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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Attic's bath remodel

Convert an Attic into a Luxury Bath

Seattle, WA
Jul 17 2009 By Kristian Kicinski | 1 comments

General Specs

Location: Seattle, WA


Architect: VELOCIPEDE architects inc
Builder: Jan Henderson and Joyce Hurford, Blue Marlin Construction


  • Added new space above existing footprint – avoided site disturbance

General design and construction

  • Consolidated laundry and bathroom into more accessible space
  • Open plan, including curbless shower
  • Well-designed storage; efficient layout

Building envelope


  • Radiant heat in walls and floor
  • New gas-fired boiler and water heater (Viessman); existing radiators remained at most rooms; PEX tubing in floor and walls of new construction


  • dual-flush toilet (1.6/0.8 gpf)
  • EPA-compliant showerhead and faucets
  • drainwater heat recovery (Gravity Film eXchange)


  • Skylights and window bank supply natural lighting
  • Antique light fixtures


  • Energy- and water-efficient washer/dryer

Interior finishes

  • Ceiling of sustainably harvested cedar
  • Recycled chalkboard-slate floor
  • 100% recycled glass wall tiles
  • Paper/resin composite countertop (Richlite, FSC certified/recycled paper)
  • Plant-based oil/wax wood finish (OS Hardwax)
  • Pacific madrone cabinets (lumber from storm-felled city trees)
  • Low-toxic paints and sealants

Exterior finishes

An attic conversion brings daily tasks closer together without expanding this home's footprint.

Leslie and Heather, the owners of a 100-year-old 1 1⁄2-story house in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district, were tired of hiking downstairs in the middle of the night from their attic bedroom to the first-floor bathroom. To make matters even more inconvenient, the laundry room was still farther below in the basement. Leslie and Heather wanted to simplify their lives and their floor plan by putting all three spaces on one level. Their poorly insulated bedroom needed revamping anyway, so it made sense to add a dormer next to the bedroom, gaining space for a bath, a laundry, and a dressing room.
Design approach: Mix historical, modern, functional, and sustainable
Leslie and Heather wanted the new construction to harmonize with the traditional style of their old house, but they also wanted unmistakably modern features such as a large tub, a curbless shower, and stylish sinks. They also challenged us to make the project environmentally responsible. The resulting design is a mixture of salvaged schoolhouse blackboards, antique light fixtures, and a beadboard ceiling that contrasts with the sleek lines of the plumbing fixtures.
Despite the number of features that are packed into the bathroom, the room still feels open and spacious. Skylights and a row of windows above the bathtub fill the room with daylight, while the sills are high enough to provide privacy.
The washer and dryer are also in the bathroom, so to avoid a utility room feel, I designed a closet with shelves on the doors’ interiors. When the closet doors open, an instant laundry room is created. When they are closed, the machines are out of sight.
Healthy and economical choices for now and the future
A big part of my job on this project was to help Leslie and Heather reconcile their dreams of a luxurious bathroom with their goal to be good world citizens. In our practice, we look for products that are socially responsible, contain recycled material, and use sustainably harvested resources.
All materials, finishes, and adhesives were chosen after carefully considering their effects on indoor air quality. We used wet-blown cellulose insulation instead of fiberglass and and a nontoxic clear finish on bathroom surfaces. “Using environmentally friendly materials is a good health practice for both the homeowner and the installer,” builder Joyce Hurford said later. “For example, the incense-cedar ceilings were finished with OS Hardwax, which means that we didn’t have to breathe in polyurethane or other noxious fumes during application. We learned a lot about the use of nontoxic materials, and we plan to use more of these products in the future.” Even the towel bars are resourceful: They are made from 100% recycled aluminum.
Conservation, reducing energy bills and saving water are key parts of our designs as well. On this job, we used a dual-flush toilet and something called a Gravity Film eX-change (or GFX) device — a copper water supply coil that surrounds a copper drainpipe. As hot water from the shower, washing machine, bathtub, and sinks runs down the drainpipe, the GFX’s water-filled coils capture some of the heat from the draining water and return it to the water heater. Thedevice starts at $450, not including installation, and it can recover 60% of the heat usually lost down the drain.
Green doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg
I often hear (and repeat) the line that you don’t have to break the bank to use environmentally responsible materials. It’s when someone is only interested in the absolute lowest price for something that a green alternative product looks expensive. The prices for this project were reasonable—not high-end, but not cheap, either. The owners purchased all the materials and really helped themselves out by shopping for bargains wherever they could. I think these numbers demonstrate that you can use high-quality, durable materials without depleting ever-scarcer resources, and not pay an arm and a leg.

Lessons Learned

Communication, creative thinking, and compromises pay off
No matter how thorough you are, there's always a good chance of miscommunication. Our specs called for FSC-certified lumber, but the framer purchased ordinary lumber with "Certified" in the lumber grading stamp. We failed to explain what FSC meant—to us it's a common acronym, but to the builder it was an unknown term. We did manage to get FSC-certified cedar beadboard for the finished ceiling.
Working in existing spaces often demands creative solutions. The geometry of the house's existing roof fixed the ridge, and we could only raise the north slope so much. By placing TJI rafters at 32 in. o.c. and bearing directly on wall studs, we eliminated window headers, lowered our eave plate height, and provided enough ceiling height.
The existing subfloor was at the same level throughout the second floor, so we installed a subtle ramp in the passage from bedroom to bathroom to gain the 1 1/2-in. height necessary for the mortar bed that encases the PEX and supports the slate.

Further resources

To see a panoramic view of this bathroom, visit
— Kristian Kicinski is an architect in Seattle, WA (additional information provided by George Ostrow, president, VELOCIPEDE architects inc)
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Image Credits:

  1. Charles Bickford/Fine Homebuilding
  2. VELOCIPEDE architects inc
  3. Paul Perreault

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