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Nearly 500 square feet of found space: Renovating an attic into an art studio

An attic conversion in a Jamaica Plain condo creates a space fit for works of art.

The team devoted a lot of time to determining exactly which portion of the construction-grade plywood sheets would be visible, particularly in this office nook. “The task was to elevate simple, budget-conscious materials,” says architect Penn Ruderman.Warren Patterson

It began as a simple wish to turn the unfinished attic of a second-floor condo with a hip roof in Jamaica Plain into a bright art studio for the homeowner, an artist and educator. A collage, a site visit, and lively conversation led to an open, sun-dappled studio with leafy views, built-in bookshelves, a full bath, a hidden office, a sleeping nook, and a glorious private terrace.

“It’s a great studio where all the other aspects unfold additional functions — like a flexible Swiss Army space,” says Penn Ruderman, who collaborated with fellow architect Seth Hoffman.

The duo split the 40-foot-long attic lengthwise down the middle at the roof’s ridge, then pushed up one side of the roof with a long shed dormer to create 479 square feet of living space. “The hip roof double-decker is the neighborhood’s primary building type,” Ruderman points out. “This could be a prototype for creating livable space in the attics of any of those houses.”

On the side of the house where the original roof remains intact, the architects tucked all sorts of function under the eaves. Along with the “miles of bookshelves” that the homeowner requested, there’s a bath so that the space could be a bedroom suite if need be; a tiny office with a built-in desk; and, at the top of the sunlit stairs (before, access was by ladder), a sleeping nook that looks to a quiet reading area at the end of the house. “Carving these features into one side allowed us to weave around infrastructure that would have been too costly to remove,” Hoffman says, referring to a chimney and a load-bearing column.


At the other end of the house is a 12-by-6½-foot outdoor oasis. Rather than leaving both sides open, the team partially enclosed it to screen the view of an adjacent parking lot. “We choreographed the views, both in the studio where a large window looks at the trees and walls block neighboring houses, and on the terrace where a clear rail overlooks a little forest,” Hoffman says.


The terrace is so peaceful and private that the homeowner sometimes sleeps out there on a hammock.


Architects: The Office of Penn Ruderman Architects, oprch.com; and Seth Hoffman

Contractor: MCR Construction, mcrconstruction.com

Structural Engineer: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, sgh.com


A large, fixed window and the window next to it that opens combine to offer an expanse of glass and allow fresh air in, while sticking to the budget. Solid walls provide privacy, a surface on which to hang art, and another area to place furniture.Warren Patterson
The homeowner created a string trellis on the courtyard-like terrace, where she’s grown morning glory and Black-Eyed Susans, among other plants.Warren Patterson
After: The homeowner’s long-held desire for a sleeping nook came from reading a 1977 architecture book called "A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction."Warren Patterson
Prior to raising one side of the roof with a shed dormer, there was very little headroom.
Adding a bath to the attic greatly expanded its utility, should the homeowner or a future owner want to use the space as a bedroom suite.Warren Patterson

Correction: Due to an editing error, this file has been updated to correct the space reference in the headline. The home design project resulted in nearly 500 square feet of found space.

Marni Elyse Katz is a contributing editor to the Globe Magazine. Follow her on Instagram @StyleCarrot. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.