The offbeat remodel: my harebrained scheme come to life

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Does anyone remember this part of my 2011 home tour?

I have a scheme for how we can turn the space into a modest two-bedroom, and rip out the wall of the stairwell to create an epic family room/mezzanine space at the top of the stairs. That stairwell is so grand and filled with afternoon sun… but it’s a fucking stairwell. If we opened it up to a mezzanine, we’d really feel that square footage more. Plus, Tavi would have a bedroom.

Well, you guys… it’s totally happening. Why is it happening? Because almost exactly a year ago, I crashed the wedding of a pair of architects, and then last fall I hired them to see if my dreams could actually be a reality. Turns out that my scheme was totally feasible. Turns out that Liz & Mark are great architects. Turns out that, despite the fact that my husband and I are both self-employed, we can refinance our mortgage to cover the cost of the remodel. Turns out we found a great Seattle contractor. Turns out we can stay in a yurt at my mom’s during the 6-8 weeks of demolition and construction. Turns out it’s maybe happening next month!? HOLY SHIT.

So wait, what are we doing?

The scheme might be sort of hard to explain, if you haven’t been to our house. In fact, even if you HAVE been to our house, it’s hard to explain. Basically, we’re swapping the private and public spaces of our condo — our bedroom becomes a living/dining area, and our living/dining area becomes two smaller bedrooms. We’re turning a 1-bedroom into a 2-bedroom.

As part of this swap, we’re moving our stairs and doing a build-out over the stairwell to create an open mezzanine dining area. Our condo is part of a chopped up old mansion, and our unit got the mansion’s original palatial stairwell… which goes up to a French door that opens into our very modest 1-bedroom home. Actually, the French door opens into a clusterfuck space that includes the door to our bedroom, a hallway off to the kitchen/bathroom, and then a weird half-space before you walk into our dining room. We’ve learned never to put anything in that space, but it’s the place where, whenever friends or family come over, they drop their bags and coats… which then immediately get tripped over because it’s the space you walk through to get anywhere in the house.

Our goal here is to make more of the usable square footage we’ve got, mostly in the interest of getting my son into his own bedroom. His walk-in-closet bedroom has been pure win since he was born and for all the years since, and he still loves it.

Tavi Teeny Room (5).jpg

Despite the comfort of his closet, it’s become clear that my son won some sort of genetic lottery and is going to be a very large person. He’s already the height of some of his seven-year-old friends, and is built like a tank. And while having him just off of our bedroom through his infancy and toddlerhood has been perfect, he sleeps through the night every night now and honestly, a little privacy for ye olde conjugal bed would be appreciated. My son cannot stay in our walk-in closet forever. We need him out of our room, and he needs space to exist.

With this remodel, Tavi will be getting his own bedroom. Granted, it’s a very small bedroom (roughly 9.5′ x 7.5′) But he gets the balcony with its glass door facing a courtyard full of trees, so it’ll be a small room filled with green leafy light and morning sun.

So he gets a bedroom, and we all get the joy of a home that immediately opens into a family mezzanine area. No more walking up some stairs, through a glass door, and into a little clusterfuck hallway/corner area. Now you’ll come up the stairs into a wide open living room with our dining table built into the very center of the space. What’s now the top of our stairway landing will become our dining area, right in the center of the room, overlooking the enormous stairway (hello down there, we’ll call from the table when someone comes home). It’s hard to explain, but it’s going to be cool.

Of course we could just move, but there are factors: We love our neighborhood. We love our lifestyle. We love walking to everything. We love that the elementary school we can walk to is really great. We love living on several bus lines. It’s awesome. Since our neighborhood is awesome, it’s also very expensive, and 2-bedrooms are out of our price range — especially since we’re both self-employed. We love being self-employed. It’s also awesome. So if we want to retain the awesome things we love (our awesome-but-expensive neighborhood, and our awesome-but-modest self-employment), we need to get creative. Plus, I did the math, and it’d cost us about $20k in real estate fees to sell our condo and buy something new, so why not just apply that budget toward to make more of what we already have?

Wait, why is this the first y’all are hearing about this?

