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The Long and Short of our Attic Access (+ Big Backyard News)

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One of the long term goals we had for this house – we’re going back to 2013 now – was to add interior attic access. At the time, we only had a horrific exterior staircase to gain entrance, but now? Attic Access! Inside!

The attic, aside from housing the new furnace for our second floor, is mostly empty. Scary, but empty. We have a few bins for our holiday decor, some college-day art projects (I was into big art back in the day; nothing could ever be simple for me – what else is new?), my wedding dress(!) and old yearbooks. We purchased this aluminum attic ladder, and although we toyed with the idea of installing it ourselves, our contractors (who would be demolishing the exterior stairs – more on that in a minute!) cut us a deal that would save us the time and energy. Done.

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Installed at the top of our second floor landing, we decided it was the least offensive spot in our home. It leads to the front half of the attic, which is the most open for our stuff, and eventually, we’d like to add shelving up there for a bit of organization. The problem? Once our contractor was complete with his part of the job, it wasn’t very pretty.

We remedied that pretty quickly with thin pine lattice, caulk, spackle and paint! Scott made simple mitered corners with the lattice, using our nail gun to secure it around the perimeter of the door. I followed that up with a line of caulk, spackle for the nail holes, two thin coats of primer (this water-based Zinsser is our favorite) and two coats of regular ol’ ceiling paint.

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For the finishing step, we replaced the cloth cord for a simple white pull:

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Two days a year – you know, taking down the Christmas tree and then putting it back – the pull will make it a little less easy to open the attic door (we’ll need to get a step stool to pull it down), but for the other 363 days a year, it’s practically invisible! Worth it. The ladder can safely extend with enough room at the bottom to maneuver our bins, but that said, we agreed that attic duty will always be a two person job. One of us on the ladder, the other to spot.

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So, let’s go back to why we needed interior access in the first place! There’s a reason why our backyard never, ever makes an appearance on the blog. For one, we’ve paid it absolutely no attention since the day we moved in – three years ago. More or less, it has acted as a giant puppy potty. And two, there is – um, was? – an unsafe behemoth of a staircase. Because our home was initially separated into two apartments, the stairs acted as a back fire escape from the first and second floor apartments, and all the way at the top was the scary attic door:

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If you’ve been with us for a while, you know that we’ve slowly been turning our two-flat into a single family home. We nixed the second floor back door for a wall of windows (what was once a kitchen is now our master bedroom!), and with our freshly installed interior attic access, it was finally time to take down the deteriorating staircase! On a related side note, afterwards, we picked up this safety ladder.

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We had been waiting for Operation-Tear-Down-the-Stairs for so, so long, and a small team of three men had it down and hauled away in 4 hours. 4 hours! Despite the backside of our house going from horrible to slightly-less-horrible, we are enjoying the massive amount of light streaming through our windows. The backyard is still very far from pretty, but we’ve completed a massive first step in the right direction. We’ve been working with a local steel fabricator on a new staircase that will lead into our yard, and we have countless paper scraps and napkins with makeshift plans-to-be. We’re in the early stages, but every day brings new challenges – siding repair and/or replacement, for one! – and new ideas. We are excited, overwhelmed and hopeful. Right now, we’re taking this one day at a time.

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We’ve been pinning our backyard ideas on this board, although it’s too soon to tell how far we’ll get this year. In our minds, we’ll be done with everything by October. Reality will likely have a different idea, so we’re promising each other to take it in stride. (I say with hesitation!)

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  • Stacy@BlakeHillHouse5.18.16 - 6:29 AM

    Exciting! That was quite a staircase. I can only imagine how much more light you have. We took some large trees out last fall, and I still cannot believe how much sunlight pours into the house. We just thought it was always dark on that side of the house. :D

    Looking forward to seeing how the yard shapes up.ReplyCancel

  • Kari5.18.16 - 7:05 AM

    How amazing! The back of your house looks just insanely better now. I’m sure it’s just a ton of weight off your shoulders. When it comes time for siding repair or replacement, what are your plans? It looks like you have vinyl – do you have any leads on a match for repair? Is your original clapboard underneath? My husband and I recently removed all of the vinyl off our 110 year old home to reveal gorgeous old growth cedar siding. It was one of the most thrilling experiences of our lives to see it there!ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.18.16 - 8:52 AM

      Kari, color us jealous. Wow! Our house has been through a ton of transitions (even before us), so we’ve gotten peeks of what lies beneath… And it’s not very awesome. We’re still meeting with contractors and going over options, but I’ll tell you this much, we’ve never liked our vinyl. We have talked about residing the whoooooole house someday, but this project is sort of kick starting the back side at the very least! Updates to come as we figure it out ourselves…ReplyCancel

  • Meg5.18.16 - 7:16 AM

    Wow! You two are RELENTLESS. We’d be taking a couple of years off to recuperate if we’d completely redone a bathroom, a laundry room and a bedroom all in one fell swoop! Kudos to you. I’m very impressed with your zeal.ReplyCancel

  • Caitlin Dreger5.18.16 - 8:18 AM

    Oh how exciting! It’s amazing how much of a difference it makes not having 3 floors of staircases! So does that final picture mean that you removed the deck off the kitchen and outside access for the time being? Will you put a deck back on the backside of the house for this summer?ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.18.16 - 8:53 AM

      Yup, for now, we have no backyard access, haha. We’re still figuring out exactly what we’ll do, but we’re in talks with some local makers. The good news is that our front porch (swing!) is The Spot to be in the summer until we can get this sorted!ReplyCancel

  • jannike5.18.16 - 8:54 AM

    I hope you keep a balcony off the kitchen doors. It’s always nice to have space for the bbq close to the kitchen.ReplyCancel

  • Kristin5.18.16 - 9:03 AM

    Um – we’ve ignored our backyard for fifteen years! (Hanging head.) Actually, it’s not horrible, but it’s not great. We did take our outside access stairs off during our initial demolition when we also converted our home from a two-family to a single-family – it was really rickety and dangerous, although we did manage to get a 400lb cast iron tub up those stairs without losing anyone.

