Attic inspiration

  • Article by: Jim Buchta
  • Star Tribune
  • January 12, 2007 - 2:36 PM

Like many long-time homeowners, Gerry Rock and Todd Pagenhart had outgrown their house, but didn't want to leave the familiarity of their neighborhood or deal with the hassles of moving to a larger one.

They decided to move up. To the attic, that is.

Their tidy 1940s house in Minneapolis' Bryn Mawr neighborhood had an unfinished attic that served as overflow storage. Rock and Pagenhart imagined a new master suite in that cave-like space, but they didn't know where to start. They hired Mike Bader of 3 Studios Inc., who encouraged them to throw a kitchen remodel into the mix.

Was their original $50,000 budget going to be enough? Not a chance. The budget more than doubled, but Rock and Pagenhart got the house of their dreams.

Lessons from the street:

Focus your resources

With two rooms under construction, Rock and Pagenhart had to make sure that they were spending their budget prudently.

Even though they don't cook much, Bader recommended splurging a bit in the kitchen because it's so visually connected to the rest of the house. That's why the kitchen has high-end custom cabinets with a much-needed recycling center, handsome solid-surface counters and sophisticated flooring material from Europe.

The more private master suite is where they cut more corners and used most of the off-the-shelf products including vanity mirrors and hanging light fixtures they bought for about $25 from Ikea.

Hire a designer

Hiring an architect isn't cheap. Depending on the scope, the general rule of thumb is that you will pay anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of the construction value of your project. How much will you spend on construction costs? That depends, too, on the kind of project and the level of detail. Mike Bader said that bathrooms and kitchens, which include plumbing fixtures, custom cabinets and expensive floor coverings and tiles, can easily cost $300 a square foot. Expect to pay about $150 a square foot for more straightforward living spaces and bedrooms.

Construction costs don't include all the "soft" project costs including permits fees, financing fees and engineering fees, among others.

Rock and Pagenhart said that hiring a designer actually saved them money because he was able to find inexpensive products and come up with creative solutions to solve their design problems.

In this case, Bader offered his clients three design options at different prices. They ended up choosing the most expensive.

Use off the shelf products

They key to saving money on house projects is using readily available, mass produced off-the-shelf products that you can get from any home supply store.

"We looked at it almost like a Home Depot trip, but souped up so that it became an exercise in choosing available products done in a unique way," Mike Bader said.

That means occasionally mixing in unique features that you're not going to see at your local Home Depot or Menard's store.

In many cases those inexpensive products became a starting point leading to more expensive choices. For example, a half-wall/railing that connects the upper-floor master suite to the main level was originally going to be made of traditional plywood was built of sheets of a more finished-looking maple plywood.

The reverse was true, as well. Bader and his clients shopped for high-end fixtures and materials that appealed to them aesthetically, then found less-expensive versions that looked similar.

For example, they fell in love with high-end light fixtures for several hundred dollars, but passed on them. They found similar fixtures at Ikea for a fraction of the cost.

What the Home of the Month jury said about their house

"This project proves that when you have a small budget, you can't afford not to hire an architect. There is a nice experimentation of materials in this kitchen remodel and attic conversion - it's historically honest. It's now a modest little bungalow that celebrates a once neglected space in a lot of light."


Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376

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