The trends forecast is in, and “extra room” attic spaces are here to stay. The potential is endless; with the space being converted into a bedroom, family room, or an office, attics allow homeowners the opportunity to customize their home to fit their needs.
When Mandy French and Carol Kratzer bought their home in 2002, the attic was unfinished and they always planned to build out that space at some point, even including it in their overall financial plan. The women worked very closely with their financial advisor and started saving in 2008 to turn it into their master bedroom suite.
By 2013 they were meeting with Iron River Construction for another project and decided to show the space to Tracy Dahlin (the owner and president of Iron River). A few months later, the couple started the initial meetings to get the estimate for the attic remodel. From there, the project was broken into three phases: framing, electrical, plumbing, and windows; foam insulation; and drywall, flooring, paint, plumbing fixtures, tile, tub, and finishing touches.
“Working with clients and creating a relationship is top priority in any remodeling project let alone one of this large size and with this many details,” says Rick Tollerud, senior project manager. “This was our fourth project with Mandy and Carol, so we had a fantastic and very open relationship. Anything and everything was discussed as options.”
Initially the project was forecast to take place over two years to coincide with French and Kratzer’s cash flow and savings plan. With the help of short term financing, the women were able to accelerate the timeline to nine months.
“Our biggest concern was having all these guys come in and out of our house for nine months and our dog Pablo,” French says. “Fortunately, we were able to work from home two days per week and we had doggy day care (aka my uncle who lives a few miles away). Our work/life schedule had to adjust accordingly for that.”
Other concerns around the project were about cost. French and Kratzer know from experience that even when you plan very thoughtfully, unplanned expenditures do occur. Increase in cost of supplies is what impacted the overall cost for this project. Through consistent and honest communication between them and Iron River, the project was able to move ahead without issue.
Even with timeline changes during the course of the project, the couple didn’t experience much negative impact since this was an addition to their existing living space. “We had a bedroom and bathroom downstairs,” French says. “We were purchasing furniture and storing them in our living room and office. It was very exciting once everything was done so we could move it upstairs because we could reclaim space on the main floor as well.”
Staying true to the home was at the heart of the remodel design. With a 1936 Tudor 1.5-story home, the women wanted to stay within that style, have a very open floor plan, and optimize storage space. This included keeping all the angles of the peaks as well as the exposed brick of the fireplace.
For a color palette, the couple wanted to stay very neutral (black and white) and incorporate color with furniture, rugs, art, and other accessories. The color scheme for tile in the bathroom was pulled from the original bathroom on the main floor: black and white with seafoam green accents. Antique sconces were purchased as well as recreated art deco sconces over the sink.
The round lipless shower design came from their love of traveling and time spent in Mexico where they found “all-tile bathrooms that flow into an open shower (no glass door or shower curtain),” French says. Then they included “a stand-alone six-foot-long clawfoot bathtub that was custom painted black on the outside. ‘Go big or go home,’ we said. We definitely splurged a bit on the tub.”
According to Tollerud, the clawfoot tub was an adventure in itself, weighing in at over 500 pounds. “The only way to get it upstairs was to take it out of the crate and physically carry it,” he says. “Keep in mind, it has a finished exterior in black, if we scratched it, any paint touch up would show and not look good. Needless to say, we did not scratch the tub but it did take six guys to get it upstairs with a lot of grunting and sweat!”
The three brick posts were also an intentional design decision that arose out of a necessity for structural support. Not wanting to have a wooden or dry-walled post, the two decided to pull the brick element from their fireplace out into the space and reclaimed Chicago-style brick from their neighbor’s driveway to cover the posts.
With the open floor plan (the curved shower is the only wall in the suite), moisture is not an issue, but of course an exhaust fan was added to assist. Aside from moisture, another concern for French and Kratzer was needing the space to be quiet and energy efficient. “We used solid spray foam insulation for the entire attic space,” Tollerud says. “This, indeed, has created a quiet and warm space to enjoy.”
According to French, this project has exceeded all expectations. “We loved watching our dream and plan come to life,” she says. “It was a very collaborative relationship which was very important to us considering we were spending a pretty large sum of money and it’s our house which we already love.”
The one lesson that French learned through this process is patience pays off, and gives one piece of advice to anyone else seeking to remodel: know your requirements and stay true to yourself and your home.
“Be flexible with your time and the timeline,” she says. “Be aware that there are things out of your control that will change the plans including city code/ordinances and structural limitations. Be open during the design phase — if you don’t like something, speak up; if you really like something, speak up. And make sure you and your partner are aligned on things before meeting with the designer. You don’t want to spend 30 minutes arguing when you can be moving forward with decisions (designer’s time is valuable!). If you need a tie breaker that’s what your designer is for.”
Tollerud offers similar advice. He says to do your research and make sure you build a strong relationship with your general contractor. “You will be working closely together and nothing can be held back,” he says. “It must be very open and honest communication. Without that, you will not have a successful project.”
In order to have that trust and communication with your contractor, Dahlin suggests treating your initial conversation as an interview rather than an estimate, as prices should all be in the same range. For example, are they licensed and do they appear organized, ask pertinent questions about your project, and listen well?
One important question to ask them is how long the contractor has been in business. According to Dahlin, most companies (remodelers included), fail within five years, and you want someone to answer the phone in the future if there’s a problem.
Aside from being in business for just a short while, Dahlin notes some other warning signs, such as a contractor that is unlicensed, hard to get a hold of, asks you to pull the permit, uses unmarked vehicles, or will not work with signed contracts. If that doesn’t throw you off, be on the lookout for a contractor with no physical address or who uses vague contracts (such as new kitchen counters, cabinets, and flooring for $20,000 with no specifications as to materials, sizes, areas, or scheduling).
As for French and Katzer, their remodel plans are never quite complete. With a kitchen project dreamed up for the future, they are basking in their new master bedroom. “Our family and friends love the space,” French says. “There is a waiting list to come over and use the tub and shower. We get asked, ‘When are you going out of town again? We’ll house sit for you.’”