An Attic Remodel Adds Livable Space

When Susan Chancey's father moved in, the need for more space turned into a 1,100 square-foot, nature-inspired attic renovation.


Susan, Ella and Guy load up on the couch with dogs Rusty, Clyde and Jelly Bean.

Susan, Ella and Guy load up on the couch with dogs Rusty, Clyde and Jelly Bean.

By: Jane Dagmi

Susan and Guy Chancey's attic renovation was inspired by love – love between a husband and wife, between a father and daughter, and love for a house. It began in 2009, when, after her mother's death, Susan invited her dad to live with her in Asheville, N.C. In order to accommodate Dr. Brannon and his faithful pup Heidi, Susan and Guy would need to create more living space. The choice was either to move out or to renovate the attic. They chose the latter and eventually moved up when dad moved in.

Empty Attic Remodeled Into Two Bedrooms, Bathroom + Living Area

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Attacking the Attic

After inviting Susan Chancey's father to move in with them, she and her husband Guy knew they would need to add space in order to accomodate the three adults, as well as Guys' daughter Ella and the family's three dogs.

Meet the Chanceys

At the end of a day, the Chanceys load up on the couch with dogs Rusty, Clyde and Jelly Bean. The tight-weave chenille sofa holds up to the clan.


An architect friend drew up initial plans for the renovation. It wasn't until the contractor and crew really got into the space and experienced it, however, that details of the job really took shape. Drawings were altered several times over.

Paint Samples

The relationship of colors was integral to the flow and feel of the upstairs. With nature as her inspiration, Susan studied several paint chips before choosing the final seven.

Bath Before

Prior to the sheetrock, a thick layer of Icynene spray foam went in to increase the energy efficiency of the home. Icynene is an environmentally-friendly insulator.

The Outside

The only attic windows that existed pre-remodel were the two fixed dormers in front. All of the new windows that Susan specified were double hung, energy efficient and easy to clean.

Staircase to Heaven

The staircase was the last architectural feature built. The three-step winder design, with a landing substituted for winders, took the least amount of space away from the living room. In accordance with code, tempered glass was installed in the window by the stairs.

A Treehouse Vibe

"We have such a different view from up here in the trees," says Susan of her peaceful roost, dotted with natural-themed decorations such as a papier-mâché bird on the desk, a bark-framed mirror and a large snake print canvas. Susan flipped over the rich colorations in the giclée print and then, nearly flipped too as she hung it, balanced on the banister with Guy holding on. Despite the odds, she got it level.

Penchant for Pendants

Susan has a thing for lighting, especially if it has industrial or old school-house styling. Most of the lamps in the attic are purposely made to look vintage or have been recently designed with authentically old parts. The simple cone pendant, reminiscent of early American tin pendants, is lined with mirror.

Working Girl

For someone who once conducted business from her living room couch, Susan delights in her 300-square-foot open office, furnished with family cast-offs that include her father's cherry desk and leather swivel chair. "I can still hear him squeaking in it," she says. The sculptural wire chairs can be pulled into the nearby nook as needed.


Hearty textiles, such as sea grass and hemp, mean low maintenance and few worries underfoot. Susan says, "for me, a durable world is important given three generations and three dogs live here."

Color & Texture

The combination of soothing colors and yummy textures warms the lofty space. Wheat, earth, sky and the pale underside of a leaf — these are some of nature's beauties reflected in the chosen organic palette. Shaggy blankets, wispy pillows and smooth wood are pleasing to the touch.

Lots of Light

"I wanted the biggest windows that would fit comfortably in the space. I didn't want that creepy attic dark deal," said Susan. The double skylight does the job, casting light through the space all day long. Susan doesn't really need to turn lamps on until evening.

Bathroom Blitz

Configuring the bath was quite the challenge, but Susan's requirements for function and beauty were eventually satisfied. In addition to being roomy and airy, the symmetry is a pleasing design element.

