The project: Ever since Paul Bramsen bought his century-old northeast Minneapolis duplex 10 years ago, he’d been dreaming of finishing his third-floor attic. “I’ve been raring to get it done,” he said. Marrying his wife, Michelle, and having her move in was what triggered him to move ahead. The couple, who rent out their first floor and were living on the second, wanted to convert the empty attic into a modern-day master suite, with an adjacent family room where they could relax and entertain friends.
Bare space: Before the project, the Bramsens’ attic was completely unfinished; it didn’t even have a floor — Paul had removed it earlier to add insulation. “It was just joists,” said Braun.
Biggest challenge: The existing staircase that led from the basement to the attic was poorly positioned and difficult to climb. “It was narrow and sharp, like a fire escape,” said Braun. He designed a new stair that “piggybacked” on top of the main stair between the first and second floors. “It’s wider and more accessible, with standard rise and run,” he said. The existing roofline was just a little too low to accommodate headroom for the new stair, so Braun added a shed dormer. Repositioning the staircase also opened up the space. “We were able to create a new layout and make it work,” said Braun. There was another structural issue to resolve. The part of the attic above the front porch was unsupported, requiring reframing of the porch to handle the load.
Open concept: The new third floor boasted an open floor plan. The 1,000-plus square feet of space includes a big family room with a vaulted ceiling and built-in bookshelves, and a generous master suite with his-and-her walk-in closets, plus a washer and dryer in the large master bath, so the couple no longer have to trek to the basement to do laundry. “We went through a lot of iterations to figure out what layout worked,” said Braun. “We thought about doing an en suite master bath. But we ended up doing two doors to the bath, one from the master and one from the hallway, for guest use.”
Light and comfort: Attics tend to be dark, drafty in winter and broiling hot in summer — not the qualities the Bramsens wanted in their new space. “I didn’t want it to feel like an attic — cold with no windows,” said Michelle. “So we put skylights in every room,” seven in all. Baseboard heat and heated tile floors in the master bath keep the space warm and cozy, even in wintertime, while an in-wall air conditioning unit cools the space in summer.
Old World character: The couple wanted modern amenities, but they also wanted their new space to complement the rest of their traditional 1911 house. “We wanted to maintain the character of the first-floor millwork,” said Paul. Braun designed wood trim to match the trim downstairs, then had it stained the same color. Deep baseboards and prefinished maple flooring in 2¼-inch planks, the same width as the flooring downstairs, also kept the look consistent. Paul, who has some carpentry skills, built the massive bookshelves and bathroom vanity himself. The vanity is topped with butcherblock, both a cost savings and an aesthetic choice. “I didn’t want stone. It’s so hard and cold,” said Michelle. “I wanted something warmer and softer.”
Finishing touches: The Bramsens chose their own colors, finishes and accessories. “At times we had differing opinions,” said Paul. “Usually we’d go Michelle’s way.” But when it came to choosing ceiling fans, each got their own pick, both from Fanimation. For the family room, Paul chose a three-bladed model, while for the master, Michelle chose a sculptural single-bladed fan. “They have drastically different appearances but are both very modern,” said Paul.
The result: The Bramsens’ third-floor retreat has transformed the way they live in their home. “It’s nice to have more room to spread out,” said Michelle. “It feels homey, nice and warm. I enjoy being in the bathroom, looking out the skylights and seeing the trees and birds.” It’s now so inviting upstairs that the couple spend almost all their time there. “I’m rarely on the second floor anymore,” said Michelle.
Next up: adding a wet bar, said Paul. “Then we’ll never have to go downstairs.”