Well-Balanced Studio Cuts Attic Stress
Yoga instructor Ashley Bothwell transforms a small, dark attic into a colorful, coastal-inspired studio in four weeks and on a budget.
Ashley Bothwell wears many hats. She was a child actress in the 1980s, holds a television production degree, has been working as a self-taught graphic designer for nearly 10 years, and is on her way to becoming a certified yoga instructor with her very own home-based Atlanta studio.
In her 1940s Cape Cod-style bungalow, the 34'1x15'1 top-floor area was an unusable, uninsulated attic covered in dark paneling. "There was absolutely no way I could have used the attic in its existing state to instruct yoga, inner peace and relaxation," says Ashley. "In fact, the space would have encouraged stress and claustrophobia, the opposite of yoga."
Ashley planned to address the following with a $7,500 budget and four week timeline.
- Replace damaged nail-down wood floors with floating ebonized wood
- Lighten the space with white washed pine walls
- Add a skylight
- Create a feeling of serenity with a light and airy paint color
- Designate one space for reading and another for instructing yoga
- Install pendant lights
- Add an air conditioning unit
Like many renovations, this one didn't start well. "On the first day, it was so exciting to see progress happen almost by the minute, then I got a call from my contractor telling me the floor-boards were completely uneven," says Ashley. "I had no idea what that meant, but it turns out that the floating floor I chose must be installed on a level surface, otherwise it would bow and possibly buckle."
To fix the floor, Ashley's contractor had to tear out 50 percent of the existing boards, replace them and add a leveling compound to ensure the entire surface of the attic was even. This set the project back three days and added an additional $850 in labor and materials.
With the uneven floors fixed, the walls were next. Ashley wanted to utilize the walls as an opportunity to add coastal-style architecture with whitewashed wood. At her contractor's recommendation, she used basic 1X6 pine planks installed horizontally, then hired a painter to wash the walls with white stain. This was a much more cost-effective alternative to hiring a professional millwork showroom to create them off-site, then install them pre finished. Altogether the whitewashed walls came to a total of $1,250 and took three days to complete.
"It was like a whitewash marathon up there," says Ashley. "One day I had dark ugly walls, the next day they were covered with beautiful new pine, and the next day I walked upstairs to a big, serene whitewashed surprise. Watching it morph in 72 hours was pretty awesome."
The new studio was also lightened by a pair of galvanized metal pendants. Ashley found them for $300 a pair from a big-box retailer. Not only did this create a much lighter and brighter environment for Ashley and her students, but it also added a bit more coastal flair to her desired aesthetic. "I didn't want my beach-inspired studio to sport giant seashells, lobsters and sailboats," says Ashley. "I wanted the opposite, something understated and really tranquil."
The texture and finish of the pendants mixed with the classic look of the whitewashed walls incorporated the coastal elements. Overall, Ashley enjoys the calm, coastal vibe that instantly invites people to relax. Aside from the pendants, lighting was also improved thanks to a new skylight. The skylight was installed in a single day and cost $1,000 for materials and labor.
With Atlanta summers sometimes soaring past 105 degrees, conditioning the space comfortably for her students year round was important. Ashley found HVAC duct work too expensive for her proposed budget. Instead, she found a modern window unit that sat at the top of the window and looked more like a sleek surround sound speaker than a clunky eyesore. "The window unit is not as loud as the ones I remember seeing when I was little and it kind of disappears," says Ashley. "Most people don't even notice it's there, in a good way."
In the center of the attic sits a staircase. In its original state, it was intrusive, bulky and dark. To make it work, Ashley used the same whitewashed pine as the walls, and then used the sides as open storage for hand towels, purses and messenger bags.
"Yoga spaces need to be minimal and promote concentration," says Ashley. "I couldn't have my students just tossing their belongings in corners because it would be clutter we'd be staring at." By hanging fresh hand towels and personal belongings on the sides of the stairwell, everything stays out of sight from the instruction area.
Storage was important to the attic's redesign since Ashley stocks bottled water, towels and yoga mats which need to be neatly organized. To create custom storage affordably, she sketched an open cubby system with a small refrigerator built into the center, then handed it off to her contractor. This would allow one space to keep everything contained, within arm's reach and cooled. She stuck with basic paint-grade plywood and 1x2 MDF fascia, which was painted white to work consistently with the whitewashed pine walls throughout.
Once all permanently installed design elements were in place, Ashley solidified her floor plan design by designating one side of the attic for instructing up to six students, and the other side as desk space to read up on yoga trends. To keep the reading area neat and clutter-free, she opted for a desk with file cabinets to keep her certifications and student profiles neatly tucked away.
With the project complete, Ashley and her students are getting a lot of use out of the new studio. One thing she would reconsider in her upstairs remodel is the skylight. "While I love the natural light my skylight lets in, I wish I would've thought about how much warmer it makes the studio when the sun is directly overhead," says Ashley. "Sometimes I have to crank the air conditioner to full blast because it gets really hot."
Anytime friends ask Ashley about the experience of living through a top-floor remodel, she responds with the same yoga-centric word she often says to her students: Namaste.