Memorial Transom

During construction, the Chanceys observed the movement of sunlight inside the space. In the latter afternoon, it flooded the bathroom wall. To take advantage of this natural infusion, Susan designed a transom that would carry light into the bath and also honor her mother, whose birthday was October 2nd.

Basic Luxury

For pattern and texture, Susan mixed simple, classic materials such as white subway tile, hexagonal tile, beaded board and natural linen. A neutral palette of white, cream and gray is energized with pops of green from plants and toiletries.

Elusive Bit

The angled wall mount for the shower rod proved to be the hardest-to-find item. But eventually, Susan located one in an obscure online hardware catalogue; it cost her roughly $200.

The Laundry Nook

Susan and Guy did not want to forfeit usable habitable space over to utilities, so tucking the washer and dryer in the bathroom niche was a spatial coup. Putting the appliances here also made more sense for the plumbing.

Master Plan

Throughout the attic, Susan continued the wall color on the ceilings, thereby creating an envelope of continuous color. She was nervous about how this color wrap would fare in the dark, smoky plum bedroom, but when counterbalanced by an abundance of creamy linen, pops of red and a giant glass orb that looks like the moon, it looked quite heavenly.

Treasured Chest

Impressed by the large proportions of this old pine chest, Susan bought it from a local Asheville antique mall pre-renovation, knowing it would come in handy one day. When mapping out the master bedroom, she and Guy designated a place for it from the start and provided an extra foot on either side for bins or baskets. Glass containers keep Susan's color-coded jewelry organized and visible. Meanwhile, Jellybean, recognizing the sound of kitchen treat jars, expects a handout.

Mouthwatering Linen

Western North Carolina weather is fickle, so Susan keeps an assortment of various weighted cotton knit and linen bed coverings close at hand. "Imperfections in linen make my mouth water," says Susan describing her visceral attraction to natural and nubby materials.

Ella's Room

Ella Skye Chancey lives here part time, so the big blue metal letters mark her territory. She is nearly 11, thinks several years older, favors green, and loves her "really cool and different room." With its extreme roof line, ethereal curtains, and misty light, Ella's special space feels magical.

A Place of Her Own

Ella's room is the most modern of the upstairs spaces. Susan felt that the crisp white furniture, bright warm colors and lively patterns would work well into the teen years. Susan consulted with Ella on the decorating and then revealed the finished room to her. "It was like the TV shows," Ella says.

Odd Closet

Ella's closet door was "a happy accident" — one of the many construction details that triumphed out of necessity. She emphasized its funky shape by painting it a fun stand-out green.

Smooth Transitions

To stay within budget, Susan had to find an affordable wood that would coordinate with the old heart pine downstairs. French Bordeaux, a darker and less grainy wood, was the answer. She introduced it on the stair's first floor landing before carrying it throughout upstairs, while the risers and treads echoed the pine.

The Scope of the Attic Renovation

  • Created 1,100 square feet of living space
  • Increased energy efficiency
  • Added a master bedroom with a mountain view
  • Designed a funky bedroom for Ella
  • Created a dedicated office space for Susan
  • Incorporated a cozy TV nook
  • Designed a full bath with views, ventilation and a washer/dryer
  • Added closet space and extra storage behind knee walls
  • Improved privacy for all family members


The newly-renovated attic provides plenty of space for family game nights.

The newly-renovated attic provides plenty of space for family game nights.

"We always thought about fixing the upstairs," said the Chanceys, who had been living comfortably on the two-bedroom, one-bath first floor since moving in 2007. The attic was an unused and disregarded space, visible only through a 12x12 inch hole. Susan poked her head through once; Guy, on the other hand, had actually snaked his way up there to secure the heavy living room light fixture. They heard rumors that the previous owner planned to finish the attic, but after gutting the first floor and building it back, they ran out of money.

In order to rationalize the expense of a renovation, Susan and Guy would have to gain a full-service second floor with two bedrooms (a master and one for Guy's daughter, Ella), a full bath and space that could translate into a den and/or office. Susan envisioned an enclosed tree house of sorts, filled with natural light, eco-friendly materials and comfortable furnishings. As a stylist who works in both the wholesale market and antique world, Susan has an eclectic mix of products at her fingertips. A renovation would offer the perfect canvas to integrate her latest likes.









