Articles / Renovations

Game of two halves

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A simple box containing six small apartments on a tight, urban site is now double the size and includes four apartments plus a home for the owners

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With a remodeling project, a successful outcome often requires recognizing the value of exploiting a particular feature.

When the house next door to architects Gary Beyerl and Dawn Heid came onto the market, they saw its potential. The structure, built onto one end of a long, narrow site, was a simple, two-level box, divided into six apartments. What made it especially attractive was that it had two street frontages.

Beyerl and Heid decided to keep the existing envelope and add a new, three-level building onto one end of it. Together, the new and old buildings provide sufficient space for four small apartments, to be tenanted, plus a larger apartment for themselves and their family – with room for a studio office area.

"To make space for all these purposes, we came up with a multi-level arrangement, with the garage at the lowest level of our home, half a level lower than the existing first floor," says Beyerl.

"Joining the new and old buildings was a challenge, but we saw it as an opportunity to create a dynamic space extending over various levels. We felt the multi-level solution would be more interesting than a straightforward connection between the new and old sections."

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The resulting three-story house now has four half-levels, plus a third floor running across the whole building at one level – five levels in all. The tenanted apartments are in the original part of the house, and the owners' apartment and garage is mostly in the new section. New stairs through the center of the house divide the two sections.

Between the new and old buildings on ground level is an open air courtyard, which allows light to filter into rooms opening onto it. An indoor garden is half a level above this and half a level below the living area. There is also a roof deck on the third floor.

"Because the house is long, narrow and close to the neighboring buildings, these courtyards and gardens enabled us to introduce natural light into the more internal rooms," the architect says.

Dawn Heid says designing their own apartment posed a number of challenges.

"Although the actual floor area of our apartment is not large, we wanted it to look as spacious and open as possible. To achieve this, the living and dining area and kitchen are in the one space. Being able to see through one area to the next makes it all appear larger."

The 18ft-high ceiling in the living room adds to the sense of space. This void is emphasized by an open catwalk on the third level that provides access to the studio and master bedroom.

Slim steel railings provide a minimal visual barrier. The catwalk itself is made from lightweight steel planks with a powdercoat paint finish.

This creates opportunities for views between the garden on the first level and the top floor, and lets light percolate through the house.

To further emphasize the feeling of openness and height, hinged panels, screening the studio, are generally left open – although they can be closed for privacy.

Many of the windows are disproportionately large, particularly in the main living area and the indoor garden, where one wall is completely glazed. These windows help to ensure natural light and views can be enjoyed throughout the house.

With very few doors in the apartment, the open feeling is further emphasized.

For example, when the sliding panel on the master bedroom is open, it offers a clear view to the living space.

In the master bedroom, new roof trusses create a vaulted, 11.5ft-high ceiling, ensuring this room also feels spacious. With 7ft-high walls on the closet, the line of the ceiling is not interrupted and the bedroom appears more expansive.

First published date: 01 April 2005

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Credit List

Architects and owners Gary Beyerl, Burns + Beyerl Architects, Dawn Heid, Dawn Heid Architects (Chicago)
Interior and kitchen design Owners
Structural engineer Hutter Trankina Engineering
Panel siding Eflex from Eternit
Corrugated metal McElroy Metal
Roof and siding installer Art Twraya
Exterior balcony railing Ipe; painted steel
Roof Modified bitumin from GAF; Asphalt shingles from IKO
Window and door joinery Evco Windows from Siegel's Home and Building Center
Living, dining and kitchen flooring Saima edge grain plywood panels from Oregon Lumber Company
Bedroom flooring Cork from Expanko Cork Flooring
Garden and entry Slate
Metal decking McNichols Metals
Timber loft flooring, shelving Reclaimed Douglas Fir from J Hoffman Lumber Company
Handrail fabrication and installation Randall Kramer Design Studio; Owners
Paint Benjamin Moore
Lighting Tech Lighting; Juno Lighting
Bathroom Kohler cast iron tub
Bathroom vanity Cherry veneer fabricated by Laurel Millworking
Bathroom faucets Jado
Artwork Dawn Heid (except above bed in master bedroom)