Space: the Final Frontier

Unused spaces find new function through remodeling

Every home has one — the hard to reconcile space that turns into a clutter cave as a result of odd angles, limited square footage or undesirable atmosphere. By rethinking these wasted spaces homeowners can increase their property’s bottom line while providing themselves with a little more legroom.

Find out how these remodeling renegades added inches (and value) to their homes by re-functioning unused, unfinished and run-down spaces.

Indented Home Office

Paul and Carol Romenesko of Kimberly had been living with what they called “an oversized hallway” for 16 years before they decided enough was enough.

The small room connecting the kitchen and bathroom hallway stumped the space-starved family of four. With entryways on both ends of the room, a full closet on one wall and a patio door on the other, the couple couldn’t determine the most practical use for the space. The room housed the family computer, and eventually became the dumping ground for backpacks, bills and bulk.

“It didn’t have any specific purpose. It was a catchall room,” says Paul Driessen, owner of Timber Innovations in Kimberly, who worked on the project. “We wanted to bring in a warm comfortable feeling, but the computer table jutting out into the small room was an obstacle to work around.”

Paul and Carol were soon rethinking the room entirely after Driessen theorized that removing the doors and creating a computer nook within the closet could save several feet of premium space. So that’s exactly what they did.

Concerned about the lost storage space, Driessen constructed a maple desktop, printer station and cabinets that maintain organization. The project took about a month and approximately $2,500 to complete.

The nook, accented with rustic Butternut wainscoting, achieved the inviting feel the Romeneskos were hoping for and now comfortably seats five; a feat Carol never dreamed could be accomplished.

“When it was finished it was unbelievable how much bigger the house felt,” Carol says. “Owning an older home means no open-concept. You have many little rooms, so for us this is very useable.”

The space has quickly become the most-used room in the house, perfect for weekend gatherings, homework completion and holiday parties.

“If we had realized the potential, we would have done this a long time ago,” Paul Romenesko says.

Re-functioned Farm

Dale and Sharon Laurin of Appleton had always dreamed of being able to operate their concrete countertop business, Natural Encounters, out of their home. As parents to seven children, keeping business close to family would allow more quality time for both.

When Sharon happened upon a 1.2 acre farm property for sale on North Lynndale Drive, that dream seemed like it may become a reality. It was a dilapidated, nonfunctioning dairy barn situated behind the historic farmhouse that offered a glimmer of hope.

The barn was built at the turn of the twentieth century and is one of only two non-agricultural barns still standing in Grand Chute, but that might not have been the case if the Laurins hadn’t come along.

“It was in sad condition,” Sharon recalls. “It was just a big open barn without a loft. We call this our ultimate remodel.”

The Laurin’s structural engineer, Dick Stellmacher of Stellmacher Architecture in Fond du Lac, estimated the barn would stand only five more years unless serious work was completed.

“We all wanted the barn to survive,” Sharon says. “Everyone knew no one would spend $100,000 on a barn you couldn’t use agriculturally because it is zoned residential now. Everything this barn could be had been taken away.”

The couple purchased the property in the summer of 2007 and determined that if the barn couldn’t be used for what it was originally intended, then it might just make the perfect home for Natural Encounters. By creating a workshop on the barn’s lower level and a showroom up top, the Laurins could use the barn for all aspects of their business.

The barn’s rock foundation was bowed out which required Dombrowski House Movers in Appleton to lift the structure so new foundation could be laid. With the help of architect Scott Stellmacher and Hoffman Strobel Builders in Neenah, the Laurins constructed a handicap ramp leading to the barn’s upper level, added a loft to serve as the retail shop’s storeroom and installed reclaimed wood flooring and rafters while maintaining the original exterior.

“We kept the historic value of the building. A friend of ours tore down a barn and donated beams we used inside the showroom,” Dale says.

Dale bought barn beams off Craigslist for the ceiling and used exclusively rejected, misfit lighting and windows he purchased from retailers to reduce costs for the project, which was completed in the spring of 2009.

“You can do a lot if you’re willing to look around and piece it all together,” Dale says.

Attic Overhaul

The attic at Patrick and Amy Galloway’s Neenah residence was nothing more than storage space a mere six months ago; a place where the family’s holiday decorations and out-of-season clothes slept through the seasons.

With two growing children, the family doesn’t have a square foot to spare. Last March, the Galloways decided they would transform the attic into a recreation haven.

“All of our rooms are small so we wanted a space where the kids could let loose and work on school projects,” Amy says.

To meet building codes and avoid tearing down walls, the Galloways worked with Arcways of Neenah to construct a spiral staircase as a second set of steps to the attic. A bathroom was also installed to increase the home’s resale value.

Constructed by Laib Restoration of Oshkosh and Glenn Keyes of Keyes & Sons Plumbing in Neenah, the room’s wet bar is one of its most impressive features. The addition of the wet bar makes the attic ideal for overnight guests who want the amenities and privacy of home on one floor.

Keyes found one of the challenges in creating the space was providing a heating zone to the third floor without damaging the lower levels. This was overcome by hoisting a cast iron radiator to the attic from the second floor.

“Any time you remodel you run into things you don’t anticipate, structural roadblocks and such” Keyes says. “You never know quite what you’ll run into so patience is the thing.”

All four members of the Galloway family are thrilled with the final outcome, especially the unexpected construction of a performance stage. Part of the air conditioning unit and duct system in the attic needed to be covered: the result is a raised platform (pictured left) against one wall perfect for impromptu concerts and karaoke nights.

“We wanted to install a disco ball,” Galloway says, “but that’s yet to come.”

—By Amelia Compton Wolff

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