The Process

The Chanceys lured one architect, several structural engineers and five contractors to their 1913 cedar-shake bungalow for consultations. As Susan and Guy shared their vision, they were met with skepticism and remarks such as, "if you've got enough money, anything is possible." And then, along came Bruce Childress, a general contractor who Guy describes as "open and willing to collaborate." The Chanceys disclosed their all-inclusive ballpark $90,000 budget to Bruce and also warned him that they were both picky, especially Susan. Bruce put in a bid, and the eager couple accepted.

The renovation took less than three months, and the Chanceys lived and Susan worked in the construction zone. From the crawl space to the 109" peaked roof, the first phase was spent fortifying the entire house. The crew erected posts and poured concrete in the unfinished basement. They blew open the attic, and installed double and triple LVL beams. Susan explains, "It was just so hard to know how things were going to work until we got up there."

“The details were the devil,” says Susan, recalling the stress with exasperation. “But at the same time,” she smiles, “there were many happy accidents!” The convergence of beams outside the bathroom was one such “happy accident.” What appeared awkward at first turned into an architecturally dramatic moment around which Susan designed a window in memory of her mother.

As Bruce and crew forged ahead, Susan searched for basic building materials such as flooring, tile, doors and windows. She and Guy agreed to buy locally if the price was feasible. Susan grabbed the final inventory of French Bordeaux flooring from a local supplier, as well as five-panel interior doors that matched the ones downstairs. For classic white subway tile, however, she couldn’t beat the price of the big box stores. Once she ordered these elements, she could move onto her favorite part – the decorating.



To downplay the severity of sloped ceilings, Susan chose to paint all of the ceilings the same color as the walls. The enveloping color feels cozy and warm.

To downplay the severity of sloped ceilings, Susan chose to paint all of the ceilings the same color as the walls. The enveloping color feels cozy and warm.

The Palette

Susan thought about the palette for some time and collected a bunch of paint chips in assorted shades of gray, green, brown and blue. She carried them everywhere and studied them in different light before narrowing her selection down to seven. The palette was inspired by her love of nature – bark, earth and foliage.

To make a connection between the first and second floors, Susan continued the warm gray she used downstairs along the stair wall. She used this color on beams to accentuate the architecture. From here, she doled out the other colors, making sure to satisfy Ella's request for a green room and her own preference for a sultry bedroom color. All trim was a warm off-white.From one vantage point on the sofa, Susan can see into every room and is very happy with the rich relationship of the paint colors.

The Furnishings

She shopped locally and on-line and was able to repurpose a lot of what she already had in the house or in storage. She used sea grass and hemp rugs to delineate between work and play areas. The L-shaped sectional was a find – its low profile and perfect measurements seemed custom made for the family hang out area that Susan coined "the snugglery". The five-minute coffee table was a product of ingenuity paired with a diminishing budget. This make-do coffee table is a recycled hemlock table top on a large wire basket.

Once the furniture was in place, the lighting was installed, and the art was hung. Susan collected a bunch of fixtures that all, except for the modern plastic globe in Ella's room, had that romantic old world industrial vibe. Guy hung all the fixtures, and positioned the articulated lamp at the top of the stairs to illuminate a painting with a saying that Susan adores. "We Southern girls love to have our 'wisdoms' that our mommas pass down," she says.

For a woman who spends a great deal of time on the road redecorating showrooms with each passing season and trend, "the snugglery" is Susan's dreamy come-home-to-comfort place. And while she may have an outstanding plan or two, she is quite content in her nest amidst the trees.

"We spend 90% of our time up here," Guy says, explaining that the other 10% is split between life in the kitchen, out on the porch or around the dining table for family meals. That raw, quirky attic space that naysayers discounted as unviable is now a beautiful, serene and desired retreat. The Chanceys still can’t believe they were able to add all that space onto a house they already loved.

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