    We’re trying to finalize the next phase of our work, which will finally address our back yard. It’s exciting – and expensive! Maybe we’ll be on the same timeline with this project! Best of luck.ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.18.16 - 9:08 AM

      Ahhh, good luck to you too! Our cast iron tub was carried up our scary stairs too, but our contractor had to repair a few stairs as they went (one cracked in half completely). We are so happy to see this safety hazard GONE.ReplyCancel

  • Katy5.18.16 - 10:10 AM

    That gif is mesmerizing. I’ve watched it about ten times already.

    I can’t wait to see what you guys do!ReplyCancel

  • Tina slocum5.18.16 - 2:24 PM

    Hi Kim and Scott, I want you to know that I’ve been following you for years. You two are the most talented home “fixer uppers?” and designers and so precise in your work. Everything you do is so asthetically pleasing, clean and so gorgeous. Just a note of appreciation and thanks! TinaReplyCancel

    • Kim5.18.16 - 7:11 PM

      You are incredibly kind. Thank you SO much, and thank you for following along and chiming in!ReplyCancel

  • Chance5.18.16 - 7:06 PM

    We had a similar situation with our attic access. We got a dowel rod, added a little hook on the end and that enabled us to pull the stairs down easily. When not in use, the rod hangs on a little eye circle hook thing inside a nearby closet and its out of the way.ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.18.16 - 7:12 PM

      Genius. We also have hockey sticks nearby that we can use, too!ReplyCancel

  • Jaime5.19.16 - 11:49 AM

    Oh my gosh, I can’t get over how much better it looks with all those stairs gone!!! Wow!!! I am looking forward to what you do with that side of the house.

    Do you guys plan on adding some insulation to the new attic drop down door?? We live in San Diego and even with our super mild winters, I notice a huge difference when we pull down our door to the attic and its that little bit of insulation attached to the door (beneath the ladder) that helps keep that cold air from creeping down into our house (and keeps the warm air in!) I can imagine its even more significant where you guys live since you have REAL winters! Ha!!ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.19.16 - 12:57 PM

      Thanks for the tip! We hadn’t thought to do so, but I suppose this coming winter will help to steer us in that direction if needed. And you’re right – our winters are REAL real. Haha!ReplyCancel

  • Cair5.20.16 - 4:55 PM

    Da–, this is huuuuge! Congrats on it finally happening. Looking forward to seeing your back yard unfold.ReplyCancel

  • Corinne5.23.16 - 12:48 AM

    How exciting with the yard. It looks so different.

    My parents have an attic ladder just like that. They have a long pole with a hook on the end (I think they bought it with the ladder) that they use to pull it down. Saves the step ladder and any potential incidents. Plus much easier to store!ReplyCancel

  • Haley5.23.16 - 1:11 PM

    I bet your renter is happy having the deck removed from over that window, so much more light probably! Have you two done anything with the garden unit? I don’t remember there being much, but I’ve always been curious!ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.23.16 - 1:20 PM

      Aside from a MASSIVE cleaning, fresh paint and some new lighting, the garden unit didn’t receive much. It was the ‘best’ part of our house when we bought it! Our long term plan would be to replace all the 12″ square tile down there with wood-look tile (to cozy it up), but for now, our renters are happy, so we’re happy. We don’t like to share too much about it for their privacy. :)ReplyCancel

    • Alison5.23.16 - 4:55 PM

      That is what I was thinking too looking at that gif – So much more light for the basement windows! Just curious, do your renters use your backyard for entertainment at all (e.g. grilling or hanging out) or will they in the future when the backyard is renovated? Do you need two functional hangout spots in the backyard with some privacy in between?ReplyCancel

      • Kim5.23.16 - 6:00 PM

        There is so much more light for alllll the windows, really! The renters will be more than welcome to use the backyard when we’re done. Right now, no one uses it (except the pups), but we hope it will be one large communal and happy space. For the most part, our renters keep to themselves though.ReplyCancel

  • Allie5.23.16 - 1:35 PM

    I looks so great! A nice blank canvas to work with! This reminds me of Manhattan Nest and all that Daniel has done to change the back of his house!

    Is your new staircase just going to be from the kitchen and you will completely patch the attic door? Or maybe even more windows will be making an appearance? So exciting for you guys! Also noticed you no longer have the nice blue windowed door to the garden unit. Bummer, I loved that color. Was it clashing with the sliding door? It must be so much brighter in there without the deck!ReplyCancel

    • Kim5.23.16 - 1:47 PM

      Thanks, Allie! Yup, the staircase will only come off of the kitchen, and the attic door will be patched. The blue door you’re thinking of is still there – but it’s only in the front of the house. We have, however, talked about painting the garden unit’s back door once we whip this yard into shape!ReplyCancel

  • Kira6.17.16 - 1:49 PM

    Eeeek I just listened and am so excited for this podcast (and to basically binge-read your entire blog!!!)ReplyCancel

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