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My accidental getaway room

by Steve McKee on June 9, 2005

When my family and I went through major-remodel-number-two several years ago, it was a chance to remedy some of the rookie mistakes I made in our first remodel. The too small family room was expanded into a side yard and received an extra tall picture window that looks into and under our best backyard tree. The staggered hallway by the laundry room got straightened out. A much needed fourth bedroom was added. Melody’s little secretary desk would find a home in an alcove off the family room.

The result of all this was that our two story house was extended with a one story addition out the back. It became clear that the attic space above this addition would provide new space easily accessed from our second floor where it abutted our Master Bedroom closet.

This attic space had a gable shape with good head height. It could be turned into a room with very little effort or expense required, an almost free room, there for the taking if we wished. The only weird thing about it was that this new room would be accessible only by going through our walk-in master closet/dressing room. There was no other way to get there, short of major surgery to several perfectly fine rooms, a most undesirable prospect.

The resulting room was about two-thirds the size of a typical bedroom, almost nine feet tall at the peak, with ceilings that sloped to four and five foot heights at the edges. A window faced north and a small skylight provided good uniform light throughout the room. The room was carpeted, well insulated and even had its own heating register.

But what should we make of this room that could only be accessed by going through our most private rooms to reach it? Clearly it would be a “mom and dad room” with the kids only having access occasionally. We opted not to expand our already adequate closet into the room. We decided it would make a good “project room” in which half completed projects could be left out without cluttering the living areas of the house. In one corner the sewing machine would sit on our library table in a permanent state of readiness. I would store my USGS maps that I used for planning backpack trips on the short row of built-in shelves behind the door. My camera gear would go below on the shelves.

In a moment of some cleverness we decided to make the entrance to the room a secret panel. We made the door disappear in our dressing room by completely covering it with a large mirror. A self closing device on the unseen side of the door (like the kind at the top of classroom doors) allowed the door to close by itself and stay shut without need of any visible door handles.

Not only would this allow us to store valuable stuff like cameras much more hidden from potential burglars (like I really worry about that sort of thing), but more importantly, would add a “cool” factor to the room and allow us to wow friends when we first revealed our hidden Project Room to them by simply leaning against our full length mirror.

The sewing room corner was a success from day one. Regrettably, for the first couple of years most of the remainder of the room was used for storage.

Then the day came when the grey couch (legendary in our family for its comfort) became too tatty looking to keep in the Family Room. So the boxes were moved out of the Project Room and the couch was moved in, thus beginning the modern era of life in the Project Room. It was clear that this would be the breakthrough I needed for my occasional catnap needs, especially during those afternoons when the kids are in the family Room and Melody has usurped our bed for her own snooze, always lying on the diagonal because of the superior natural reading light it gives her prior to dozing off.

A very large down comforter, itself retired from service due to a worn out look, became one of my best friends. Such an oversized bedspread was more than up to the job of covering the couch. Who knew that lying under an oversized heap of a blanket was so darn comfortable?

It turns out that three layers of doors between me and the family room noises also helped to make for a very restful room. When I remodeled my office space downstairs I moved a bookshelf up into the Project Room, set it on the wall facing the grey couch, and the room became even more of a retreat.

When I had shoulder surgery recently (rotator cuff tear in my left shoulder; thankfully I’m right-handed) the good old grey couch proved to be more comfortable than my bed for my sensitive arm. There was something about the way the couch’s extra cushiness supported the arm better in the weeks following the surgery. I could either lie in bed with an extra pillow under my arm and have something that resembled comfort, or I could hit the grey couch and have the genuine item. God bless that dumb old couch.

I’m back in bed these nights, (my shoulder is on the mend, thanks, just don’t ask about all the physical therapy) and the Project Room continues to augment the life of our home in many small ways. Sometimes I’ll hear a soft whirring sound rising and falling from within that room and I’ll look to find my wife and daughter huddled over some sewing project together while a cat looks on from above. Other times I’ll seek out a nap there on a rainy day when the patter of rain on the skylight delights and lulls. I do my best reading there.

I’m not sure there’s a moral to this story about my funny extra room off my master closet. No clear cut mandate about spaces to include or not include on a wish list for a house. Maybe it’s something about being adaptable and “going with the flow.”

I would never seriously propose someone add a bonus room off their walk-in closet if they could instead place it in a more accessible location, such as off the Master Bedroom. In bucks-up communities like Lafayette and Danville this sort of retreat off the Master Bedroom is becoming more common. These rooms often become successful home offices or getaway dens. But there’s something special about the remoteness of my getaway room that gives it a unique quality.

Perhaps the point has more to do with adaptability of people to respond to their environment and make it work for them. I think this is true of many idiosyncratic spaces that people find themselves with. The flow of our lives lets us eventually find uses for such places. We find ways to make things work out, and even use the eccentricities to our advantage. We grow accustomed to and even fond of these odd situations. It’s one of the better sides of human nature.

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