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Pleasant surprises abound with creative renovations

Sun., June 3, 2012

Jennifer Scherer sits in her new, bigger closet at her home in Paterson, N.J.
Jennifer Scherer sits in her new, bigger closet at her home in Paterson, N.J.

HACKENSACK, N.J. – When it comes to renovation projects, contractors say homeowners often don’t (pardon the pun) think outside the box.

Want a closet? You can steal some space from a neighboring room. Want a room? You can repurpose that little-used closet into something more practical. When your contractor takes a peek behind your walls, you might be surprised to find you have usable space you never knew existed.

A savvy contractor can often come up with an innovative solution for home design and construction problems.

“People sort of get tunnel vision,” said Richard Graniere, owner of Wayne, N.J.-based Advantage Contracting. “They work in the existing space instead of working within the outside perimeters of the house. They get blinded by the walls.”

One of the easiest ways to repurpose space is to take down non-load-bearing walls, and Graniere says most walls in your home are non-load bearing. Even a load-bearing wall can be removed, but it requires support beams to be erected in its place.

“You can really open things up,” he said.

The contractor Dominic Mangiarelli recalls the case about four years ago of a woman who asked him to renovate a bathroom, but also talked about how much she wanted more closet space for her five-bedroom colonial in Livingston, N.J.

In the process of the renovation, Mangiarelli had to take down a wall between the bathroom and the hallway. In the middle, he discovered a cavity between a chimney and the hallway wall.

“It was small, only about 18 inches by 18 inches, but to her it was a gold mine,” he said. Mangiarelli carved out the space for a linen closet in that cavity. A custom door for such a small size would be very expensive, but Mangiarelli came up with a novel idea: He used one panel of a bi-fold door. A little paint and spackle and a carpet remnant completed the job.

“She was just as excited about that closet as she was about the weeks of work I put into the bathroom,” Mangiarelli said with a laugh.

Since then, Mangiarelli has done the hidden-closet trick at least two more times. About three months ago with a client in Rockaway Township, N.J., he found a tiny space between the bathroom and a hallway landing that was just right for a linen closet that could be accessed from the hallway.

“These happy surprises happen all the time,” Mangiarelli said. “You never know what you’re going to find until you start tearing things out.”

A Glen Rock, N.J., homeowner, Jennifer Scherer, found her hidden space while working with John Wohlberg, owner of JH Renovations of Ridgewood, on the master bedroom.

The problem was the closet. Though it had a handy built-in dresser, it was too small.

Wohlberg suggested removing the built-in dresser and taking about a foot from a daughter’s bedroom to enlarge the closet. At first, Scherer says, the couple was dubious.

“My husband originally wanted to take even more space, but John said it would look funny,” she says. “I couldn’t visualize it, but it turned out to be the perfect size. I didn’t know if it would make her room look awkward, but it actually makes it look more interesting.”

The wall in the girl’s bedroom juts in about a foot and then runs the length of the closet, about eight feet, before doglegging back for the rest of the wall.

“It looks like a little nook in her room,” Scherer says. “He put in crown molding and a chair rail around the room, and it all tied together. No one would ever walk into her room and say, ‘What is this?’ You’d never know.”


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