Reclaim Wasted Space: Dining Rooms, Garages, Attics and Closets

Explore the evolution of floor plans from previous decades and gather inspiration for designing a space that fits your lifestyle.
Garage Converted Into Midcentury Modern Living Space

Garage Converted Into Midcentury Modern Living Space

This garage was converted into a work and entertaining space. Design by Susan Jay; photography by Tom Bonner

Photo by: Tom Bonner; Design By: Susan Jay

Tom Bonner; Design By: Susan Jay

This garage was converted into a work and entertaining space. Design by Susan Jay; photography by Tom Bonner

By: Susan Kleinman

Just like hemlines, home layouts are influenced by the tenor of the times, and subject to the whim of fashion. Whether you're thinking of repurposing one room for another use or knocking down walls to bring your outdated floor plan up to date, the trend today is to reclaim unused space so that your home is truly a reflection of what you value and how you live. Looking for ideas? Here are some outstanding projects that have turned yesterday's homes into today's havens.

Reclaim Wasted Space

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Leave Your Dining Room in the Past

When was the last time you dined in your dining room? In 1978, 16 percent of meals were eaten away from home. Today, almost one-third of all meals are eaten in restaurants. Many meals that are eaten at home are eaten on the run between work, school and sports, so it's no wonder many dining rooms sit unused for months at a time. If your dining room is dusty from lack of use, consider turning the space over to another purpose: reading, crafting or telecommuting. In many cases, you won't have to do any major renovations. Just bring in the furniture you need to be comfortable at work or at leisure, and replace or supplement the central chandelier with good task lighting.

"I find that clients are becoming more open to the notion that they can break away from traditional room uses in their homes, and make them work for the way they actually live," says designer Timothy Corrigan. "We have turned living rooms into wine cellars and dining rooms into libraries. The result is that every room in the house is actually being lived in."

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Designer Timothy Corrigan turned this space, formerly an under-utilized dining room, into a library. The central table can be used for dining as well, on the rare occasions that the homeowners wish to do so.

Photo by: Lee Manning

Lee Manning

Designer Timothy Corrigan turned this space, formerly an under-utilized dining room, into a library. The central table can be used for dining as well, on the rare occasions that the homeowners wish to do so.

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Before renovation, this garage was over 500 square feet of junk storage. Bill Fry Construction cut it down to create a 20x20-foot guest suite with its own kitchenette and bathroom and used the remaining space outdoors to install a pool.

Before renovation, this garage was over 500 square feet of junk storage. Bill Fry Construction cut it down to create a 20x20-foot guest suite with its own kitchenette and bathroom and used the remaining space outdoors to install a pool.

Think Outside the Two-Car Garage

In the 1950s many homeowners added garages to homes that pre-dated widespread automobile ownership. With the McMansion boom of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, three- and four-car garages became increasingly popular. But for every family that wants to give their cars shelter from the storm, there's another household just as happy to leave their cars in the driveway and use the garage for additional living or working space.

Before-and-After Garage Remodels

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Before: Packed With Clutter

This garage was like many others: raw, cluttered and underutilized. When the city denied an application to expand the main residence for an office and additional living space, designer Susan Jay suggested converting the garage.

After: Midcentury Style

In addition to a work and entertaining space, a stationary metal-and-glass garage door was installed to allow maximum natural light. Other features Jay included are radiant heat between the new concrete floor and commercial carpet, a wall air conditioning unit, a new sliding entrance to the rear, a large picture window, midcentury lighting, and custom cabinetry for storage and media equipment.

Photo By: Tom Bonner; Design By: Susan Jay

Before: Bare and Boring

Minivans do just fine outside in the rain. Minivan passengers? Not quite as well.

After: Playroom for Kids

Designer Lucie Ayres of 22 Interiors converted this garage into a playroom that can be used in any weather — and by kids of any age. The desk along the wall is perfect for arts and crafts, homework — or a parent who wants to keep an eye on what's going on while catching up on emails.

Photo By: Jade Chang; Design By: Lucie Ayres of 22 Interiors

Before: An Unwanted Eyesore

Designer Deborah Gliksman knew she needed an extra bedroom to accommodate her teenagers, but adding a second floor was too expensive. Meanwhile, says Gliksman, "the garage was unused, basically a repository for unwanted stuff and seemed the most cost-effective and practical solution."

After: A Functional Studio

Gliksman designed a full, freestanding studio apartment with a kitchen and bathroom, sleeping alcove and living space. "All the furniture is dual function to eke out the maximum efficiency possible," she says. "The kitchen table functions as an island and work desk."

Photo By: Deborah Gliksman

After: Everything in One Space

"And the dresser serves as a nightstand, while the divider serves as a TV console," Gliksman notes. There is plenty of storage in this pint-sized studio. Besides the ample clothes closet, there is an entire wall of storage behind the couch and a wall of kitchen cabinets. "We are part of the trend of home compounds," she says. "Above the studio is a wonderful, large office space and exercise room with a vaulted roof. We really have everything we need on the one property under two roofs."

Photo By: Deborah Gliksman

Before: A Blank Slate

Like many old garages, this one was lined in unfinished wood with exposed electric wiring.

