Moving On Up

Moving On Up – Industry Trend or Event

Lisa Kanarek

An interior designer turns her attic into an uppermost office

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME–ESPECIALLY when the alternative is facing an early morning commute, walking through an empty parking lot late at night, and paying office rent. All of those problems contributed to Dallas-based interior designer Cheryl Van Duyne’s decision to move her office into her home. The problem: finding a spot in her house to call an office.

Van Duyne decided to use her design and planning skills to look beyond the traditional dens, spare bedrooms, and other places most people put home offices. Finally, she found her inspiration under the eaves: Where others might have seen a junk-filled, unheated, unventilated, 425-square-foot attic, she saw an office space for her business.

While remodeling the attic into an office would cost money, it didn’t take Van Duyne long to compare the costs of finishing the attic versus several more years of paying rent for her inconveniently located off-site office. After deciding the attic was a more economical choice, she began the two-month transformation by planning the new office on paper.

Van Duyne’s plan included additional lighting, places to put custom shelving units from her old office, and space to sneak in a few more built-in bookshelves. The walls in the attic were finished off with Sheetrock, and built-in storage was added under the often-wasted eave space. Recessed lighting was the final touch.

The space under Van Duyne’s U-shaped work surface holds two file cabinets and a lateral file, plus a five-drawer flat file for storing clients’ design plans. Above her work surface, Van Duyne added built-in shelves to hold computer forms, reference books, and rolled-up plans too large to fit in her flat files.

For an extra work surface, “I get my best ideas when I’m sitting at my drafting table,” says Van Duyne, who estimates she saved about $6,000 by recycling furniture from her old office. Next to the drafting table is a rolling cart with drafting supplies.

Since her office has wall-to-wall carpeting, Van Duyne doesn’t roll from place to place in her office chair. Instead, she uses three chairs–one in front of her drafting table, another near her phone and writing area, and a third in front of her computer.

Van Duyne entertains clients in a lightfilled conference area, located under a 6-foot, postmodern circular window with custom-designed half-circle shutters. The latter open and dose on door hinges.

SNAPSHOT: Cheryl Van Duyne

Profession: Interior designer, Dallas

Hardware: Custom-built Acer PC clone desktop, Acer, Hewlett-Packard LaserJet IIp Plus and Epson Color Stylus 870 printers, Pitney Bowes 9300 fax/copier

Software: Microsoft Windows 98, Microsoft Word, Lotus 1-2-3

Design Mission: To remodel a dark and unused attic into a light-filled home office

Charting an Attic Conversion

Remodeling an attic into a home office takes more than hanging curtains on the dormer windows and adding a fan for ventilation. The complexities of an attic conversion typically require the expertise of a contractor, who can first look at the space and give you an estimate on the work that needs to be done to get up to building code (and any other factors you may not have anticipated). Here’s some advice from John Della Sala, contractor and owner of J&E Construction in Fort Worth, Tex.

* Ask your contractor to inspect the attic floor joists to ensure they will support a “live load” of one or more people plus furniture and equipment. Most attic floor joists are 2 by 6 feet or 2 by 8 feet, but they need to be 2 by 12 feet to support additional weight.

* Have your contractor check the heating, ventilation, and cooling system to see if it can handle additional square footage. You may need to route airconditioning ducts into the attic. At a minimum, you’ll probably need to add attic vents.

* If you have pull-down stairs to your attic, a contractor or carpenter can replace them with a stab[e, stationary staircase. However, building a staircase will take away a lot of square footage on the floor below.

* Have your contractor check to see whether you need to add insulation inside your walls. Most older houses lack the proper insulation, which means you could be wasting money on heating and cooling bills.

* Building codes dictate the sloped walls in your attic must be at least 5 feet high.

Penthouse Prices

Converting an attic can cost big bucks, as Van Duyne warns. Here are a few costs to consider, supplied by Home Repairs & Etc. (

* Expect to spend around $16,500 to convert a 16 by 36-foot attic that includes two standard windows, oak hardwood flooring, and insulated walls.

* Proper attic ventilation cools your entire house. Older homes rarely have adequate systems, creating an extremely hot attic in the summer and possible buildup of ice dams at the ridge of the roof in winter. Expect to pay about $400 to install adequate ventilation, including a 40-linear-foot ridge vent and soffit vents.

* To replace a folding stairway or drop-down steps, expect to pay about $450 and up for the finished, unpainted carpentry and installation job–if, upon consultation, your contractor says there’s enough room for a main stairway into the attic. Van Duyne adds this piece of advice about attic stairs: If you’re going to have many clients visiting your home office, an attic may not be the right place for your workplace. You may not want to tax your clients by having them walk up so many steps.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Freedom Technology Media Group

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group