HACKENSACK, N.J. — When it comes to renovation projects, contractors say homeowners often don’t (pardon the pun) 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 non-load-bearing walls, and Graniere says most walls in your home are non-load 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 says.
The contractor Dominic Mangiarelli recalls the case about four years ago 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 Livingston, N.J.
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 says. 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 came up with a novel idea: He used one panel of a bi-fold 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 says with a laugh.
Since then, Mangiarelli has done the hidden-closet trick at least two more times. About three months ago with a client in Rockaway Township, N.J., he found a tiny space between the bathroom and a hallway landing that was just right for a linen closet that could be accessed from the hallway.
“These happy surprises happen all the time,” Mangiarelli says. “You never know what you’re going to find until you start tearing things out.”
Newer homes are much more likely to have hidden spaces, Mangiarelli says. 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 with a Livingston woman on a bathroom renovation.
She 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.
“She wasn’t using the space in the closet, and it really helped the bathroom,” he says He kept the tub, added the stall shower and made the client happy.
“There are always ways to find space,” he says.
Shelia Manigault could read between the lines of her house. During a large renovation project on her Washington Township, N.J., home, she knew her family no longer needed the walk-in hallway closet upstairs.
Instead, Manigault and her contractor, Glen Lumia, owner of Creative Design Construction and Remodeling, decided to turn the space into a computer/homework nook for her kids. One of the closet’s walls abuts the staircase. They decided to cut a window-size hole in that wall to make the space more airy.
“I wanted them to have a little corner to go study and sit on the computer and still not be in their bedrooms,” she says. “I can go up the stairs and see them; it’s like a cozy corner.”
Manigault had advice for other homeowners who are considering renovation jobs.
“I made a list of my needs first instead of looking at the space first,” she says. “Once I figured out what I needed, then I could figure out where to put it.”