so sculptural that it deserved to be a freestanding piece in the bedroom. The tiles for the shower also extend out into the main space, and their blue and brown colors replicate the colors found in the photograph, in what Johnson described as a "perfect handshake."

Relating old and new

Preserving the roofline had one other benefit: It helps the contemporary loft relate to the rest of the turn-of-the-century Tudor home instead of looking like a fantasy room from Dwell magazine plopped onto a traditional house. For that reason, Peterssen and Johnson also decided to keep the window designs from the original attic intact.

Ross is thrilled with the results. "Making something look simple takes a tremendous amount of forethought," he said. "It took a lot to get here."

Both Ross and the architects praised the work of structural engineer firm Mattson MacDonald Young and builder E.K. Ristow Construction for the extensive work that had to be done to buttress the open space without using pillars.

The result is stunning without feeling like it's trying too hard.

"The first order of business was always comfort," said Ross. "It's a great place to hang."

Elizabeth Larsen, a freelance writer, lives in Minneapolis.

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