A remodel can reveal surprising uses for unused spaces

  • By Jennifer V. Hughes The Record (Hackensack N.J.)
  • Wednesday, June 6, 2012 2:51pm
  • Life

When it comes to renovation projects, contractors say homeowners often don’t think outside the box.

Want a closet? You can steal some space from a neighboring room. Want a room? You can repurpose that little-used closet into something more practical. When your contractor takes a peek behind your walls, you might be surprised to find you have usable space you never knew existed.

A savvy contractor can often come up with an innovative solution for home design and construction problems.

“People sort of get tunnel vision,” says Richard Graniere, owner of Wayne, N.J.-based Advantage Contracting. “They work in the existing space instead of working within the outside perimeters of the house. They get blinded by the walls.”

One of the easiest ways to repurpose space is to take down nonload-bearing walls, and Graniere says most walls in your home are nonload bearing. Even a load-bearing wall can be removed, but it requires support beams to be erected in its place.

“You can really open things up,” he said.

Contractor Dominic Mangiarelli recalls a case of a woman who asked him to renovate a bathroom, but also talked about how much she wanted more closet space for her five-bedroom colonial.

In the process of the renovation, Mangiarelli had to take down a wall between the bathroom and the hallway. In the middle, he discovered a cavity between a chimney and the hallway wall.

“It was small, only about 18 inches by 18 inches, but to her it was a gold mine,” he said. Mangiarelli carved out the space for a linen closet in that cavity. A custom door for such a small size would be very expensive, but Mangiarelli used one panel of a bifold door. A little paint and spackle and a carpet remnant completed the job.

“She was just as excited about that closet as she was about the weeks of work I put into the bathroom,” Mangiarelli said.

Since then, Mangiarelli has done the hidden-closet trick at least two more times.

Newer homes are much more likely to have hidden spaces, Mangiarelli said. With older homes, craftsmen made sure to use every possible space wisely.

“They used every nook and cranny they could find,” he says. “It’s sad to say, but in newer homes they often slapped up walls over spaces because it was quicker, rather than to use all the space they had.”

He recalled another “happy surprise,” when he was working on a bathroom renovation. The homeowner wanted to get rid of her bathtub to gain some more space and go with just a shower stall.

Mangiarelli advised against it, knowing it would bump down her eventual resale value.

Instead, he realized that he could swipe some space from an L-shaped closet/changing room that abutted the bathroom. He kept the tub, added the stall shower and made the client happy. In another home, he turned a little-used walk-in closet into a computer/homework nook.

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