We’ve been slowly plodding on this process for a year now. There are a bazillion people involved: the architects, our homeowner’s association, several bankers, our contractor, the city of Seattle permitting departments, structural engineers, feasibility inspectors, and valuation assessors. It’s been a slow and fiddly process full of logistics that are honestly pretty boring.

I’m also easily overwhelmed by design decisions. I love bold colors, but am completely unable to select them. I love cool looking shit, but quickly hit decision fatigue when looking at images that are supposed to be inspiring. Sometimes I just want to Kermit flail and be like “I DON’T KNOW JUST MAKE IT LOOK COOL.”

But despite my lack of chattiness about the project and quick rates of overwhelm, I’m pretty stoked by the prospect of what we’re doing. Seven years ago, we bought a home that was within our means in a place we love. Now we’re shifting it to make it fit better with what our lives have become, but it feels really good that we’re staying committed to living within our means and within the neighborhood we’ve loved for so long.

Updated to add

Some architecture nerds really want to see the drawings full size. Clicky to view full-size:

(All drawings by Mark Dorsey & Liz Piscotta, whose lovely wedding you can see here.)

Comments on The offbeat remodel: my harebrained scheme come to life

    • YES! I love that you’ll now enter into the living space, instead of walking into a hallway/bedroom door cluster fuck. Bedroom doors are tucked away on the far wall, and you’re greeted by couches and dining area.

      PS: I’m so glad to hear that you can see it from these drawings… writing this post I was like “Uh, is anyone going to understand this from these drawings? I barely do, and I live here!”

      • Plus, your bedroom was (is) noticeable larger than your living room as well because it was chopped up from the dining room. Makes sense when the bedroom was pulling double duty as a full-time office, but now that you’re not working at home I agree with your choice to reallocate it to living space.

  1. Squee! The part of me that got an architecture degree is super excited for you for this project. The part of me that now works as an administrator wishes you smooth sailing throughout the paperwork and construction and general headacheyness of having your space and My Little Pony collection upended.

  2. This sounds awesome. I totally don’t get it, but I trust that you’re being truthful in how cool it will be.

    Also, amen to living within one’s means. Lately I’ve been pining away for a house (any house) in an up-and-coming area of my city. But, now is not the time, and next year will likely not be that time either. We made the mistake of buying a too-expensive home once, and while we ended up in the green with it in the end by selling at a good time (amazing in this economy) and buying in a neighborhood that got popular a year later…it could have easily gone south. I’m so glad to have had that experience and to know that it is NEVER a good idea to live outside of one’s means. Even slightly!

  3. I love the new layout! It’s nice to be able to see the plans and envision the new space! What a great solution that will maximize your space and really open it up w/all that gorgeous light!

  4. I think this will be totally awesome! By the way, I love the way you have decorated, and the child closet/bedroom! I think putting a kid in the closet may become necessary in the future for my husband and I. We live in a house he built 20-ish years ago and it is very weirdly layed-out despite being quite large (4000-ish square feet). It was meant to be a cottage but he and his ex ended up adding on so things are just strange… In the basement there are 2 small bedrooms and a storage room full of crap along with a bathroom with our ONLY shower in the deepest, darkest corner of the basement. There is one bedroom upstairs along with a huge open living/kitchen/dining area and a bathroom that was once large but got split in half to put a third bathroom in the addition (which is basically 2 huge rooms stacked on top of eachother and another storage room full of 200 year old crap). We don’t even use half the house because it’s just too much to deal with right now. In our upstairs bedroom we sleep on a waterbed that we built in on top of a 4.5 foot high platform with walls on 3 sides. The area of the bedroom that you can walk around in is T-shaped and not suitable, or even wide enough for a crib. However, we do have a walk in closet, about the size of yours. I am really keen to co-sleep when we have a child so we will either have to deconstruct our waterbed and replace it with a futon or give up and put the kid in the closet. I’m leaning towards replacing the bed as I don’t really want to climb down a ladder 3 times a night to feed a baby LOL and I don’t want to put a baby in the basement. It’s way too far away and I would likely sleep through any crying in the night…

  5. So excited for you. We just remodeled our Kitchen and had to deal with shortening windows, flipping appliances we gained 3x the counter space, a microwave, doubled our fridge size, doubled our storage and now we have a very very treasured dishwasher. The 8 weeks of construction/wait time was hard, but man, the pay off now at being in the kitchen. I love our kitchen now, it’s heaven. You’re going to love your new space!

