Lucy Nutting’s first apartment is not quite what she’d imagined. The 23-year-old shares a two-bedroom Chinatown rental with two roommates, where she sleeps in a converted space — a bedroom that was a sunroom.
“I told myself, ‘I want a place that has the amenities,’ but obviously I couldn’t pay the price that comes with it,” says Nutting, who works in public relations. “But this is a good sacrifice, to live in a sunroom.”
To add a roommate or two to split the rent with, some D.C. tenants opt to create temporary extra bedrooms. There are lots of affordable ways to devise additional sleeping quarters, but such improvised spaces often come with a few tradeoffs.
One common strategy: Converting a sunroom into a private room by covering the glass doors with something opaque for privacy.
“The girl before me actually put up wrapping paper on the glass door,” Nutting says. That creates a plain wall look on the outside, and a nice accent area inside.
Some floor plans lend themselves to carving out a bedroom more than others.
When Sarah Hasselmann, a 25-year-old assistant project manager, started looking at rentals in Bethesda in 2011, she targeted those with L-shaped living rooms, figuring that she could close off the bottom of the L with a DIY barrier.
But with no closet of its own, the contrived bedrooms would be short on storage.
“That’s kind of the big thing you’re missing when you’re in a fake bedroom,” Hasselmann says.
She and her roommate bought four free-standing closets from Ikea and lined them up edge to edge, creating a wall — and tackling the storage issue.
The backs of such furnishings usually aren’t picturesque, but they do allow for hanging drapery or pictures without drilling into the wall. Hasselmann used a PVC pipe as a curtain rod, which she placed across the top of the closets.
“When you were in the living room, you didn’t see the back of closets. You saw a navy blue curtain,” Hasselmann says.
Be ready to drop a chunk of change when embarking on a build-it-yourself room endeavor. Hasselmann estimates she and her roommate spent around $200 converting the space into another bedroom.
But that small investment and careful, creative thinking can pay off. Hasselmann and her roommate paid a combined $1,900 in rent, considerably less than what a two-bedroom would have cost. Hasselmann chipped in about $200 extra monthly for the privilege of living in the apartment’s original bedroom.
Closets and curtains are convenient, but if you’re looking to really incorporate the new room into the overall apartment decor, building a structure from scratch may be the way to go.
That’s what Abby Himmelrich, a 24-year-old teacher and grad student renting in Woodley Park, did. She says she is lucky that her younger brother, Drew, liked woodworking. When she started talking about assembling something to divide a one-bedroom apartment so she and her soon-to-be roommate could save money on rent, she says, he told her: “Oh, I can build it.”
Talk to building management first, though, if you’re planning on putting hammer to nail.
“We asked a lot of questions to make sure what we’re doing is legal,” Himmelrich says.
The building managers said that hiring a contractor or attaching any walls to the existing structure were out of the question, so Himmelrich’s father and Drew spent about three days assembling a room out of drywall and 4×6 beams.
They even put in a door, and she says she’s glad she opted for one. “It’s nice to be able to go in and have that illusion of closing the door [to a real room],” Himmelrich says. “It makes a difference.”
The result: A private space that met her apartment’s stipulations.
“The building manager, maintenance, etc., have all been in and they’ve never said anything,” says Himmelrich, who’s now lived in the space for almost three years.
Whatever route you choose to create an extra room, keep in mind what damages could be wrought by removing the wall. When it’s time to move out, Himmelrich says, she is confident that the faux walls will come down easily and she’ll get her security deposit back.
“Other than some paint on the ceiling, it’s going to be fine,” Himmelrich says.
A sound idea
Noise control is another challenge for those who create temporary bedrooms. Glass and decorative fabrics don’t really cut it when it comes to muffling the sounds of bustling roommates or “The Real Housewives.” Even drywall leaves much to be desired. Look online to find noise-reducing curtains, which help cancel out sound and often double as blackout curtains. Priced from $19 online, they’re a cheap, easy way to cut down on the auditory clutter.
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