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R(attical) spaces
Look to the sky when youíre planning to expand your home



S.J. Janis converted this attic into one large living space. The company added several special touches such as building a dresser into the wall as shown on the right.

Once dusty, musty and full of creepy crawlies, attics were considered the stuff of horror movies and nightmares. Sometimes they were viewed in a more benign way, as a spot to hunt for buried treasure, things like old uniforms, long-forgotten photograph albums and memories of days gone by.

Neither of these scenarios are true any longer. Now attics are being viewed as a readily available source for additional living space perfect for space-crunched homeowners.

And many homeowners are choosing to figuratively raise the roof to get the extra square footage instead of moving or embarking on a full-scale home addition.

Wauwatosa homeowner Carol Wilson is one of those individuals who had no intentions of leaving the area. So she had the attic in her 1925 bungalow, which contained a partially finished room, converted into a master bedroom suite three years ago.

"It had a staircase up to the attic and plenty of space there," she says explaining her decision to convert it. "I wasnít going to use it for anything else. So I decided to make it a master bedroom suite for myself."

The traditionally decorated suite includes a full bath and a walk-in closet. Before choosing a contractor, Wilson had bought a book on attic conversions and found pictures of what she liked.

Gary Sannes, president of S.J. Janis, oversaw the conversion. "Gary did a nice job of listening to what I wanted," says Wilson. "Even though some of my ideas were unrealistic, he would walk me through how it could be accomplished. It was my decision to tell him if I thought it was unrealistic." One of the nixed ideas would have required moving the stairway into the living room.

Another would have resulted in chopping up the attic space into two or three rooms. The company drew up plans to show Wilson what the finished space would look like if there were several rooms versus the open space concept. "We converted it to one large living space and also maintained an open airy feeling," says Sannes.

jdj and builders converted this attic space in Eagle into a media room. The remodeling job included a two-tier coffered ceiling.

Sannes added other details including wrapping the collar ties supporting the roof in drywall and lighting them. The chimney was exposed, cleaned up and sandblasted, and then left as a design feature. The existing front windows were exchanged for arched egress windows. Two skylights were installed in the master bedroom and another one was added in the master bathroom to flood those areas with natural light.

The company also took advantage of a knee wall, the junction at which the slanted ceiling meets the outside wall, and built several dressers into those spaces. The master bath sports a vaulted ceiling and a 6 ft. by 4 ft. tiled shower with a seat. All the millwork was custom-made to mirror the millwork found on the first floor. "Thereís no difference in the feeling of the home when you go from the first floor to the second floor," says Sannes.

Five years ago the Winters Group converted attic space in another bungalow, also located in Wauwatosa. "When we started out with the project, it was an open attic," says Bob Schultz, the companyís business manager. The project added a master bedroom suite, an entertainment center and a wood-burning fireplace. The street side included the bedroom, sitting area, closet and bathroom. The portion facing the backyard houses the entertainment area with fireplace.

The conversion was a no-brainer. The homeowner and his wife liked the Wauwatosa area. She was an artist who worked from their home. They had no children and the downstairs was getting a little congested, says Schultz, explaining the project. After the construction was completed, the wife took over the first floor for her work.

Wauwatosa was also the location of an attic conversion for Callen Construction. A 1940s Cape Cod had a bedroom at the top of the stairs, but some unused attic space, says senior designer Jillaine Burton. "The homeowner had additional attic space past the bedroom that she could access from the doorway. But it was circuitous and wound through the attic. She wanted to create a master suite for herself."

Callen Construction cut an entrance out of the bedroom closet and crafted a walk-through closet with a full bathroom and small sitting area. The result was an open concept master suite. A skylight was added to bring in light. The walkway from the bedroom to the bathroom and sitting area was utilized for hanging clothes.

Typical attic conversions can take as long as six to eight weeks depending upon the size and the structural support needed. The structural support can take the form of installing additional rafters or adding extra beams in the basement to support the added weight of the converted space. You donít want to be walking across the floor and find yourself suddenly coming through the living room ceiling like a cartoon character.

In Eagle, jdj and builders were contracted to convert attic space into a media room. Perry Szpek, design/sales for jdj and builders, designed the 24-foot by 26-foot space in the newer home and included a two-tiered coffered ceiling. "The homeowners had built the house in a newer subdivision and had left the space unfinished," he says. The company carved out a portion of that space to move a pre-existing laundry room from the second floor. That still left more than enough room for built-in bookcases, a small wet bar and a built-in entertainment center.

But itís the ceiling that really takes center stage. Drywall was placed above the coffered wood beams and above that was a cathedral ceiling. All of the cross members are wrapped in drywall and indirect lighting added to the ambiance. Itís the lime green and yellow color scheme that really makes a statement. "Itís really an inviting, interesting and open space," says Szpek.