Loft-y Ambitions – Repurposing Your Attic

Jonathon Ensor is a freelance design blogger and outdoor enthusiast. His attic plans are still in the “coffee-table-book stage”, but he can’t wait to break out the sledgehammers.

If you’re anything like me, your attic is a jumble of plastic tubs and cardboard boxes, industrial-sized dust bunnies and eerie corners that you’re possibly afraid to put all your weight on. Hey, I know my weaknesses – one of them is “out of sight; out of mind”. However, I’m putting that attic in my crosshairs and I’m here to help you do the same!

First, you want to get a good assessment of the available space. Be wary of natural roof design elements, say, sloping eaves and low rafters, as they can cut into perceived square footage dramatically. You don’t want to be giving yourself concussions on quirky corners. Or constantly stooping.

Next, mull over the options of what you want this extra space for – a home office, a playroom for the kids, a quiet library, relaxing loft, mega-master bedroom, tower for Rapunzel, etc. – and make sure your home has the structural integrity to literally support your dream.

Floor joists quickly become the most important factor in finishing an attic. If you’re questioning the strength of yours, remove all doubt and have a pro come check it out. You might not have an engineer on speed dial, but spending a little extra cash is better than falling through your own roof.

Speaking of professionals, most building codes state that at least half of your attic must be at least 7 feet high, while the entirety must be 7 feet wide and 70 square feet. That’s a lot of sevens. If you’re unsure if your space falls into compliance, ask a local building official or contractor for advice on resolving shortcomings.

Heating and cooling gets a little tricky in an attic. If your insulation is old or inadequate, consider bulking it up so you’re not sweating through the summer and shivering through the winter. If the ventilation is nonexistent, you might want to consider adding a skylight or window to get some air circulating. They double down as atmospheric lighting.

Once you’ve got the skeletal aspect figured out and a firm plan for transforming your top floor into your new favorite place, it’s time for the fun part: décor and furnishings.

While most people are completely batty about their hardwood floors and wouldn’t cover them up unless absolutely necessary, an attic is the perfect place for some cushy, cozy carpeting. The warm-and-snug factor isn’t the only thing to consider – thick carpeting muffles sound for anyone dwelling below the attic. In mine, a simple tip-toe step sounds like a herd of mating elephants plowing through the second story. Not good.

Even though we’re converting a former storage zone into a functional room, maximizing the space you’re working with is still the premium goal. Built-in shelves that double as benches, bookcases tucked into walls, tiny corners that become cozy sleeping alcoves, DIY knick-knack ledges – it’s time to get creative. Take your marginal spaces and make the most out of them. I read a rule somewhere about the importance of keeping the furniture low, but not tiny. You’re not in a dollhouse.

The final, and possibly most vital, thing to address is an emergency escape plan. If there’s not one; make one, build one, figure it out. It’s as cut-and-dried as that. Even if building code doesn’t dictate it, you still need an exit strategy. Don’t be silly. Oh yeah, and have fun!

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