The Melrose House
The This Old House crew helped the owners of a cramped Victorian carve living space from an unfinished attic.
This Old House teamed up with Melrose, Massachusetts, homeowners Tug and Beth to transform their dark, cramped attic into an airy living space. Their house, a typical 19th century Victorian, had been divided into a two family home, leaving them with a set of too-small rooms they'd adapted to fit their needs. The former entry hall served as a library, while the small front parlor pinch-hit as a master bedroom. Clearly, they needed more space. So their thoughts turned to the attic. After a walk through these cramped rooms, the journey up the attic stairs seemed to lead into a different world: a big, open space rife with possibilities.
While the unfinished room had an airy feel, the roof's steep pitch and no less than three dormers cut into the usable space. Tug and Beth had hoped to squeeze two bedrooms and a bath into the attic but, due to the lack of headroom, instead decided to create one large master suite. To rescue some of the wasted space, a fourth gable dormer was added to open up the south side of the house, and the other gables were converted into storage and sitting areas, a closet and a bathroom.
After visiting a nearby attic apartment for design ideas, the homeowners and crew got down to work. The unfinished space was uninsulated so the crew added six inches of fiberglass insulation between the rafters and topped it with two-inch rigid insulation to help keep the new rooms warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The attic housed its own heating and cooling systems, a gas furnace and air conditioner, both fed through a duct system. A bank of French doors in the new gable dormer and an array of skylights overhead helped brighten the dark space.
The project moved along quickly, and the rooms soon began to take shape. Problems arose only with the plan for the bathroom, which called for a curved glass block wall. While the wall would allow light into the room, it would also push the door into a tight corner where there would not be enough room to comfortably enter and exit. The door had to be moved and the glass wall straightened to accommodate it. A pocket door insured that the homeowners wouldn't have to worry about a traditional door clearing the rafter or blocking the glass wall's light. After a new carpet and a fresh coat of plaster, the attic renovation was complete, and the homeowners finally had room to spare.