After: Sunny Studio

Designer Beth Dana converted the space to a bright, finished-looking studio. When the original 1920s doors are open, the studio becomes a tropical oasis, with avocado and orange trees, bamboo and a trellis overflowing with bountiful climbing roses.

Photo By: Kimberly Gehr; Design By: Beth Dana

After: Petite Kitchen

A small kitchen makes the space convenient for guests or an all-day “staycation.”

Photo By: Kimberly Gehr; Design By: Beth Dana

Before: Ho-Hum Design

Once part of a standard suburban garage, this space got a new lease on life as part of a large-scale home renovation by John G. Guillory, CAPS, CGA, AIBD, of Custom Home Designs, LLC.

After: Handsome Family Room

The space was completely transformed, and now includes a comfortable family room.

Photo By: Melissa Oivanki; Design By: Custom Home Designs, LLC

Before: Chaotic Corner

An adjacent storage area was cleared of its clutter and overhauled, as well.

After: Neat Home Office Nook

Now, the former catch-all is a stylish and efficient home office.

Photo By: Melissa Oivanki; Design By: Custom Home Designs, LLC

Before: Neglected Commercial Space

Located in Staunton, Virginia’s historic district, this commercial garage had been unused for years.

After: Chic Apartment

Frazier Associates converted the duplex garage space into a chic apartment with a storefront-type entrance that blends into this hopping stretch of a main street.

Photo By: Mark Miller; Design By: Frazier Associates

Before: Grimy Brick

The original structure was lined with unfinished brick, grown sooty from the passage of time — and cars.

After: Stylish Accent Wall

Cleaned and brightened, the old garage brick is now a focal point of the apartment.

Photo By: Mark Miller; Design By: Frazier Associates

After: Bright Bedroom

Upstairs, a skylight makes the new bedroom sunny and cheerful despite the lack of windows in the walls.

Photo By: Mark Miller; Design By: Frazier Associates

Before: Planning the Remodel

A crew from HGTV captured the early stages of this garage renovation by Kerrie Kelly Design Lab.

After: Added Living Space

The completed project — always ready for its close up — looks as great from the exterior as it does within.

Photo By: Kerrie Kelly Design Lab

After: Lively Lounge

The garage’s vaulted ceiling gives the new lounge a spacious, lofty feeling. Keeping the ceiling and walls all white adds brightness — and serves as a great backdrop for colorful furnishings.

Before: Wasted Space

Small and rundown, Erin Bucy’s garage was both an eyesore and a waste of valuable space.

After: Funky Gathering Spot

With some light reconstruction and bold paint choices, Bucy’s firm, Holland Remodeling & Building, converted the garage to a tiki bar — a fun, funky “destination spot” on their property. For a different spin on the same idea, you could create a cigar bar or your own private espresso station.

Photo By: Erin Bucy, Holland Design & Remodeling

Attack Unused Attic Space

Draw a picture of a house. Does the home you drew have a slanted roof? No surprise: Almost all styles of private homes in the United States and Canada have angled roofs, because the slope helps rain and snow roll off, so that the roof doesn't cave in from their weight. And in the triangle under the roof? Empty space, called the "attic," that was typically neglected, often inaccessible, and likely crammed full of boxes of memorabilia and outgrown clothes homeowners couldn't bear to part with.

These days, with space at a premium and homeowners looking to think outside the box — or the triangle, as the case may be — contractors are helping their clients reclaim and convert the attic into useable space like a guest room, office or home gym.

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Susan and Guy Chancey remodeled their unused attic space to accomodate Susan's father. The result was a cozy living room, bedroom and bathroom. Photography by Chris Edward

Susan and Guy Chancey remodeled their unused attic space to accomodate Susan's father. The result was a cozy living room, bedroom and bathroom. Photography by Chris Edward

Before-and-After Attic Remodels

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Before: Catchall for Clutter

For years, this homeowner and single dad used the attic of this 1946 cottage as a space to store hand-me-downs.

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After: Multipurpose and Playful

Designer Brian Patrick Flynn transformed the open space into a girl's bedroom, made up of three different zones: a sleeping space, an area to store books and toys, and a place for reading and clothing storage along the back wall.  

Before: Wasted Space

Like many attics, this one sat unappreciated and underutilized.  

After: Office and Sleeping Quarters

Designer Philippe Beauparlant converted the space into an office, an increasingly popular feature in homes today. Photography by John Heineman  

Photo By: John Heineman

Plus, a Cozy Nook

The space Beauparlant designed also functions as a guest room, using the niche near the window to house a comfortable bed. With families spread across the country and people making friends from far-flung places when they travel, guest space has risen on the "must-have" list of many homeowners. Photography by John Heineman  

Photo By: Philippe Beauparlant

Before: Heaters Beware

What to do when an attic serves no function but to house the water heaters?  

After: Personal Gym

For a client who wanted to reclaim the space for a home gym, designer Bruce Graf of Graf Developments switched to a tankless heater, increased the flooring space, and installed a well-equipped workout space that makes the most of the home’s upper reaches. Photography by Ken Vaughan  

Before: Bare Space

In its existing state, the attic was a blank canvas with light-toned laminate floors, white walls and bare windows.  

