Attic Safari

Put on your pith helmets and khakis, everyone—we’re about to venture where few have tread: into the untamed wilderness of our attic! You lucky people!

I’ve never had the nerve to expose our attic to the public. I thought I might, once we had turned it from a horder’s heaven into an art studio. But as the years slipped by, I was unsure the attic would ever realize its potential. That’s sad, because it would make an awesome art space. However, while I’ve been slinging paint in the dining room, Eric’s been up there steadfastly trying to make order out of chaos. His efforts deserve recognition.

Okay, got your gear? We’re heading up. Step through the door into the unknown.

Door to attic stands ajar.


The trail is steep. Be careful.

Steep, dark attic stairs

The climb.

And narrow.

Boxes block access to attic

Top of stairs.

Eric will light the way.

Man adjusts light in attic

The eagle’s job is to hold up the extension cord.

Behold: the detritus of two pack-ratty people. Pretty impressive, isn’t it? Sometimes I worry that it will all fall through the joists and land in the living room. (This is a fear left over from childhood: As a small child I imagined where I would land in the basement if my bed fell through the floor. I would have landed in my dad’s shop, which didn’t seem so scary … as long as I missed the table saw.)

See how far you’ve climbed?

Top of attic stairs and many boxes.

You made it!


Boxes piled in attic

The small room by day.


Junk piled in the attic.

The big room at night.

If you’re brave enough, venture a little deeper into the terrain. Watch your step. (Click any image to enlarge.)

It hasn’t always looked like this, of course. You can’t amass such a jaw-dropping collection overnight. When I lived here alone, most of my stuff, much of which had belonged to my parents, was confined to the small end of the attic, where the stairs come up. Family antiques that I didn’t have room for downstairs occupied a portion of the big room, along with archives from my childhood and rolling racks of off-season clothes. And of course there was the requisite Christmas collection. I felt like I had endless storage space, even for a nostalgic person like me who never seems to let go of anything. But, we all know how things tend to accumulate over time.

Then I married a man who out-packratted even me. Well … that’s unfair. Eric had his own houseful of furniture and belongings, and I had a 1400 sq. ft. fully furnished house with three small closets. Everything we couldn’t find a home for downstairs went up to the “endless” storage space in the sky … until even the narrow trail down the center began to fill up. Just looking at the piles of dead electronics, clothes, and books made me cry with frustration and bewilderment, so I seldom went up there.

Paned attic windows and street view.

The view to the street.

Rewind to 1984, when I bought the house. The attic was perfectly empty and squeaky clean (for an attic). The dark-stained fir floors and stairs in the small room shone. But in the big room, white fiberboard panels had been nailed to the sloped ceiling, and they sagged from absorbing moisture. It made the space look like a big, white tent. The dormer windows were homemade casements jobs that sagged on their hinges.

We’ve searched for “before” pictures, but we can’t find any. Those were the days before digital cameras. I probably have prints around here somewhere … in the attic.

Insulation was added to the ceiling years ago, but it wasn’t until Eric came along that the beadboard paneling went up. Eric also installed the beautiful new windows in the dormer, which is now my favorite part of the attic.

But … all the stuff remains.

Attic dormer windows hidden by junk.

The unreachable dormer windows.

So, what’s the plan?

I’ve always admired this attic from an old Martha Stewart book, How to Decorate. It’s so similar to what ours could be.

Whitewashed attic room

Martha Stewart’s attic


Whitewashed attic dormer area

Martha’s attic dormer

Shelves. Slowly but surely, Eric’s moving the stuff away from a section of wall, installing plastic shelves, and putting the stuff on the shelves. More and more stuff is now off the floor and neatly stacked.

Purge. Bags and bags of junk are exiting every weekend. We will (I swear) ruthlessly purge everything else: toss, donate, or sell. Maybe we’ll even have the yard sale that we’ve talked about for 10 years.

Paint. I’ll paint the beadboard glossy white to maximize the light. More painting … yay.

Floor. The mossy carpet will crawl off to the dump. The attic floor in the large room is simply subflooring. We thought about just washing and sealing it, but it has gaps between the boards that you could lose a kitten between … so we’re thinking of covering it with finish-grade 1/4-inch plywood. We’ll paint or stain it and seal it so it’s spillproof enough for an art studio.

Layout. Years ago my neighbor gave me a big drafting table, complete with drafting machine, which he bought at Boeing Surplus. That’ll go in the dormer area. At last, a place to draw and paint! We’ll have a work table for framing and flat files for storage. I’ll create a cozy, funky sitting area at the far end beneath the little windows, with a couple of old armchairs, bookshelves, a table, and lamps, all anchored by an oriental rug. That old faux palm might even find a home. Can you see the potential in this space?

Crowded attic with boxes.

The far end of the big room, looking toward the stairs.

