One Southwest family finds the extra space they need in the attic, another in the basement
An attic becomes a whole new floor
At first, all Julie and David Wicklund wanted was to add a bathroom to their attic. But after their architect explained what they could gain from losing the existing attic and adding a new level to their home, they decided to go for it.
Now the Wicklund’s quaint Linden Hills home has an entirely new top floor, with two bedrooms, a bathroom, a playroom and plenty of storage space. Five years and two children later, the couple is happy to have the extra room.
Michael Anschel, owner of the Minneapolis design firm Otogawa-Anschel, was the brains behind the operation. One of the most important considerations, he said, was preserving the traditional style of the home — built in the 1920s — while also incorporating contemporary style with bright colors and curved walls.
“That curve gives a nice transitional space as you move into the next room,” Anschel said.
Anschel matched the addition to the rest of the house by building large doorframes and using the same woodwork and stain.
He took energy efficiency into consideration as well — as he does in every project.
“A lot of people think it’s expensive or it adds cost, instead of it really just being the right way to put it together,” he said. “The green should happen automatically.”
For the Wicklund’s attic, that meant adding lots of insulation, creating a comfortable space that never gets too hot. They also have sustainably harvested bamboo flooring, eco-label tile, a remnant granite countertop in their bathroom and a high-efficiency washer/dryer combo in their closet, among other green extras.
There are some things Anschel said he sees people get wrong time and time again when remodeling their attics. First, he dispelled the pesky urban myth that the plumbing needs to line up among floors.
“Some people think the new bathroom has to be over the old one,” he said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.”
When dealing with limited space, Anschel stressed the need to be creative about shaping the space and directing traffic through it. The difference between a good and bad attic, he said, is the difference between a big open room and one that has hallways and doors. The best attic “finds a way to make it open and inviting but also creates some intrigue and mystery by setting up a few boundaries,” he said.
But the most common thing people do wrong is attempt to remodel their attics themselves, Anschel said. People who are not professionally trained often cut out essential structural elements, don’t insulate properly or don’t understand building codes.
“I think DIYers are well-intentioned, but they suggest you can do things at a price point that’s completely bogus,” he said. “You can’t remodel a space for $2,000.”
Using every inch of the basement
Leona Werner is what some might call a “serial remodeler.” She’s torn apart and put back together three houses — and hopes to do more. “I’ve done this my entire life,” she said. “I was born into it. In the house I grew up in, we were always tearing out walls and fixing stuff.”
The Linden Hills home she’s lived in for the past ten years is no exception. Nearly every room of the house has undergone some degree of transformation. In 2001, it was the basement. She wanted to add a family room and a space for her parents, who at the time lived in Pennsylvania, to sleep when they visited.
But the room, which used to be a garage, was covered in cheesy wood paneling and had a strong, dank smell. Lo and behold, when they tore out the flooring, the old drain was still in the middle of the room.
Werner hired Jim Sale, owner and president of Timberline Construction, for the job.
Remodeling Werner’s basement was no walk in the park. Sale and his crew had to knock out an existing concrete wall, rebuild a corner that had been hit with a car by previous owners and install a steel beam that required a dozen men to lift. (After lifting the beam, Sale said some of his team had to head to the hospital to get their backs checked.) They added a sliding glass door for more access to the backyard as well as a fireplace in the family room.
When Werner’s dog, Ernie, came running in covered in mud one day, he inspired her to have Sale build a dog shower near the back entryway. Now, she said, the whole neighborhood comes over to wash their dogs.
The completed basement has a large family room, a bathroom, a laundry room and a multipurpose room for tae kwon do — mom and daughter are committed athletes — and parties. For visitors, there’s a Murphy bed tucked neatly into the wall and hidden with a fancy curtain. The stairway that leads to the basement is lined with cabinets and shelving.
Werner said she’s committed to making the most of every square inch of her home when she remodels. While it’s not a big home —under 1,900 square feet — it has a lot packed into it.
For Sale, it was important to decorate the walls and floors with finishes that matched the rest of the home. He said a major mistake people make when remodeling their basements is using cheaper finishes that don’t live up to the rest of the home.
“A lot of times when people do that, they do get a finished space out of it, but it’s not the same living space as the kitchen or upstairs,” he said. “You don’t have the same flow.”
The cost of remodeling one’s basement can vary widely depending on the choices they make, Sale said. Werner and her husband, Bob Waldron, chose to splurge on things like a granite sink, expensive tile and lights imported from Italy.
Homes in Minneapolis, which tend to be older, are generally more expensive to remodel because they use hot water heating, which requires involved pipe-fitting, radiators and occasionally dealing with asbestos, Sale said. In the suburbs, the homes are newer and generally heated using forced air, making it easier and cheaper to add heating in additional rooms.
Looking around her finished basement, Werner said she’s pleased with how it turned out. But keeping with her restless nature, she turned to her dog and said, “Well what do you think, Ernie? Is it time to find a new house?”
Considering an attic remodel?
Keep in mind:
— Check local ceiling-height codes. Is there enough clearance for a bedroom?
— Don’t worry about how the plumbing lines up with lower floors.
— Are you being creative about your design in a limited space?
— Are you incorporating hallways and doors rather than leaving a big, open space?
— Is it energy efficient?
— If you insist on doing it yourself, have a professional help plan it out.
Considering a basement remodel?
Keep in mind:
— Does it comply with state and local building codes?
— Do the finishes (walls, woodwork, flooring, etc.) match the rest of the house?
— Is there enough storage space?
— If you’re adding a bedroom, will you need to add an egress window?