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Ways to turn Unused Space Into the Rooms You

More Space, Same Footprint

Adding over and under your home are both smart ways to increase living space, but there are other creative ways to eke out extra square footage without drastically changing the footprint of your home. Look up, down, and all around, and you may find you have more room for rooms than you think—in the attic, the basement, the garage, or even an underused outbuilding. This Old House has gathered its favorite basement and attic bonus rooms, as well as shed and garage conversions, three-season porches, and more, to help you get inspired to find that hidden space in your home.

From Attic to Suite Retreat

Sometimes in the search for more living space there’s no place to look but up. When Alan Koch bought this 1933 cottage in Portland, Oregon, he knew he’d be finishing the 600-square-foot attic sooner rather than later. And since he worked at home, Alan hankered for a light, bright office where he could spread out. By tapping the upstairs, he figured he could carve out just such a space, as well as a comfortable master suite, reserving downstairs bedrooms for guests and TV viewing.

After expanding the attic space by 100 square feet with a gabled dormer, Alan’s airy aerie is now complete, and makes the most of every square inch with smart space-saving details—like the closet pocket door that keeps the passage-way free and clear.

See more of this airy and uplifting space in An Attic Becomes A Suite Retreat Upstairs.

The Cold-to-Comfy Basement

Sometimes the extra room you’ve always wanted is right under your feet. Elizabeth Willett, was looking to fulfill several needs in her family’s 1927 Tudor-style house when she saw untapped potential in its walk-out basement. “It already had a fireplace and a tiny bath, but it had never really been properly finished,” she says. While the ceiling was low, it wasn’t too low, and moisture—that bane of basement remodels—wasn’t a problem.

Soon Elizabeth and her husband, Chris, were picturing the equivalent of an 830-square-foot addition, minus the new footprint, with a whole host of amenities. They created a family retreat and entertainment space at the bottom of the stairs. Guests can hang a left to check out the wine cellar or plop down on a sofa facing the stone fireplace and a TV. Davis even managed to fit in a full bath, a laundry area, a food pantry, and a home-office space. The rustic-looking family room is now a gathering spot for their daughter and her friends.

A Rustic, Wicker-Filled Porch Living Room

With its prime location overlooking the yard, a porch offers the perfect place for serious relaxation in mild-to-warm weather. To emphasize this idea in his own New York home, interior designer Tom Fallon transformed his porch into a full-fledged room. He anchored the furniture—vintage wicker and rattan united by a coat of hunter-green paint—with a natural rug, and hung mirrors and a watercolor from the shingles. Cushions in navy, white, and citrus yellow add color, while trim with a pale celery hue draws attention to the 1875 Carpenter Gothic’s louvered shutters and distinctive arched windows. “The look is classic, even a bit quiet, which contrasts with the house’s exuberant architecture,” Fallon says.

Find everything you need to recreate this look at your house with Create a Rustic, Wicker-Filled Porch.

Smart Homework Station

Four kids-and their backpacks-were cluttering up the kitchen after school. So these homeowners created a secluded and studious atmosphere for schoolwork. The upper cabinets hold school and art supplies, while also hiding basement ductwork.

An Attic Turned Ultimate Kids’ Bedroom Suite

Ask kids and they’ll tell you the ideal place to sleep is in a tree house or on a sailboat, like Max in Where the Wild Things Are. Architect Darren Helgesen incorporated that spirit in this attic redo at a century-old house in East Hampton, New York, where he used warm finishes and smart details to turn the dark, sloped-ceilinged space into a shipshape two-bedroom suite. Homeowners Bill and Cory Laverack had already renovated the rest of the house.

“It was always their favorite place,” says Cory, recalling how the couple’s four kids would hide out upstairs with friends every chance they got. “And now it’s the ultimate sleepover space.” Snug built-ins with below-bed storage, roof windows, pine flooring, and lots of glossy beadboard opened up the attic and made it more functional.

From Outbuilding to Backyard Hangout

The Boughtons in Brooklyn, Mississippi, inherited a sad, lonely shed when they moved into their home. But while planning the side garden, they saw that this little 12-by-12-foot outbuilding had potential as a focal point. They added a porch with a reverse gable roof, then they installed salvaged cottage windows and topped it off with a split cedar shake roof. Now, everyone wants to spend the night in their little backyard gem!

From Blah Basement to Magical Movie Theater

When Cathy and Bob Cerone decided to expand their 1912 Wilmette, Illinois, home with an addition to ¬accommodate visits from their four adult children, their ¬design-build team saw potential in the damp basement. By building it out and finishing it, they could gain space for a media and game room big enough for family get-togethers.

Builders dug a foundation and basement for the addition, then took down part of the wall between the old and new below-grade spaces. The new basement level added 915 square feet of living area and solved the moisture problem with perimeter drains and sump pumps. The space holds a projection screen TV and pool table under a 9-foot ceiling. “When those ¬Chicago Bears are on—holy cow—the whole family’s here,” Cathy says.

Smart Solution for a Small-Space Home

A small house remodel can be as exacting as a jigsaw puzzle. That’s what Matthew and Darci Haney found while renovating the three-room upstairs space in their Carlton, Oregon, cottage. They installed new windows that actually meet the fire code. Built-in furniture, cabinets, and open shelves—together with a new bath—make use of every bit of available space.

From Garage to Comfy Rec Room

It’s a familiar phenomenon: The remodel plan you begin with isn’t exactly the one you end up with. For one Southern California family, a garage renovation evolved from a casual playroom for their two young kids to a well-appointed media room geared just as much to grown-ups. “When we started, we wanted a place for the kids to play their Wii Sports, which takes a lot of room,” says the homeowner, and the seldom-used outbuilding near the pool offered a solution.

