The clients wanted me to transform the attic of their 70-year-old Arlington, Mass., home into a finished bedroom. The attic, which until now had been used for storage, ran the length and width of the house — 36 feet by 26 feet. There were no knee walls; the rafters spanned from the ridge all the way down to the eaves. The ridge was 9 feet 4 inches off the floor, with collar ties 2 feet below the ridge. The clients were hoping to get rid of the collar ties and add skylights to create a more open living space.

Sounds simple enough, but there was a problem. In most cases where the rafters meet the floor at the eaves, the floor joists serve as ties, but in this house the rafters weren't tied to the joists. In fact, the rafters sat on top of the attic deck, so tying them to the joists wasn't a realistic option. Even if it had been, a stairwell...

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