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Guests will never want to leave once they experience life in Tim and Carol Thompson's guest apartment above their Chicago-area garage. The roughly 19-x-36-foot space includes a central bath, living room, open kitchen, bedroom, and nook for laundry and storage.
Architect Michael Abraham designed the creative layout. "Mike told me to think of the bath as a big tree growing up through the middle of the roof," Tim says. He created a bath with curved walls and a custom shower near the center of the space. This layout gives the apartment an open and airy feel, even though the space is small and the four rooms are well-defined.
Exterior stairs are both a cost-efficient and space-savvy choice. Anything that pierces the garage ceiling or connects parking and living spaces must be properly sealed to stop exhaust fumes from reaching inhabitants. Interior stairways consume valuable floor space and must be blocked off to be fume-free.
Tip: For year-round access, use thick cedar treads on the stairs that can handle occasional winter salt.
The front door features an oval knob. A welder's torch turned its nickel surface blue-gray.
Stability is key when planning a living space atop a garage. Consult a structural engineer to ensure the upstairs is properly supported. The Thompsons' guest retreat has 2x12s on 12-inch centers as well as steel beams and columns.
A built-in table separates the kitchen from the living areas. Century-old slate tiles, reclaimed from a military complex, create the flooring throughout the loft. The slate is less than an inch thick, but resembles larger chucks of stone because of the deep mortar bed and broad grout lines that showcase the tiles' chipped edges and irregular shapes.
A custom-cut marble countertop creates a narrow hall into the kitchen. Abraham says that the usual rules, such as "halls must be 3 feet wide," don't apply in tight quarters. Breaking the rules allows you to get more use out of the space. The passages between the kitchen and the other areas are only 2 feet wide.
Tip: Add character and save money with DIY features. Each flower-shaped cabinet knob in the kitchen was handmade.
Combining budget-friendly kitchen fixtures, such as stock cabinets and a beaded-board backsplash, with marble countertops and a professional-grade range give the kitchen a high-end look at a moderate price.
Tip: Get a built-in look for less. The refrigerator is an inexpensive model with a faux-steel front tucked in a surround made of salvaged cypress. "We cheated the wall a few inches so the fridge would fit almost flush with the countertops," Tim says.
Tip: Tim, a custom builder, recommends having a plan and careful measurements when working with antiques. Make sure the piece fits in the space before you fall in love with it.
Tip: Make the most of a small space by keeping horizontal lines consistent. When the tops of doors and window, the transom line, and the tops of cabinets line up, everything feels more spacious.
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