A loft conversion with a twist

With changes on a small footprint, a clever and creative renovation project connects this Auckland house with its garage – opening up the living area and converting the garage loft into an art studio

Loft conversion

The attic is no longer reserved for insulation batts or dusty memorabilia – it’s now becoming an accessible living area.
 “Creating more space by converting an existing loft is becoming more and more popular in New Zealand,” says Kris MacGregor of Refresh Renovations. “Many Kiwi families are deciding to stay in their homes and maximise the room they’ve got.”
The steeper the pitch of your roof, the more likely it is that your loft will be suitable for conversion. Not having to alter the roof itself will keep your costs down, as you will only need to install skylight or dormer windows into the pitch of the roof to provide natural light.
So called ‘dormer windows’ create extra headroom that protrudes from the sloping roof when there isn’t enough space in the existing attic. Ground level extensions may sometimes be more affordable, but building up tends to offer a better solution than building out in urban areas where land is scarce.
See this creative garage and loft conversion below.

A creative connection 

Living in a home with French doors near the beach is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy for Helen Pearson. When she was just 10 years old she decided St Heliers would be the place to be. “I came here for the day with my parents and had an ice cream on the beach,” she remembers. “ I thought, one day I’ll live here and have a house with French doors!”
Together with husband Alan, daughter Kate (22) and sun Andrew (19), Helen has lived here for 11 years now. Last spring, the family embarked on a long-planned renovation project in two stages.
Stage one involved improving the downstairs bathroom and opening up the living/dining/kitchen area. “The house was tired and a bit run down. We wanted to make it more open plan but still have separate rooms,” says Helen. “It’s now a mix of old and contemporary but still has the old farmhouse feel to it, which is something we wanted.”
Opening up internal doorways and moving a wall in the dining area has transformed what was formerly a dark part of the house into a light and airy family space. The kitchen was extended with a fantastic new design by Mal Corboy, skylights were removed, and yes – the special French doors were installed. A laundry was turned into a scullery with a cavity slider. Tiles were replaced with a wooden floor to match the rest of the house.
A newly widened staircase leads upstairs. A friend of the couple suggested removing the bulkhead over the staircase, allowing more light to flood in. Helen loves this influx of ideas: “Everybody who visits has ideas, which is great. The bronze door handles, for example, came from our Resene colour expert. The glass balustrade for the staircase was suggested by our builder – it gives you that feeling of space.”
Apart from the addition of a new and much needed bathroom upstairs, which replaces a single toilet, the master bedroom saw the addition of a walk-in wardrobe. “We extended the roof cavity to create it. We also added a window, but now I’m actually covering it up as it fades the clothing.” The other three bedrooms remain unchanged – for the time being. Helen is considering combining three of them to create two larger rooms. “But that’s a project for the future,” she laughs, “Stage three of the renovation!”

Rewind, we are just about to have a look at stage two: the converted garage loft and a new corridor that connects the house to the garage. “It’s the first time we’ve had a house that is attached to the garage, so no more running out in the rain! It’s an extension on a small footprint, but it opens the house up to a whole new area.”
Stage two of the renovation started in January and is in many ways the heart of the renovation. The old office gave way to a new hallway, but it didn’t do so ‘without a fight’. “We found a supporting beam here which we didn’t know about and couldn’t remove,” explains Helen. “So our builder had the fantastic idea of using the space creatively by incorporating three built-in bookshelves.” For Helen – who works in a library – it’s a renovation obstacle that couldn’t have worked out better.
The steel beam, however, wasn’t the only obstacle that had to be overcome. Architect Bruce MacKenzie of MacKenzie Architecture says: “Creating a harmonious connection between the two buildings was a key challenge. We used one of the old bay windows as a link, building it into the new wall. We also had to carefully design the stairs that lead down to the garage and up to the loft, taking the low headroom into consideration.”

Another tricky aspect was the ceiling height in the hallway and in the new guest room alongside it. “We had the framing up already but decided to chance it,” says Helen. “It was a variation from our plan, but these things don’t become apparent until the walls come out. Bringing the ceiling up to a higher level and including angles was certainly worth it. It adds interest and also creates a wonderful connection to the angled loft.”
A creative retreat to admire and inspire, the loft is reserved as Helen’s art space. Her first portrait in many years, a study of her late father, hangs in the entrance way. “I can keep all my easels and materials here, and my music. And I will soon get a nice old sofa and some second-hand chairs. I really like old, recycled things.
“This is a space to have some fun with. It was always my favourite part of the house and I wanted to maintain the loft feel, the relaxing atmosphere.” Bruce adds: “We could have built an even larger loft room, but we focused on creating an attractive, picturesque space in keeping with the rest of the house.”

Aesthetics mixed with practicality when the loft became a fixed part of the house. This meant that the Pearsons had to comply with building regulations and install insulation. Helen admits: “Insulation actually turned out to be one of the best parts of the whole project. It’s something you don’t see, but it makes all the difference to what was once a draughty old house.”
Initially, Helen was going to lay carpet in the loft, but she later opted for a marine ply mahogany floor that is harder wearing and artist’s paint forgiving. A window at the far end of the room offers a view of the city, and then there is a lovely set of French doors that reveals Rangitoto’s peak. “They were Alan’s idea,” smiles Helen. Voilà – a final set of French doors!

Reflecting back on the renovation

What renovation advice would you give to others?
Read magazines like Renovate! Knowledge will save you a lot of stress compared with learning everything on the fly. Have as many decisions made beforehand as you can. Lighting plan, paint schemes, door and plumbing hardware to name but a few. The more prepared you are, the more time you will have for the really important things like family and friends.
What was the bravest thing you did with the house?
Making the ceiling in the new hallway and guest room higher again. We had to take down the completed wooden framing again and redo it all – it was annoying for the builders and came with an expense for us. But to me it was worth it as there is a sense of continuity and no ‘oh here’s the addition part’.
Looking back, what would you do differently?
I might have fitted the doorways in our living/dining/kitchen area with solid doors that you can open. That way you have the option of making the rooms snug when you feel like it. Or I might have gone for bevelled glass or detailed woodwork for the doorways.
What is your favourite place in the house?
It has always been the loft. It used to have this rickety old staircase and going up there was like escaping to another world. I went up at least once a day. Now, the access is so much easier. It’s open and accessible. There is space for lots of friends to stay over.

Thinking of renovating?

If you’re thinking of converting your loft, get in touch with one of our renovation specialists!

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