Bonus Rooms

Bonus Rooms: Thinking Outside the Box
by Alicia Underlee Nelson

Nearly every home has a space that’s just waiting to be transformed. Whether it’s a spare bedroom, a rarely-used upper or lower level, underutilized space above the garage or even a large closet, storage area or alcove, most homes have square footage that could be used more efficiently. There are dozens of ways to use these bonus rooms. Yet most

homeowners aren’t limited by budget or time constraints, but rather by their own imaginations. To think outside the box, look beyond how the rooms were labeled on the blueprints and dig deeper into how you actually use the space now and how you’d like to use it in the future.

Owners of lake homes often have an edge when it comes to maximizing space and creating bonus rooms that serve more than one purpose, says Kelli Wegscheid, architect and owner of Harmonious Architecture in Perham, Minn. Since lake homes are usually a summer home or a place to enjoy retirement, homeowners aren’t as married to traditional layouts and ways of using the space as couples designing their first home or families with young children that need the routine and predictability that more standard floor plans and room usage can provide.

“The lakes area is a leader in new trends as compared to city homes,” explained Wegscheid. “Rooms in city homes typically have very predominant uses. With lake homes that’s never the case. A changing population and age group uses those spaces, so they are designed to be very flexible from the get-go.”

The number of visitors, the length of time they stay and even the distance they travel can affect bonus room design. A family that hosts guests during the day needs less sleeping and closet space than a family that welcomes overnight guests every weekend, while long-term vacationers and full-time residents need more storage options than homeowners who only use the cabin for short stints. Regardless of the family’s needs, architects like Wegscheid, designers and contractors tailor their suggestions to work for both the primary residents and their guests.

”Typically in lake homes, it may just be two people, but then on the weekends or on the holidays they have two or three of their kids home with their families,” Wegscheid explained. “The space needs to be sufficient on the main level for the primary couple, but it also needs to be able to expand very easily for when their children or grandchildren come to visit.”

Expansion can be found in a variety of spaces in the home. The tips and tricks used to make lake homes more versatile can help use every inch of bonus space in primary residences as well.

An unused bedroom in a lake home or a primary residence is often the first space that owners tap to pull double duty. Swapping a queen size bed in favor of a stylish sleeper sofa, minimalistic futon or a compact, fold-out love seat opens up a room, increases available floor space and allows a comfortable reading nook to convert into a bed when guests arrive. On days when no guests are expected, that bedroom space can serve as a home office, a den or a craft room simply by adding a desk, work table and storage to keep projects organized and out of sight. For a little extra visual impact, go all out and line every wall with floor to ceiling shelves to show off a collection of books, sculpture, souvenirs, glassware or artwork. Guests will feel like they’re lodging in a library or a personalized art museum when they’re in town.

Large, open basement common areas and unused attic spaces are also frequent renovation projects. Indulging in top of the line entertainment centers, pool tables, wet bars, poker tables or even arcade games can take these common spaces from simple TV rooms to full on recreation centers.

Some owners truly transform their living space by enlisting the pros to convert undefined spaces into mini apartments for long-term guests, short-term vacationers and live-in family members, including aging parents or just married or college aged children. These mini apartments usually have a separate bathroom and a wet bar (including a counter, some cupboard space and a sink) or a small kitchenette. “It really makes them self-sufficient in that space, which might be further away from the kitchen,” explained Wegscheid “They’re providing plenty of privacy for their guests that are staying.”

The space over a garage is another popular spot for these mini apartments and for other bonus room opportunities. “That bonus room space above a garage is a really inexpensive space that adds a ton of room,” said Wegscheid. “And it has those great features that give it character, like the sloped ceiling and the dormer windows. It’s not just a big box.”

Since the space above garages is often used only for storage (if at all), it really epitomizes the definition of bonus room. Re-imagining the space as a tricked out TV area, game room or toy room increases the opportunities for indoor recreation. Since the room is located away from the main living space, people can get as rowdy as they like watching sports, playing video games, shooting pool or playing tag without bothering the rest of the family enjoying the quiet inside the main house.

The space above a garage is also a great choice for a home gym, an art studio or workshop. It provides plenty of privacy while minimizing household distractions. As an added bonus, large or bulky items like workshop equipment or large tools won’t clutter the main living space.

Many lake homeowners use the upper level garage space for fun, informal bunkhouses that function as play areas for kids and grandkids by day and sleeping spaces by night. The large space provides plenty of room for single and double beds as well as bunk beds. Since the space is large and open, those beds can be reconfigured to suit whatever group is using the space on any given day.

Don’t have a large space like a spare bedroom, commons area or garage to convert into a bonus room? Work on reconfiguring closets and transforming small, underutilized spaces to suit your needs and desires. The options are endless.

Pop a bench with built-in shelving into even the shallowest alcove to create a reading nook. Add a pretty mirror to transform it into a great spot to slip into shoes or touch up make-up or add a narrow shelf to display meaningful objects or collections – or just stash frequently used items in pretty boxes meant to be seen.

Add a row of hooks and cubbies to a laundry room to create a communal dressing room at a lake home. Smart shelving and storage solutions can transform an unused closet or the space under the stairs into a mini library, a magical toy room turned hide out or a fully stocked wine cellar.

There’s no limit to the possibilities these bonus rooms and unused spaces can hold. Homeowners just have to use their imaginations and think outside the box. ~L&H

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