A finished attic added space and light, inspiring other tweaks that make this small house smarter
We've all heard the expression "The second time's the charm." And that's just how Anne and Andy Lyon have come to feel after remodeling their 1938 Austin, Texas, cottage twice in a decade, adding not only space but also character with their latest—and they swear their last—redo.
Determined to stay in a house and a neighborhood they loved, they grafted on a master suite and family room the first time around. Cut to 2006 and daughter Molly's quest for every teen's dream: a private bath. So the Lyons decided to finish raw attic space above the living room to create a suite so charming, Anne says with a laugh, it would be a "please come home often" enticement when college rolled around.
But as with any old-house renovation, this one posed several challenges. For one, the Lyons wanted to raise the roof's peak to add headroom and fit in a dormer so gracefully that you would hardly guess it was new. Before they could add to the top, they would have to strengthen down below, since the cottage is set on piers and has only a crawl space under the ground floor. Plus, they would need to add real stairs up to the new bedroom and bath, as well as wiring, plumbing, and ductwork.
Walls would have to be opened up, and to pour nine concrete footings without disturbing the home's lovely oak floors, workers would have to get into the crawl space to dig. In short order, Molly's quest for private space turned into a fine-tuning of the house, culminating in a new front door and 15 new energy-efficient windows.
The Lyons turned to the same local design-build firm, CG&S, that had done their earlier addition. The toughest challenge was adding headroom and natural light to the attic without altering the roof's pitch. The crew raised the ridge beam up and back to extend the existing slope in front, which allowed for ceilings 10 feet at their peak inside. The centerpiece of the new roof is the eyebrow dormer that the crew built off-site, rafter by rafter, then trucked over to the house and wedged into place. Just getting the unusual dormer to line up correctly, then shaping a smooth contour inside with Masonite and drywall, took the men an entire week.
The curved dormer with an arched ceiling creates a cozy alcove for the daughter's bed. A low door behind her nightstand accesses knee-wall storage.
Wood flooring: M-D Custom Wood Floors
Two exterior walls and four inside had to be stripped to the framing and reinforced. But project manager Danny Scott was able to build the floor for Molly's suite without disturbing the ceilings downstairs, using 16-inch-deep engineered trusses to fit in ducts, plumbing, and wiring for much of the house.
The suite's cheerful blue-and-white palette was inspired by a treasured armoire, framed here by the walk-in closet's arched doorway.
The dormer's curve would soon be echoed by two wide arched openings added downstairs. "The arches fit with the period, add charm, and open up the house," says architect Stewart Davis.
With a little rejiggering, the team was able to add the staircase and give the downstairs bath and kitchen a little more room.
A three-corner built-in with a triangular top provides display space and points the way up the new full-height front stairs.
Less visible was the maneuvering going on under the house. To pour footings for additional piers without disturbing the oak floors, the crew dug under the crawl space by hand "with little bitty shovels and tiny picks," says Scott. But one problem area provided an unexpected dividend: The floor in the downstairs bath was so water damaged they had to rip it out, which exposed the crawl space for at least some of the piers.
By annexing a closet, the guest bath gained room for a separate shower area and a stained-oak vanity with a vessel sink. Sunny yellow paint and two tile treatments give it a fresh look.
Anne and Molly Lyon work at the new island, which has drawers to hold utensils and shelves for cookbooks. The 3½-by-5-foot butcher-block top cantilevers over a pair of stools for bar seating.
The owners kept the existing sink wall but added a soffit to hold recessed lights and neatly cap off the cabinets. New S-shaped pulls throughout help update the room.
To make room for a new front staircase in the house, now 1,700 square feet, the architect took space from the office. Closets were sacrificed to enlarge the kitchen, dining room, and downstairs bath.
At the front of the house, a 900-square-foot attic yielded a 350-square-foot suite.
"Keeping the scale small, retaining the character of the cottage, having living space that makes you feel good—that was what the Lyons wanted," says Davis. "And it's what they now have, with a little more breathing room."