  6. What an interesting layout. It’s so funny how things get chopped up in those old houses when they go from the palatial 1 family living to having multiple family’s and multiple living spaces in 1 building that originally wasn’t meant to hold that. I think it’s awesome how you’re able to carve out 2 bedrooms from 1. So important for your family. I would like to see actual photo’s of how it is now and then of course photo’s of the process and when it’s done. That would be great. The floor plans are great but sometimes it helps to see the actual thing in order to visualize what’s going on.

    One thing I wonder though – was/is it not possible to move the kitchen so that it could be with the other common areas and then put one of the bedrooms over where the kitchen was/is for even more separation between you and your son? Without seeing that part of the floor plan I obviously don’t know, but that’s the thought that I have just looking at what you’ve got here. I imagine that might have been out of budget since that would have involved moving more than just walls…Much more of a headache.

    Good luck I hope it’s wonderful for you guys!!

    • Yeah, we’re saving a fortune by not touching the kitchen or the bathroom… walls, flooring, and electrical are WAY cheaper than appliances, gas lines, cabinets, counters, or plumbing!

      (And it’s worth saying that even without touching those things, we can barely afford it…. so yeah. No touching the kitchen or bath for now!)

      • Ahahaha… yeahhhhh… as somebody who has touched both kitchen and bathroom I can assure you appliances were the least of my concern. Standing in the middle of the old kitchen and saying “I want an island here with a sink” did more damage to my budget than all the new appliances put together. Plumbing was extra, yes, but more substantial was extra cabinetry and countertop and the labor those involved.

  7. When you get through this you’ll love it more than a new house because it’s like a piece of you went into it, not just a piece of your bank account. My new kitchen is the best and prettiest kitchen in the entire world. My head might argue that I haven’t actually see all the kitchens in the world but my heart knows otherwise.

  8. Yes yes yes, awesome remodel.

    I think we’re all missing the important part of this post, which is…


  9. I saw a remodel with the same spirit on a while back. The couple added a loft to their condo stairwell for their kiddo’s bedroom. Very cool πŸ™‚

  10. Two years ago, my former boss’s house was completely demoed and rebuilt. She and her husband bought their original house when they were newly weds, about 45 years ago. It had it’s problems then, but it was what they could afford on their salaries. After 40 odd years of living in the house and raising their family there, they noticed some really distressing cracks appearing. Their foundation was cinderblock and it was sinking and crumbling. So, they demolished the house and built a new one on the original footprint. They went through so much red-tape to do that. According to my boss, if it wasn’t for her husband’s love of their detached garage, she would have sold the land and moved into a condo. But, they really love their new house.

    It’s very exciting to hear you and your husband are moving forward with your renovations! Congratulations and I hope you’ll post an update when it’s finished!

  11. This redesign (and the previous closet) remind me of a very cool child’s room I saw an article about – the parent’s moved into a house when their child was two. His bedroom had a small unusable storage room off of it, which they put a large chest of drawers in front of. They spent the year making that room beautiful, and gave it to him as a playroom for his fourth birthday. That kid is always going to believe in magic (and Narnia).

  12. I’m a little confused by the drawings, but seeing a walk through video when you’re done will probably get the point across much better.
    I’m excited for you! 6 weeks sounds rough, but at least you’ll be living somewhere comfortable (hopefully?)

  13. Looks awesome! You’re even getting a little entry area out of it! I also think it’s awesome that you are remodeling and not just like, “well, this doesn’t work in the exact constellation it is, guess we need something new.”

    Also: I was just telling someone in my birth preparation class about Tavi’s closet because they’re in a 1 bedroom apartment right now. So, from inspiring closet solution to inspiring remodel. πŸ˜‰

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