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From Unused Space to a Home Office Full of Smart Storage

The creative redesign of a dysfunctional entry area yields welcoming built-in nooks for books and a desk, plus an ingenious box-within-a-box powder room

Before and After: Bring On the Built-Ins

Photo by Shelly Harrison

Sometimes one little request leads to a major transformation. Married neuroscientists Vivek Unni and Tamily Weissman-Unni, owners of an 1870s house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, started out with a new baby and a simple goal. "We needed a first-floor bathroom with a changing table," says Tamily. But they were also saddled with a dark front entry next to a front room that served as an ad hoc mudroom, and a "treacherous" narrow staircase.

Wall paint: Benjamin Moore's Soft Glow

Before: A Cluttered Entry Area

Unni Family

The couple asked general contractor Charlie Allen and architect Margaret Booz to rethink the entire space. "The family's needs were greatest around their front door; the entry wasn't functional, and there weren't designated places to put things once they got inside," Booz says.

Shown: The front room served as a mudroom, and the adjacent entry, hall, and stairs were cramped.

After: Welcome Home to Warm, Cozy Colors

Photo by Shelly Harrison

The team widened the stairs and hall by borrowing space from the front room and added a window to bring in light. Then they turned the room into a stylish home office and library, with a half bath hidden behind two new walls. A closet corrals coats and strollers, cherry shelves build in function, and a warm shade of paint adds personality. Says Tamily, "When I peer in at night and see those shelves and the orange glow, it feels so cozy."

Shown: The new cherry built-ins, reclaimed-pine floorboards, and mahogany newel post complement the existing floor and salvaged banister. Warm-toned paint echoes and unites the cherry and mahogany millwork and pine floors.

Adding a Bonus Bath

Photo by Keller & Keller

The powder room, about 25 square feet, has a changing table (not shown) and period-style pine flooring that flows in from the hall.

Door: Jeld-Wen

Toilet and faucet: Kohler

Grasscloth wallpaper: Thibaut

Carving Out Some Work Space

Photo by Keller & Keller

The desk niche makes use of a corner with natural light, augmented by recessed ceiling fixtures. It's a perfect spot for homeowners Vivek and Tamily, both research scientists, to put in time on their shared computer.

Recessed lights: Lightolier

Getting Organized

Photo by Shelly Harrison

Open shelves and a freestanding desk with a file drawer help organize books and paperwork. Fold-back window shutters, pale flooring, and clear sight lines make the light-filled room feel larger.

Shown: The redo tweaked the layout, adding a half bath, plus hardworking built-ins that play off the period flooring and trim.

Before: Floorplan

Illustration by Ian Worpole

The entry was dark, the stairs were narrow, and the front room was a messy catchall.

After: Floorplan

Illustration by Ian Worpole

Two walls moved and two new ones went up to enclose the bath. The now slightly reshaped front room is an office with a closet and built-ins.

1. Rebuilt the stairs and added a window to bring light into the entry area.

2. Moved the wall for easier circulation and opened up the dining room passageway. A closet for coats and gear went just inside the new home office.

3. Inserted a powder room off the hallway.

4. Lined the backs of the bath walls with cherry built-ins for a library look in the office.

5. Tucked a desk in the far corner, between two windows. More cherry built-ins line the remaining wall.