Overhead doors were replaced with carriage-style units and a wall was built—both easily removable to allow for two cars should the family want to return the room to a garage someday. They put in a ceiling, finished the walls with insulation and wallboard, built an insulated subfloor, and added custom built-ins, a beverage fridge, and wiring for media equipment.

Bug-Free Backyard Solitude

Over the winter months, Karl Jungbluth in Boone, Iowa, designed this 12-by-6-foot screened-in room to use standard lengths of lumber with very little waste. The flooring inside is standard lengths of low-maintenance composite decking. “Since we planned to stain it green and barn red, I used pressure-treated lumber, along with a metal roof and composite decking,” Carl says.

Adding on Above the Garage

“We love our house’s location, but it was tight on space,” says Geoff Allen of the 1925 seaside Cape Cod in Barrington, Rhode Island, that he shares with wife Michelle Forcier and their young daughter. Though the 1,600-square-foot, two-bedroom house, the site of the latest TOH TV project, was built as a seasonal residence, the family plans to live there year-round. Topping the couple’s wish list was an extra bedroom and bath upstairs. Given the house’s small lot and strict local zoning laws, Brewster sketched an addition in the only spot it could go: above the attached, unheated garage.

From Attic to Bedroom, with Help from the Web

The small 1950s ranch suited its new owners, except for one thing. They wanted a master suite. But how to get it when the first floor was jammed with the kitchen, living and dining rooms, the home’s sole bathroom, and two tiny bedrooms, one soon to be a nursery? Adding on wasn’t an option. So Claudia and Felipe Menanteau from Piscataway, New Jersey, looked up-to the attic.

A half-wall now encloses the staircase to open up the space and allow sunshine from the new skylights to flood the room. Built-ins keep the space clean and functional. Skylights lend the illusion of height when raising the roof wasn’t an option.

From Unused Space to a Home Office Full of Smart Storage

Married neuroscientists Vivek Unni and Tamily Weissman-Unni, owners of an 1870s house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, started out with a new baby and a simple goal. “We needed a first-floor bathroom with a changing table,” says Tamily. But they were also saddled with a dark front entry next to a front room that served as an ad hoc mudroom, and a “treacherous” narrow staircase. So they asked their general contractor to rethink the entire space. Now, a desk niche makes use of a corner with natural light, augmented by recessed ceiling fixtures. Fold-back window shutters, pale flooring, and clear sight lines make the light-filled room feel much larger than it is.

A Charming Outdoor Living Room

Garden walls really help a patio or deck feel like a room, whether they’re made out of greenery, stone, or, more unexpectedly, the old church windows used here. Hung from rails set atop corner posts, they enclose a 16-by-16-foot deck, giving it the elegant air of a glass-lined conservatory. Homeowner Susanne Hudson, a garden designer, snagged the five 11-foot-tall finds for $90 each at a flea market years ago and recently put them to use to define her Douglasville, Georgia, deck like enormous white pickets on a fence.

For the furnishings, painted metal porch gliders and spring chairs from the 1940s had the laid-back look Hudson wanted; the iron candle stand and armillary sundial achieved the right rusted finish in short order. “Green, brown, and white, the natural colors of patina in a garden, are a built-in color scheme,” she says. “Blue hydrangeas and rose pillows brighten it up.”

From Raw Basement to Family Room

In the quest for extra square footage, a dry, unfinished basement is a holy grail. For the cost of some finish work and mechanicals upgrades, you can get a whole new room, sometimes two or three.

For years Karen Berkemeyer used her below-grade space as a laundry room. But the desire for what her home lacked–an informal space for family lounging and TV viewing–caused her to take a second look. “We never had one space where we could all gather and watch a movie,” says Berkemeyer.

So the basement was transformed into just that, and during the process upgrades were made to the laundry room and storage closet, and a full bath was added, allowing the space to double as a guest suite.

A Bright Attic Suite On a Budget

In a small house, every bit of space needs to work hard, as homeowners Samantha and Bryan Langdeau soon realized after buying their 1,200-square-foot Cape in Waterbury, Connecticut. Wanting to reserve the two bedrooms on the first floor for guests, they set their sights on the second-floor finished attic for their master suite.

Working nights and weekends for about two months while sleeping in a guest bedroom downstairs, the couple gutted much of the space, tore out closet walls, and added insulation throughout.

An Unfinished Basement Gets a Masculine Makeover

Even the most die-hard family guy needs some alone time. Take Kirker Butler: The Los Angeles-based writer longed for a quiet retreat where he could craft his TV scripts while still being close to his wife and young daughter. “I wanted some bells and whistles, too,” admits Kirker, who hoped a big flat-screen TV, a leather recliner, and shelves for his sports memorabilia and collectibles would make the room just as much man cave as office.

Lofty Attic Office Redo

When the lease on Beth Krauklis’s office expired last year (she runs her own branding agency in Orlando, Florida), she cast an eye up to the attic apartment in her Queen Anne house. At 700 square feet, it could be a seven-person ¬office, she figured, but “I wanted it to feel open, like a loft, with lots of light,” says Beth. Her husband, John, who was already planning to replace the roof and siding, took up the challenge.

John gutted the apartment, cut holes for three new windows, stripped the plaster off the walls, and finished the ¬exposed lath inside with a dark stain and polyurethane. He ¬refinished the heart-pine floors and gave the exposed rafters five coats of white paint. Then, to complete the loft look, John hung an AC duct nearly the length of the attic, track lighting, and a vintage wooden airplane propeller.