Lofty Cozy Den

Remodeling is all about reimagining spaces. Often, a kitchen remains a kitchen, a bathroom remains a bathroom and so on. Sometimes, however, remodeling goes a step further beyond simply reimaging — entire rooms are repurposed and the flow of a house is altered. This was the case in a Des Moines, Iowa, house, which underwent a whole-house remodel led by Todd Hotchkiss, AIA, principal architect with Des Moines-based Monarch Renovations. One of the focal points of the project was the transformation of an open patio to a cozy den with a brick and stone fireplace.

Design Intentions

The house, which was built in 1924, is part of a neighborhood with a mix of Tudor- and Craftsman-style homes and oak tree-lined streets. Designed throughout with a formal feel, Hotchkiss aimed to make the den a homey space. “The house is pretty formal,” he says. “It has wood paneling in the living room in a grid pattern. It’s a serious house. We wanted the addition to have a bit of a rustic feel to it, which is why there is exposed brick and stone rather than a wood paneling look or carved stone like the rest of the house.”

Despite the contrast of the den to the rest of the house, the room flows well with the interior and achieves continuity with the exterior. “The outside of the house has brick and chunks of stone here and there,” Hotchkiss explains. “We wanted that exterior feel to carry through on the inside. With that flow from inside to outside, we have the same slate floor on the inside as we do outside on the patio.”

In addition to the den, Monarch Renovations redesigned the kitchen, which included moving it into what formerly had been the dining room. The old kitchen space was transformed into a study with detailed woodwork. The kitchen’s new location is more centralized, is more open to the breakfast room and provides a view of the back patio. A round room at one end of the house, which Hotchkiss described as having no function and underused, was turned into a formal dining room. “When we moved the kitchen so close to that room, it was a reasonable design solution,” he says.

Old floors were refinished and new bathrooms installed. Upstairs, a Jack and Jill bathroom was converted into two separate bathrooms so each person upstairs has their own bathroom. Downstairs, where the garage is, Monarch Renovations created a mudroom with closets, a bench and hooks between the garage and upstairs area. The total home renovation took about six months.

The Unknowns

Because of the home’s age, there were no existing drawings to reference. Hotchkiss and his team were unsure of how the patio was built and if the concrete was adequately reinforced; no one was willing to perform a stress test because of liability reasons. “We did know there was a screen porch with a flat roof that held 4-ft. snow drifts for a long time, so we knew if we kept the addition lighter than that, it would probably be OK,” he recalls.

Hotchkiss decided to keep the load off the south wall of the addition so he could add the chimney load. The roof is supported by a center ridge beam and a smaller beam at the roof inflection point on the south side. “We tried to keep as much load off of that south wall as we could because it’s over a slab with dubious structural capacity,” Hotchkiss says. The masonry fireplace and chimney rest on a thickened, reinforced slab, which distributes the load to a larger area.

Although Des Moines’ climate can yield winters with temperatures frequently in the teens, the den stays comfortable despite its abundance of windows. Hotchkiss cites the overhangs and a two-story part of the house directly to the south that contributes to temperature control. Window glass is Low-E, the slate floor is radiantly heated, and there’s a wood-burning fireplace. The Low-E glass also keeps the space cool in the summer, as does air-conditioning delivered through a ductless mini-split system.

Cozy Comfort

The roof eaves start at 5 ft. high on the north, which originally was intended to avoid a window on the second floor, yet resulted in a sense of intimacy in the room. Hotchkiss also raised the roof on the south side to bring in more natural light and open up the room to the adjacent patio. The 12-ft.-high ceiling in the den is scaled by a 9-ft.-high cross member.

Although Hotchkiss worked on the entire house, he notes the den addition is his favorite part of the project. “The interesting thing about that room is it has this weird juxtaposition of coziness with loftiness,” he reflects. “You get the feeling of being powerful and a master of your domain, yet protected, which is a great feeling to have in your own special room.”