One Useless Room Solves Three Problems

Furniture isn’t the only thing you can rearrange inside your home. If the configuration of rooms doesn’t serve your needs, things can be changed. Most frequently, I am asked to open a kitchen to make a larger room for cooking, dining & socializing. But here’s an adventure in renovation that enhanced much more about living in the house.

The original builder’s plan for this house may have included everything on the developer’s checklist and everything the buyers were looking for, but the arrangement, in this case, didn’t make a lot of sense. Had I seen the plans before it was built, I could have pointed out the various problems with the layout. A conductor can look at a score and hear the music. A director can read a play and watch it unfold in the mind. I can do neither of these, but I look at building plans and can see how the space will be used and how it will be lived in.

I had to groan when I first saw this house in a 90’s development. The problems had been built-in, right from the plans. A couple from New York had just purchased this property in the Berkshires. They showed me what they liked about the house. It already had a spacious open kitchen and dining area with wide glass doors opening to a large deck overlooking a small pond.

Lead Photo Erica Fay.jpg

This view of the back deck and pond is a wonderful feature that came with the house.

Then we discussed the problems they saw. First, the front entrance had no coat closet. Second, they wanted an office area that was practical. The third problem was that the powder room was miles from the social areas and doubled as the laundry room. It was inconvenient and downright ugly.

While the main floor had all of the basic social rooms and a master suite, it also had one odd room – small bedroom size – that didn’t relate to anything, certainly not to how the house was to be lived in. In addition to the first floor master suite there were three bedrooms upstairs. This curious room was directly off the dining area and a long way from that powder room. If it were intended as a bedroom, using the bath in the master suite — which was closest — would have been awkward for any guest or family member.

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What were they thinking when this room was planned?

Initially the couple thought they would just use that odd room for their home office, realizing that its baby blue walls and plush beige carpeting would have to go.  I immediately sensed that this room was a pocket of dead energy — another problem. This is something you might also sense, especially if you apply the principles of Feng Shui.

The owners had dismantled the cheap closet organizers and tried laying out shapes and sizes on the carpeting with painter’s tape to explore what they might be able to do with that room. You will notice on the plan how the original closet in that funky room was beside another that was accessed from the master bedroom on the other side. The master suite already had a large walk-in closet so not only was this other one not needed, it made for difficulty arranging furniture.

After taking measurements and digital photos, I returned to my studio to make a plan (the bird’s eye view) in AutoCAD. With the problems in mind and the owner’s wish list, I created a number of possibilities.


In this plan, blue indicates what was to be removed, red shows what was to be added.

In the end, a hallway was opened into that odd room from the front entry. A good sized coat closet was constructed on one side and a powder room with a pocket door on the other. After removing the bank of closets, an office space fit at the end of the new area where the room opened to the dining area. The two windows within the original room fit nicely into the new plan keeping the exterior rhythm of windows intact.

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This view during construction looks toward the entry where the plastic hangs. On the right is the framing for the new powder room while the frame for the closet opening is on the left.

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Contractor Thom Whaley is shown finishing new trim in the space that became the office. Seen from the dining room, the new oak flooring matched the original.

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The completed galley-style office from the same view. Custom cabinets were installed above the desk top. The hall out to the entry with the powder room and coat closet is behind the seated gentleman.

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The decorating and finishing was fun and rather simple. I was giving the trim throughout the house a makeover with four inch flat stock for a “transitional” look (a catch-all term for a style that isn’t of any particular era but isn’t “modern” either). The new powder room received a band of 2 ½ inch flat trim 48 inches from the floor visually breaking up the small room. The lower walls were painted Ben Moore Raspberry Truffle. A silvery grass cloth from Kenneth James was used above and the trim was painted with Ben Moore Revere Pewter. The pedestal sink from St. Thomas and Toto toilet were white. When they were first installed, the owners were unhappy that the whites were not exactly the same. This is often the case when using fixtures from different manufacturers. I knew that once the strong red color was applied to the surrounding walls, that difference would no longer be discernible. The faucets, mirror, and glass shelf were selected from Renovation Hardware.

At the rear entry, the existing toilet and vanity were removed. What remained was enough space to create a nicely arranged room for the laundry, utility sink, pantry and a utility closet. Later, additional renovations solved other problems with the original plan. Voila! This house was beginning a new life as pleasant and functional.

Thom Whaley and his crew did a wonderful job with this small renovation that had a huge impact on the house, its use, and its value.

This article first appeared in the Berkshire Edge on July 7, 2017

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