Speaking of kittens (weren’t we?) … my favorite story about the attic involves—surprise—cats! One day many years ago, I was rummaging around in the attic when I discovered a litter of four tiny black kittens in a bag of old dress patterns. The mom cat had evidently gotten in through the dormer windows, which were open for the summer. She was temporarily out when I found her babies, but when she returned,  she was a fierce warrior and she didn’t take my presence kindly. I began providing her food and water, but I had to fend her off with a broom to be able to set food down at the top of the stairs. As the kittens grew, I could hear them galloping back and forth across the attic floor. I came home one day when they were about 12 weeks old, to find them all sitting outside on the dormer windowsill. I quickly ran up to the attic and shut the windows. They all managed to shinny down an adjacent tree and I never saw them again. You can tell that in those days, even though I had a cat of my own, I wasn’t really a cat lady. If I found kittens now, I’d try to domesticate them and I’d certainly take them to the Humane Society where they could be neutered and find homes. But, I was clueless back then.

Two cats cuddle on a bed.

Bonus picture of Chex and Peggy Sue napping.

So, there you have it. I bet you’re ready to go back to civilization again. I know I am!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it


19 thoughts on “Attic Safari

  1. Africadayz

    I’m positively jealous of your attic. For some reason which I have never managed to fathom, South African houses – even those with masses of roof space under high pitches – have never had ‘formal’ attic space. In some renovations these days, you do see people ‘going up’ into their roofs, and some new houses are being built that way, but as a rule, we don’t ‘do attics’. Our garages often become storage spaces as a result. I can think of nothing nicer than rummaging around in an attic. That space of yours has huge potential and I absolutely love the dormer windows. I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do up there. Lucky you! (But please do make sure that no kittens get lost between the floorboards!)

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Hi Jacqui–Most houses in the US built after 1960 or so have roof trusses, not rafters, so attics are usually found in older houses. Yes, we are lucky to have this space, and reading people’s comments reminds me of that. I’m excited to see it evolve, too!

  2. Alison

    WOW your attic is amazing! I had a walk up attic ONCE, in the apartment I lived in for 7 years before meeting hubby, and I miss it so much! Most houses here have crawl spaces with pull down ladders. A walk up attic is a gem! And what a beautiful, light-filled space. So much potential! Glad to see/hear you guys are working towards making it an art space – it’s so perfect for that! Love the cat story (picturing kittens galloping through the attic is adorable) and the picture of chex and peggy sue snuggling 🙂

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      It is amazing, isn’t it! I’d love to install a couple of skylights, but I don’t think we’ll ever get that far, at the rate we move!

  3. Karen B.

    Hi D’Arcy,
    I love your inspiration photo for your attic space. I’m sure you and Eric can successfully pull this off. We are listing our little cottage and there’s nothing like a pending move to motivate one to seriously pare down. I’ve loved the process and even though I’m not much of a pack rat, I’ve been surprised at how much stuff we’ve amassed in the 35 years since we’ve lived here. Wish me luck!

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Hi Karen – You’re selling your house?? Are you leaving SoCal? I’d love to know what your plans are, so drop me a line in your “spare time” — haha! I hope all’s well. I miss your blog, but something tells me you’re busy. Your sweet house should sell in a heartbeat.

  4. Barbara H.

    This will be quite a transformation! Good luck with the purging – that’s perhaps the hardest part of this project. Ask me how I know….

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      So, Barbara … how DO you know? 🙂 The first bit of purging is starting soon and I am motivated, but I just know I’m going to get caught up in nostalgia and reminiscing. Have to be ruthless!! Do you have any hints?

      1. Barbara H.

        Hah! After I wrote my comment, I thought “Oh no! What if she asks me?” I know because I can’t seem to do much purging myself. I know that once I start, it will get easier. Last fall I finally took a bunch of work clothes to Salvation Army. I had not worn them since I stopped working and moved to Alabama (from Portland) in mid-2007. I was surprised how good it felt once they were out of my control. Just keep purging – take pictures of stuff that you are wobbly on so at least you can look and remember without having to store the stuff. I’ll get busy, too.

  5. Eric

    When I first saw the attic, the insulation was hanging down. I could not stand upright in the large room, but we still needed to put stuff up there. The were no shelves to put things on so the floor and gravity became what held things. Then came the day when we put the bead board up. That meant piling stuff on one side to the other. So…the attic was mostly sealed in but other projects took precedence and out of sight out of mind became the call of the day. Finally the attic came back on the list. I can now walk front one end to the other standing upright to my full six foot one inch height. We are getting there!

  6. Cathy Lee

    I so enjoy reading about your home, D’Arcy, and this post in particular struck me with admiration for your care to preserve and protect such a lovely area. Your attic has secrets and memories and treasures and such steep and narrow stairs! If you want to get rid of the drafting table let me know😊

  7. Dan

    Wow what a great space. I’m jealous that you can uncover an entirely new living space in your house. Sounds like a lot of work, but I’m sure it’ll be worth it.

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Everything about old houses is a lot of work, isn’t it? I feel kind of guilty for simply using the attic to store stuff. I should have made it into usable space years ago … but we only got an electrical circuit run up there since we remodeled the kitchen. Better late than never!

  8. Jo

    Our attic, too, is stuffed to the gills with no hope of ever clearing it out because ours has no headspace. I look forward to seeing your beautiful atelier come to life. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Ours doesn’t have a lot of headspace, either, Jo. Eric can walk down the middle, and I have a little extra headroom, but it’s not tall. Still, it’ll work.


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