Design Solutions: Suite View

Archia Homes transforms a dormant attic space into one of the most-utilized areas within a New England historic house.

authors Kyle Clapham | June 16, 2021

Intent on converting their third-floor, rough attic space into a master bedroom suite, homeowners in Milton, Massachusetts, perused Houzz for the appropriate design-build company. They sought to work collaboratively toward a specific budget as opposed to hiring an architect and sourcing a contractor. After reviewing portfolios, they reached out to Archia Homes to discuss their project.

“It’s an antique home in Milton, and their two kids were starting to need more space,” says Heidi Petrowicz of Archia Homes, based in Duxbury, Massachusetts. “They’ve got their bedrooms, but they wanted to have a playroom. They were getting a little bit older where they didn’t need to be right next door to their parents all of the time, and mom and dad wanted a nice master suite too.”

The dusty yet intriguing attic space allowed for full head-height in the middle of each room, but its slanted ceilings quickly presented an issue near the perimeter. Expanding the area required various small additions where feasible, reframing walls and widening hallways to create an open, airy feel while erasing any suggestion the space had ever been an attic in the first place.

Greater Possibilities

After sitting down with the clients, Archia Homes designed the project to their budget, which reflected a pragmatic approach. They wanted privacy in their space and additional storage in the bathroom, so that they did not have to share it with their two children. Once designer Peter Stames began showing them greater possibilities, however, they bought into a much larger scope.

“Even if something doesn’t fit into the budget necessarily, we always like to show our clients in the CAD program what is possible in that space,” Petrowicz explains. “We find quite frequently that once you show them what is possible, clients will find the money if it’s something that they really want. The clients who typically engage us are people who come to us because they admire the design work that we’ve done previously, and that’s what they ideally want to accomplish too.”

Stames used Chief Architect to demonstrate how cathedral dormer ceilings would look versus a standard flat ceiling, for example. He also increased the size of glass with large picture windows as well as transom windows to permit more natural lighting. A built-in window seat, moreover, could provide a cozy spot to comfortably enjoy views of Boston from the renovated master suite.

“Without running out a huge design-build, he can show them renderings of what their space is going to look like if they vault that ceiling or add that window up in the gable,” Petrowicz says. “He can even show them at certain times of the day, how the light is going to play through the glass. It’s a really great tool to be able to show a client—in three dimensions—what is possible.”

Petrowicz and Stames evaluate the relationship with prospective clients based on chemistry and rapport to ensure the process unfolds smoothly. Between design and construction, the company must occupy a significant portion of their lives and can be inside their homes for the better part of a year. Without trust, working through situations can become uncomfortable for both parties.

“You have to have that chemistry; you have to have rapport, and you have to have trust. If you don’t have that chemistry upfront, by the time you get to the end of a project, there are just so many inherent frustrations in building,” Petrowicz explains. “Especially in remodeling, where it’s not as straightforward as new construction, and you can come across things that are unforeseen.”

Realistic Expectations

When removing the vinyl siding to reframe the third floor, for instance, the company discovered asbestos beneath a layer of insulation. “Obviously, once you [expose] the asbestos, you have to bring in the specialists, and you have to remediate,” Petrowicz says. “But that turned out to be a positive because rather than just tying the third floor into the existing exterior of the house, they decided that we would just change order and strip the entire house, get rid of all of the asbestos and re-side the entire house. So, they also got a complete exterior facelift on the house as well.”

“We took it from being a vinyl-sided structure back to its original Victorian look, but with a few exceptions such as a metal roof,” Stames adds. The biggest challenge, however, proved to be the town of Milton and its cumbersome permitting process. Whereas the company typically receives a permit within two weeks to a month after completing the design, this project took nearly a year.

“Any time you have to go through a zoning board of appeals or conservation, and these historic departments, that always adds extra meetings and extra signatures,” Petrowicz notes. “And these towns, they only have a meeting usually once a month. So, if you don’t get everything submitted by then, it can be protracted based on things like that. But a year, that was a really long process.”

Although the company typically handles the permitting process, the clients in this case elected to fill out and submit the applications themselves. “Once we identified that they were going to go through this process with the town, we answered whatever questions they had and provided the documentation they needed, and we continued to work through the design process with them,” Petrowicz says. “And so, once the permit was ready, we were ready to hit the ground running.”

Fortunately, the homeowners were engaged in the design and building process from the start and always furnished their decisions on time. They also remained very realistic in their expectations, Petrowicz adds. “We let them know that we’re going to essentially be building a house on top of their house, and there are going to be periods of time where parts of the house don’t have a roof on it. And even though there are going to be ZipWalls, dust is going to find its way through. If you manage those expectations upfront, it really helps to avoid a lot of frustrations throughout.”

Functional Space

The clients, in fact, were very involved with choosing the colors and finishes while the company made suggestions. “Typically, Peter and I are involved to a much greater degree in determining what the finishes are going to be in our projects,” Petrowicz explains. “But it was a collaborative project. As I was bringing tile samples to them and color swatches, we would start to vibe over these things, and they really did have fantastic input. That’s not how I expected it to be initially.

“It really turned into a beautiful space,” Petrowicz adds. “They had a lot of details with wallpaper, light fixtures and plumbing fixtures. But there were some challenges in dealing with the existing conditions in the architecture. There was no interior wall to put shower plumbing, so we ended up building this sort of marble tower that frames into the shower. And we were able to insulate the plumbing off the exterior wall, which made it a really beautiful feature of the new shower.”

Shiplap accent walls, brass lighting fixtures and fun wallpaper represent just a few of the interior features that allow the project stand out. The renovated exterior displays a charcoal gray standing seam metal roof against new asphalt roofing, with James Hardie siding and a third-level balcony from the master bedroom. The company made sure to turn as much of the area into usable space.

“It was taking what was not usable space and making it into usable space. And then even in some of the eave’s type of areas, where it was never going to be usable space,” Petrowicz says. “In the master bedroom, we put in a dresser that is built into the eave’s space. So, we were able to make otherwise nonfunctional space into functional space.” Archia Homes is currently in discussions with the homeowners for a second round of renovations to their existing first and second floors. QR

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