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Creative solutions to common N.E. design problems

Ask the Expert Home Improvement Style
The new master bath can now take up the space vacated by the closet as well as its original footprint.
The new master bath can now take up the space vacated by the closet as well as its original footprint. Chris Chu

A few projects I’ve done have presented situations that might be of interest to homeowners contemplating a renovation.

Situation one

A family wanted to create a bedroom in the attic. The contractors called in to see the space all said they would need to add a dormer. Working in the owners’ favor, however, was the fact the roof was a good pitch of about 10 in 12 (which means that if you went out 12 feet, the roof would be 10 feet high, or a 39.81 percent slope). I suggested they could put skylights lower in the roof in a position that is almost like a window, creating a light-filled bedroom without the expense of adding a dormer or two. Another complication was that although the roof had a good slope, it was a little low. There were also collar ties — the horizontal “beams’’ that hold the roof together so it doesn’t splay out — every 40 inches. By leaving the collar ties in place but cladding them with finish trim and installing a pitched ceiling just under the rafters, we were able to leave better headroom.

Situation two

For homeowners looking for a better-designed master suite, the following situation is quite common. A typical Colonial often has a master bedroom that is quite long with a small closet and small bath at the back of the house. If you add closets at the front of the house, on either side of a single or double window centered on that wall, not only will you create storage but you’ll have a better-proportioned room. In between the two new closets and under the existing window, you could add a window seat with storage. If there is a radiator there, you can still add the window seat, provided there is a way for fresh air to come in at the bottom of the window seat and for the hot air to escape higher up. This can be achieved with a wood or metal grill. This creates “convection’’ which moves the hot air out and into the room. The closets themselves could be made as if they were built-in armoires as opposed to plasterboard and stud walls with full doors. This will give you more usable storage and create a refined look.

The new master bath can now take up the space vacated by the closet as well as its original footprint. When laying out the bathroom, you should pay attention to the placement of the door and any new or existing windows that you have in the room. Here is an opportunity to align the window and the opening so that when the door is open, the light from the window shines into the bedroom itself. They don’t necessarily have to line up exactly, but if possible, position them so that as you enter the bedroom, you can see past the door to the light from the window in the bath. This helps balance the light in the room.

Situation three

It’s quite common to have a powder room smack in the back of your house that prevents flow from one side of the house to the other. You could opt for an addition behind the powder room, connecting the kitchen and the living room that way. If you don’t want to add on to the footprint of your home, there are still ways to relocate the powder room so that it does not block that critical path. In one house, we were able to create a mudroom and a three-quarter bath at the side entry by moving the kitchen toward the center of the back of the house. At the same time, we were able to connect the living room to the new kitchen and breakfast area. This is a win-win situation because now you can see the south light coming in the living room windows, even from the kitchen, creating a sense of balanced light.

 Chris Chu is an architect in West Newton who specializes in residential design. Send questions to Address@globe.com.