Master Suite Transformation
Above: Douglas fir warms the otherwise cool palette of the bedroom. Built-ins of Douglas fir “float,” creating a continuous plane of fumed oak flooring.
Sallie Quammen and Charlie Fazio wanted an uncluttered, clean look for their new bedroom suite. But above all, they wanted privacy.
The avid runners and art lovers had found the perfect urban retreat just a half block from Lake Calhoun. Originally built in the 1920s, the two-story house had a beautifully updated kitchen and living area but an awkward upstairs layout. Three bedrooms, including the master, were accessed via the front stairway, but two additional bedrooms could only be reached via a narrow spiral staircase or through the owners’ suite—making access to a bathroom or moving furniture awkward at best. The owners’ suite proportions were also odd, with a vaulted ceiling that Quammen says made the room feel cavernous. The en-suite bath was so long and narrow that a friend joked it could be a “bowling alley.”
Quammen and Fazio approached David O’Brien Wagner, a principal of SALA Architects, attracted by his contemporary aesthetic. But then the team—the homeowners, Wagner, SALA architect Jody McGuire, and Stephen Roche of Showcase Renovation—took a collective step back: Was it even worth the cost to reconfigure the layout, or should they just move (and likely sell the house as a teardown)?
They eventually decided to stay, arriving at a solution that involved both creative configuring of space and clever use of built-in pieces. By rethinking the proportions of the owner’s suite, Wagner was able to carve out a hallway that leads to each of the five bedrooms. He replaced the bowling alley bathroom with a compact laundry area (a bonus that used existing plumbing lines) and a closet for off-season clothing. In the bedroom, the new bath occupies the space where a large closet with mirrored doors once stood.
Wagner’s goal was to lower the ceiling to improve the room’s proportions but still maximize the sense of space. He created visual continuity and retained privacy by separating the rooms with a panel that is essentially surrounded by glass. As a result, the dropped ceiling plane carries through visually into the bathroom, and natural light from skylights in each room moves through the space—while the glass provides acoustic separation. “There’s a certain play and bounce of daylight,” Wagner explains.
Above: Neutral tiles complement the muted tone of the galvanized steel.
Though Quammen recalls a bit of trepidation about the glass bathroom panels, she loves the natural light. “That’s one of my favorite things—to come in and not have to turn a light on.”
A unified and neutral palette seamlessly connects the new bedroom and bath, including built-in Douglas fir furnishings that feature white door fronts. The “floating” pieces allow the oak flooring to create another continuous visual plane. Its planks were fumed with white pigment that settled into the deeper wood grain. “It gives you a kind of duality of coloration—some warm tones that still come through from the natural oak color but with some depth and complexity,” explains Wagner. A large window, trimmed with the same warm fir as the built-ins, looks out into the treetops—giving the space a tree-house feel, as Quammen describes it, that changes with the seasons.
Hot-tip galvanized steel is another unifying finish, appearing in the drawer pulls, the custom sink, shower bench, backsplash, and light fixtures. The surface will take on a soft patina over time, explains Wagner, adding, “It’s a lot less harsh than, say, stainless. The way it plays with the light in the space is very muted and soft.” The same material edges a narrow soffit where downlights provide a subtle glow and eliminate the need for harsh overheads.
The modern finishes and clean lines required special care from builder Showcase Renovation. In particular, bringing together the metal fabrication with the custom built-ins called for close collaboration between architect, builder, and metal fabricator Lee Sackett, says Showcase owner Roche. The glass panels also demanded special attention. Since they butted up against a variety of materials— between metal and wood, between two pieces of tile, between glass and drywall-—every location required different treatment.
The new space required the homeowners to pare down to two small closets and a few built-ins, and get rid of heavy furnishings and a lot of stuff—a change both Quammen and Fazio have embraced.
“It feels very clean; it feels very uncluttered,” Fazio explains. Quammen adds: “The whole remodel forced us to think about how we wanted to live. We wanted to live with less stuff, and we accomplished that.”
Above: The hot-tip galvanized steel of the custom sink, shower seat, and narrow soffit unify the space. The soft finish will patina over time. The builder and metal fabricator worked together closely on the built-ins.
By Diane L. Cormany
Photos by Troy Thies
Built and designed by David O’Brien Wagner and Jody McGuire, of SALA Architects, and Stephen Roche of Showcase Renovation in collaboration with the homeowners