Maximize your space: Turn a little-used room into the best place in the house

By Aubin Tyler

April 14, 2011

As part of a guild whose quality handmade crafts raise $10,000 each year for the Christmas fair at St. John's Episcopal Church in Northampton, retired florist Susan Roy needed a place where she and her fellow crafters could work.

"I've always had a crafts room - before, during and after my children," Roy said. "In my French-Canadian family, every woman sewed, knitted or hooked rugs. Everybody made things."

But by last summer, Roy's crafts room was spilling over with spools of brightly colored thread, boxes of ribbon, white peacock feathers, beaded cord, fabric samples, felted wools, painted gourds, wooden balls, dowels and eggs, woolly nylon, rick-rack, zippers, binding tape, patterns, bias tape and a sewing machine.

When rooms no longer fit their purpose - or are little used and need a new function - a small to large renovation can help you get more out of your home. Room repurposing can be as simple as putting a futon in a home office to make it a partial guest room or you can find new space through a remodel like Roy did.

At about the same time as she was out-growing her craft space, roof repairs became essential for the 100-year-old Northampton farmhouse in the South Street neighborhood that Roy has shared for almost 40 years with her husband, Kirby Farrell, an English professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

"We redid the whole roof and then had to redo the attic ceiling because they removed two roof windows," she said. The couple had used the L-shaped attic room as a bedroom for a decade, giving two smaller bedrooms downstairs to their two daughters. But with their offspring grown and out of the house, it made sense to move back downstairs, where it was warmer and quieter.

Even with its slanting roof line, at close to 300 square feet the attic aerie had almost twice the space of Roy's old crafts room, and could fit a table big enough for a few dedicated crafters with room to spare. To convert it into a fresh new space for crafting, Roy repainted the room's sky blue walls and waxed the original wood floor.

"Now the room is more useful," she said. "And the table is an important part of the flexibility up there."

While one part of the "L" now holds the big work table, at the other end the east window under the attic dormer looks out onto the floodplain, with plentiful sunlight for Roy's houseplants. Tucked away in plastic bins are beads for jewelry and her handmade pillowcases - part of a new online enterprise - as well as scrapbook materials, which she uses to make "memory boxes" for church baptisms.

The old crafts room is now a sitting room/guest room, where Roy watches television via Hulu and does embroidery, knitting and crochet. "I wanted a guest room that was also a sitting room, and the second floor is the warmest in the house. It's where I work on cold nights.

"After heart trouble a year ago I decided I needed to slow down," she said. "Now that I'm home more, I just want to do more crafts and explore the possibility of making a living from home."

On an entirely different scale, in another neighborhood near Childs Park, Eric Kaye of Eric Kaye Interiors helped transform an unused family room in a 1950 California ranch home into an elegant master suite with bedroom, bath and sitting area.

"It was a room that had probably once been a porch," he said. "It had been closed off but never used well." A previous owner had added the extra room, with a floor 2½ inches lower than the rest of the house - "which everybody tripped on," Kaye said.

Architect Barry Svigals of Svigals Partners in New Haven, Conn., sketched out a plan to reuse the existing space without changing the layout; John Sackrey of Sackrey Construction in Sunderland handled the construction.

Last spring, the entire room was stripped down to the studs and then built back up again, inside and out. By September, the old family room had been transformed into a 400-square-foot master suite with a new sub-floor flush with the rest of the house, windows on all three sides and a sliding door to the patio. Design features include a bedroom wall finish made of textured book-binding paper by Great Barrington designer Peter Fasano; custom-built closets with a sleek walnut-topped dresser; walnut-accented Shoji screens that can be closed to separate the bedroom from the sitting area; and large loop-pile Karastan wool carpeting in a neutral wheat color.

"That was one of the splurges," said Kaye's wife and design partner, Nancy.

In the master bath, which has dimmer lighting and a timer-controlled silent fan, the owner chose a gray "pebble" floor with a white porcelain sink-vanity, a mirror defogger, an oversized "rain" shower head and a German-made wall-hung toilet.

The house is now "quite wonderful," according to its owner, who prefers that his name not be used. "What was essentially a house with two bedrooms and one full bath became a four-bedroom house with two and a half baths without adding another story or changing the floor plan."

(Photo: Gordon Daniels)

Eric and Nancy Kaye of Eric Kaye Interiors in the renovated space that was a hardly-used den in a Northampton home. The panels behind Eric can be closed to keep the living room separate.

(Photo: Gordon Daniels)

A full bathroom was added to the renovated room.

(Photo: Gordon Daniels)

Eric and Nancy Kaye of Eric Kaye Interiors turned this “brooding” room in a client’s Northampton home into a bedroom with a full bathroom and a living room area. Little-used space can be repurposed.

(Photo: Gordon Daniels)

When Susan Roy of Northampton outgrew her crafting space she moved her hobby to the attic.

(Photo: Gordon Daniels)

After her roof was repaired, Roy turned a third-floor bedroom into a craft room. She gets a lot of use out of the crafting space.

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