After: Earthy Bedroom Retreat

Interior designer Alexandra Hernandez transformed this empty 24x10 space into a serene studio apartment. She updated the previously black fireplace with copper spray paint and added a 1970s hand-me-down sectional. "Altogether, I think I spent about $250 on the area," Hernandez says. "It looks deceptively high-end."  

Burlap Design Details

To add architectural interest and texture, Hernandez created a wall-mounted headboard made by wrapping plywood with inexpensive batting and burlap, stapling it, then attaching it to the wall with a nail gun.  

Before: An Eyesore

This attic, above the garage, was in disarray before Bruce Graf of Graf Developments took on the project.  

After: Entertainment Lounge Area

Graf designed a home theater where everyone can be seated and ceiling height is less of an issue than rooms used for standup entertaining. Photography by Ken Vaughan  

On the Way Up

To create easy access to the upstairs space, Graf created a large, circular staircase, and turned the resulting behind-the-stairs nook into a wine cellar. Photography by Ken Vaughan  

Rescue Wasted Kitchen Space

In the 1930s, houses were built with tiny kitchens, to be used solely by the cook and never entered by guests. Today homeowners value the more, the merrier in the kitchen, with spaces designed to accommodate a dozen family members and visitors, all talking, laughing and sharing in the work.

For several years now, the trend in old-home kitchen conversions has been to incorporate adjoining rooms, like a maid's room or butler's pantry, into a large eat-in kitchen big enough for everyone to enjoy.

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This was originally a small kitchen, connected by a back hallway to the porte-cochere, rear staircase, pantry and maid's room. Designer Timothy Corrigan opened up the space to make this one large kitchen and living area to cook, dine and relax.

Photo by: Lee Manning

Lee Manning

This was originally a small kitchen, connected by a back hallway to the porte-cochere, rear staircase, pantry and maid's room. Designer Timothy Corrigan opened up the space to make this one large kitchen and living area to cook, dine and relax.

Kitchen Layouts: Before and After

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Before: Cramped and Dated

The hodgepodge layout and constricted flow of this before kitchen was pretty typical of mid- to late-20th-century houses, and the kitchen was cut off from the family room.  

After: Free-Flowing

Designer Ellinor Ellefson of Elle Interiors drew up plans for a completely new kitchen layout, which is now open and flows directly into the family room, making the space perfect for the way so many of us entertain today. Photography by Trish van Housen  

Before: Closed Off

The main goal for homeowners was to make this kitchen feel open. The original kitchen was walled off from the rest of the living space, which deterred them from enjoying the pretty outdoor views from the living room.  

After: Taking Down Walls

To open up the space the homeowners removed two walls as well as pocket doors, which separated the kitchen from the living space.

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Floor Plan Fix

Shuffling the cabinets to a different layout allowed for more storage and created additional floor space.  

Before: Tight Quarters

Tired of their outdated and cramped kitchen, the homeowners wanted to open up the space in order to have a kitchen where the kids can do their homework and they can all share family meals and entertain.  

After: Transitional, Family-Friendly Kitchen

A row of cabinets is removed to open up the kitchen to the living room, creating a large, family-friendly space. The hardwood floors are stained a deep brown, and the walls are painted a buttery yellow.  

Before: Inefficient Floor Plan

When the homeowners bought their ranch house, they recognized the house's urgent need for a renovation to suit their lifestyle. The original kitchen and dining areas suffered from a chopped-up floor plan, which, although large, still managed to be inefficient.  

After: Open and Bright

Opening walls at both ends of the kitchen brightened the entire space. It also allowed convenient access to utility areas that had previously been closed off.

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Photo By: Jean Allsopp

Before: Stuck in the Past

The owners sought to update the house to a more modern state while preserving memories of its original character.  

After: Ideal for Gathering

Gardner Mohr Architects LLC expanded and joined the first-floor spaces so that dining and gathering can occur "anywhere and everywhere." The kitchen became the nexus of all activity, joining the living and dining spaces on the first floor to the study/loggia and entry hall on the half-level below. The new living space is tall and spacious with terrace doors, windows, skylights and a light shelf on the south wall. Photography by Jim Tetro  

Photo By: Jim Tetro

Find a Purpose for Awkward Spaces

Many homes have spaces that could be put to better use. And with a little imagination and a willingness to think outside the floor plan, you can convert every spare inch of space into usable space for the way you want to live.

"Many of our clients don't want bigger homes, they want better homes," says architect Amy Gardner. "They want better use of the spaces in their homes, better connections between the spaces and more flexible uses."

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This clever reading nook was reclaimed from a closet using custom millwork for book storage and trim. The homeowner asked designer Susan Jay to create a book nook where she can snuggle and read to her grandchildren.

This clever reading nook was reclaimed from a closet using custom millwork for book storage and trim. The homeowner asked designer Susan Jay to create a book nook where she can snuggle and read to her grandchildren.

Next Up

Family Tackles a Historic Fixer-Upper

Homeowners work together to remodel a century-old home with bold colors and additional space.

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