How to design a loft conversion (properly!)

10/04/2017 07:30:00 am HELEN STILES 0 Comments

I've added a new task to the ever-growing to-do list for our house. Sorting out the loft. Now I don't wish to sound ungrateful, but when the previous owners of our house converted the loft about 10 years ago they made a right pig's ear of it. We have a large bedroom, with lots of strange angles, nooks and crannies; an oversized ensuite (complete with plastic bath and linoleum flooring) and no usable storage. It feels badly designed, cheap and unwelcoming and hence we use it as an occasional guest room and storage for the business. Given that it's actually a pretty large space it really isn't earning it's keep in its current state – hence the imminent redesign. The plan is to move a couple of internal walls and create 2 new bedrooms for our growing boys, plus their own shower room (because frankly, we don't want to share a bathroom with them anymore!)

Needless to say, I've been doing a lot of thinking about what works, what doesn't work and why, so  I thought I'd share a few pointers for anyone else out there thinking about how to design a loft conversion. Tip: don't just go with whatever the building company suggests!

1. Think about how you want to use the space. 

I know this sounds obvious, but really think about what will give you most benefit. A guest room? A TV and playroom? Children's bedrooms? A glamorous master suite? I quite like the idea of a hotel-style master bedroom in the loft, but I'm slightly paranoid that burglars might break in and reach the kids whilst I slumber on obliviously above them. (This is a legitimate worry for me as I seem to lack that mothering gene that supposedly means you wake at the slightest snuffle. According to my husband, I can sleep through them screaming my name at 2am, so even an inept burglar stubbing his toe and swearing loudly could probably get past me).
Be realistic about the space you have. If you can fit in a bathroom, does it need to have a bath or just a shower? Will you put in one bedroom or two?  Some might think it's madness to separate a large room, but for us 2 bedrooms and a bathroom will work far better.

2. Storage

When you convert your loft into living space you are of course losing storage – that valuable loft space. It can be tempting to try to design your loft conversion to have maximum floor area, by pushing the walls as far out into the eaves as possible. Be warned, this will leave you with very small eaves storage cupboards that are difficult to access, and often makes the whole room look awkward (I speak from experience). Far better to design a proper storage cupboard, with a decent sized door, and sacrifice a little of the floor space.

Built in wardrobes or shelves are also a good idea in a loft conversion as they are the most efficient use of space. And whilst you're in the design phase, assess whether there's anything else you could possibly fit in – luxuries like a laundry cupboard, study or dressing room, so often lacking in houses in London, could be squeezed into a loft corner with some careful planning.

3. Locating the bathroom.

Most people, when designing a loft conversion, will want to add a bathroom. It undoubtedly adds value and gives you flexibility. Think about whether you want the bathroom to be an ensuite (off the main bedroom) or accessible from the loft landing so that it can be used by more than one room. Positioning the bathroom is often dictated by the location of your existing soil stack (and other bathrooms in the house) but it is worth discussing the options with your builder. Sometimes it can be possible to squeeze a bathroom into a restricted height part of the loft – using large skylights to provide enough headroom over a bath or basin for example. Or you could even add a hotel-style open plan bath in a master suite.

Image source 

4. Furniture positioning.

The unusual shape of loft rooms, and restricted head height, can make positioning furniture tricky. It's best to plan your layout before the builders arrive – if a kingsize bed is important to you, then make sure the room is wide enough to accommodate one and you can still open the door. Think about which wall you will place it against and make sure there is enough head height to sit up in the bed. If you opt for glass doors rather than a window, then beware you are limiting options for other furniture. Chests of drawers and desks can be placed under windows for example. Ask yourself if you have somewhere else you can put essential furniture, or would you be better considering a window rather than doors? Kate at Mad About the House has used the space under her windows for a great desk space:

5. Lighting.

My favourite interior topic, lighting – think about how you want to light your loft room. Ceiling heights are often quite low, so it can be tempting to put in a grid of spotlights rather than consider alternatives. Beware the stark, overhead glare this can cause (see my article on lighting mistakes to avoid here). There are some attractive flush lighting options available now, so don't feel restricted to spotlights. Also plan in wall lights (next to a bed, in a work area) or consider drop pendants over your bedside tables. And always make lights dimmable so that you can control the mood.

6. Decorating.

Once you've sorted out all the fundamentals, you can get on to the fun part – decorating! There aren't really any rules when it comes to decorating – do whatever you love, and decorate your loft conversion so that it makes you smile whenever you walk in! Paint everything out in one colour (walls, ceilings, doors, architraves and skirtings) to distract your eye from the differing angles. Or create a feature wall (not always a bad thing) with paint or wallpaper – or leave an exposed brick wall behind the bed.  

My eldest is very keen on painting his own graffiti wall when he gets his new loft room (eek...not sure I'm going to be able to relinquish control of that artwork, but I'll let you know how that goes!!)