Remodeler’s Corner: Hidden Space Above Garage Become Family Gathering Place

When Shannon Sheedy and Paul Roach moved into their southwest Rochester house in mid-2014, they claimed a built-in bonus. To get to it, they climbed the staircase to the upper level, walked down a short hall and opened an interior door. Behind the door was a long room that stretched out above the home’s three-car garage. “It was a blank slate,” Shannon says. “It had drywall and that was about it.” 

The room wasn’t installed for any particular use. The lengthy attic really was a bonus room – extra living space. Today, the southwest Rochester couple has transformed the room into an intimate gathering place for them and their two children, ages 6 and 9. “We can all be doing something there and (still) be together,” Shannon said. It’s their special spot, she says. “The whole idea was that this would be private family space.”


“Bonus room” describes a multipurpose space that generally is not dedicated for a certain use. “It’s often tucked away over a garage,” says interior designer Karen Blissenbach, owner of Design Studio B Interior Design and Project Management in Rochester, “but it can be elsewhere.” It also can apply to unused rooms or large interior spaces with
unusual configurations.

Shannon, a Mayo Clinic physician, and Roach, an anthropologist and teacher for a college in the Twin Cities, brought in Blissenbach to help put their empty space to use. One challenge was clear. “I thought of it as a long space, and I wanted to disguise the length,” Blissenbach says. The final design broke up the room into three functional zones—work space, gathering space and media space—and, set each slightly apart with decor, such as wall color. The project was completed in summer 2015 and featured in the annual Remodelers Tour.


A work space is just inside the door of the room, easily accessed even for short tasks. “Paul and I always have work to do,” Shannon says. It contains two computer workstations, along with some dark wood bookshelves on the opposite wall. “We wanted some shelf space, but we didn’t need a lot,” the homeowner says. Almost all references and professional subscriptions, such as medical journals, now are online, she explains.


A few steps deeper into the room, the wall color changes from light gray to a muted turquoise, marking the middle zone. The color change breaks up the view so the extended room “doesn’t feel like a tunnel,” Shannon observes. The zone revolves around a heavy square table, which is the family’s come-together place. It also can be an activity platform or simply a desk for homework when children need to study. Lined along one wall is an art gallery of sorts, featuring 14 pieces by the children. “While the kids are young, I wanted to showcase their work,” Shannon says.


The farthest zone in the room held the biggest design challenge: concealing a heating/air conditioning unit mounted at the end wall. Blissenbach settled on a two-layer solution. The first was a wooden screen with thin horizontal slats to mask the equipment. The second was much more stunning. It is a design of circles done in blue glass, which Shannon calls the blue mushroom sculpture. The third zone is the entertainment and media center, where the family can view a movie or catch a show on the room’s wide-screen TV.


The floor is a thin carpet with a palette of bright colors from gray to orange; some sections are broad with rounded lines and others are compact with straight lines. Taken together, the floor ushers occupants through the three zones and ties them together. 

“I wanted it to be fun and be vibrant . . . with pops of color,” Shannon says. Blissenbach’s firm drew the floor design in-house, and the carpet pieces were cut and assembled by a flooring contractor on site. Shannon cites that contemporary color coordination as one advantage of working with Blissenbach on the project. “It made me be more adventurous than I could have been on my own,” Shannon says. Once she chose a style or color scheme, Blissenbach searched out matching furnishings to bring it to life. “I had confidence that everything would work together,” Shannon says.

From Blissenbach’s vantage point, “This project and these clients were a blast!”

Bob Freund is a freelance writer based in Rochester, Minnesota.