Q: We want to convert an attic into a large dressing room and bath with an adjacent play area for our children. Because of the roof line, much of the space is broken up by recessed, dormer-style windows and a sloping ceiling. How should we handle these odd configurations?
A: Judging by the frequency with which I'm asked such questions, it seems as though every attic in America is being remodeled. I've therefore become something of an expert in how to make good use of strangely proportioned spaces.
Not that there's any great secret here. In general, the key is to design the new layout so the available headroom accommodates functions that involve standing. The lower parts of the attic should be used for storage and for seating (but you'll have to be careful when rising from a chair!).
As this photo shows, the alcove found in many attics makes a perfect recess for a bathtub, sink or cabinet. In a play area, the same nook can house built-in seating, a toy chest or an activity table.
The biggest problem is the lack of headroom around the perimeter of an attic. A sloping ceiling can make it difficult to use as much as a third of the square footage in such a space. With clever selection of furniture, however, this part of the room can be made to work quite well.
Low and deep base cabinets usually fit into these angular areas. A bookcase with a fake back is another good storage piece to use against a sloped wall. A desk can be placed there, too, though the accompanying chair does need to be at least a few feet out from the point at which the wall meets the floor.
In a bathroom, as the photo suggests, it's best to apply ceramic tile only on the portion of the wall below the angle. Make sure, too, that surfacing materials aren't very heavy. A wood floor, for example, is preferable to tiling in a redone attic.
And please don't forget to consider the weight of the tub you'll be installing. An oversized whirlpool bath, when filled with water, could prove to be a disastrous addition.
Relatively small bathroom fixtures were used in this model. In fact, the Kohler Co.'s "Portrait Suite" is the key design element in this composition because of the sculptural detailing of the fixtures as well as their size.
Lighting is also quite important in these cut-up spaces. Alcoves aren't automatically charming. They can be dingy and dreary little recesses unless they're properly illuminated by their own light source. Here, two small hanging fixtures provide sufficient light for a shaving and makeup area.
A track lighting system installed in the center of the attic will offer a simple and versatile means of illuminating the entire space. Adjustable, swivel-type fixtures allow light to enter even those odd crannies.
Remember that sloping walls create shadows that tend to darken even the best-designed setting. It's essential, therefore, when redoing an attic, to fill it with light and bright colors so that it can become a cheerful, welcoming environment.