The light in the attic
It's that post-school, pre-dinner downtime at the Feeney house in Washington, so Griffin, 9, and his brother Aidan, 6, are hurling themselves on the black bean-bag chair again and again in their new attic playroom.
This is why their dad, architect Bill Feeney, ripped the sloping roof off their center-hall Colonial, flat-topped the house into a four-level rectangle and endured six months of construction: He needed more room for boys to be boys.
"They wrestle constantly, and it's driving me crazy," Feeney said. "I'm not going to fight it."
So he fought with his house instead.
No matter how great your finished room is (and this one is pretty great), renovating an attic is a complicated job. In the toughest cases, a pull-down staircase is the only way up. The eaves in many attics slope down to the floor, with full headroom a mere path down the center. The floors may not be designed to support living space, and they may require reinforcement. There is typically little light or ventilation.
All these are costly structural issues. The new playroom &
Feeney designed it and hired a contractor to do most of the work &
cost about $100,000.
But it was a project to solve a specific family need: boys and their ability to roam free. The space is not for lounging on a sofa to watch hours of TV. There is a ping-pong table, a climbing wall and, because the Feeney boys like to dance, a small stereo. Under it all is a rubber floor, designed to cushion (and quiet) all that activity.
"I mean, look at this," said their mother, Allison Feeney. The boys were simultaneously yelling and beating each other as they zipped up the climbing wall. "It's a little chaotic, with them being so rambunctious."
The house, on a quiet street, is accustomed to renovations. The Feeneys bought it in 1992, gutted the kitchen three years later and overhauled the basement, which was the boys' original play space, in 1997. Now the basement is where Bill Feeney runs his architecture business. In 2000, he designed a two-story addition off the back for a family room and a master bedroom and bath.
The attic renovation, now nearing completion, has been particularly involved. To start, the floor had to be reinforced, and the new room needed proper access from the floor below.
To build the staircase, the contractor stole space from a bedroom on the second floor. Still under construction are the railings for the wide-plank mahogany steps, which complement the house's original red oak floors from 1941. Eventually, Feeney said, the open area underneath the stairs will have built-in bookshelves and a sewing alcove for Allison, who makes quilts.
One reason this project was costly is that the architect chose to sheath the roof and the front of the house in copper, a material he favors. The striking rectangular elevation stands out in the neighborhood, where nearly every house is a slope-roofed brick Colonial or Tudor. "There is no question this is an extravagance," he said.
But Feeney, who has designed more than a dozen attic renovations, said such projects needn't cost nearly as much as his did. Attics that already have a built-in staircase, a usable floor and a bit of headroom are well ahead of the game. In such cases, changes as minimal as drywall, new paint, better lights and carpet can capture the additional living room.
The finished interior measures roughly 30 by 22 feet, with a generous 9 1/2-foot flat ceiling. A wall reaching from the bottom of the new stairs up to the attic has been painted Benjamin Moore's Moroccan Red. The other three walls are painted Benjamin Moore's Saybrook Sage. He got the climbing-wall handholds at a Hudson Trail Outfitters.
The recycled rubber floor, from , cost about $5 a square foot ($9, including installation). That is similar to prices for hardwood, but the cheerful red flooring offers more cushioning and sound absorption, Feeney said, adding that there is only so much you can do to muffle the noise of two boys.
On the back wall are two big closets for storage. On opposite walls are SpacePaks, portable heating-and-cooling units that cost $4,500, which he said is far cheaper than paying for duct and electrical work to extend his current system. There is a two-story, 13-foot window in one corner of the room that stretches to the floor below and a few other windows scattered at various heights. A door to the flat roof that stays locked allows Feeney access to clean gutters and hang Christmas lights.
It's a big open space and the boys describe it as both "cool" and "gi-normous."
"It's paradise," Griffin Feeney said.