How to Approach Designing Your Loft Conversion
If you are planning a loft conversion, it’s one sure-fire way of adding to the value of your home! Before embarking on a loft extension or conversion, think carefully about the stages of design. Attention to detail at all stages of loft conversions is crucial, actually achieving the perfect final look for your new loft room starts right at the beginning – at the design stage. So as you approach your design for the first time, what are the key aspects you need to keep in mind?
Remember to think about useable space
Identifying the overall size and shape of the space available is the first thing to establish when initially exploring the possibility of a loft conversion. But, whatever the existing or potential square foot available, the design of the final loft conversion will be primarily influenced by three factors:
1. loft headroom
Paying attention to the actual loft headroom available is a must when approaching design – for standing and movement and because the design will need to comply with any planning guidelines specifying headroom clearance for the stairway, or to facilitate increased headroom with a Mansard type loft conversions.
Then managing the visual effects of overall loft headroom can be facilitated by incorporating specific materials and colours into the design: plaster and pale colours will make the ceiling seem higher, while darker colours or wood cladding brings a lofty ceiling lower, to add a sense of cosiness to the space created.
Headroom also affects design choices for lighting, so consider how the room might be lit effectively without crashing into hanging chandeliers, fans or pendant lights. Manage the lighting in limited headroom areas with spot lights. Movable lighting such as table lamps adds flexibility and lower level lighting to create cosy corners when headroom is excessive.
2. Loft windows or ‘Velux’ type windows
Windows are crucial to bringing light into a previously dark space, so maximising natural light is essential in coming up with loft conversion ideas. Making a real feature of proximity to the sky and the sun will also help to cut costs in electric lighting. Window designs will depend on several things:
- The conversion type, as this may dictate placement and type of window.
- Local environment and planning regulations, which can restrict window types due to issues of privacy or conservation. Headroom space, as Dormer designs, for example, can increase headroom, while roof lights offer light and views, without additional space.
Consider modern designs such as a bank of ceiling lights for a glass roof effect or for creating light wells over stairs.
3. The stairway to your loft conversion
Space always needs to be sacrificed for the stairs. However, headroom influences the options available for designs within the attic space and access from the storey below.
Stacking the new stairway over an existing stairwell is an attractive, cost-effective and space-saving option, which also blends the new stairway into the current home. To make the most of the stair space, ensure design stage discussions include options for making a stairway multifunctional, perhaps by treads incorporating small drawers for shoe storage or shelving for display or books.
Overall, where your proposed space is concerned, do also approach the design stage by taking advice from your builder or loft conversion specialist about materials which will impact on the area. For example, using transparent materials offers excellent design options for maximising light and adding the illusion of space in darker or restricted areas.
Keep in mind: purpose. What’s your loft conversion for, an extra bedroom, playroom or studio, etc.?
Most householders have clear ideas about the type of additional accommodation they want to create from loft conversions. Whatever use you have in mind, consider any other areas to incorporate into early designs. For example, a small dressing area or an en-suite as part of a Master bedroom, as it’s much cheaper and less inconvenient to integrate these into designs early on, rather than to redevelop the design or complete conversion later.
Contextualise any headroom issues within the context of your room’s proposed purpose, for example, ensure space is adequate for standing and movements, such as when dressing or showering, if the room will be a master suite.
How you use space is very relevant to the design of the flooring – and any noise impact to or from the floor below. For example, sound proofed, cushioned flooring to absorb sound is ideal if the room is to be a child’s bedroom, a home gym or cinema above bedrooms.
Other things to consider when planning loft conversions
Another aspect of floor design, underfloor heating, is attractive for loft extension bedrooms with en-suites. It’s also idea when walls offer inadequate space for radiators, but it’s essential to add it at the design stage, along with any other heating which complements the use of the room, such as vertical or ladder radiators, to multi-function as a heated towel rail.
And speaking of multifunction, make “multifunction” your mantra as you approach design, to ensure the best use of the space, necessary for creating storage, as bespoke shelving and fittings will be cheaper to incorporate at the design stage, rather than afterwards. Options such as a built-in desk might alternatively serve as a dressing table or play table for children, while multi-purpose cupboards could store fold down beds. Designs which include built-in furniture make the most of any eaves space, while floor to ceiling built-ins can also add to the illusion of extra ceiling height if headroom is limited.
We asked Guy Beaven of Abbey Lofts for any tips when planning a conversion. Guy said: ‘Remember, that tranquil setting that comes with a lack of clutter in the final room is achieved with careful attention at the design stage.’
Keep in mind: budget, it can run away if you’re not careful!
When it comes to loft conversion costs, issues of build-type and budget go hand-in-hand: the type of build impacts on the budget and the budget you have will almost certainly influence the type of designs available to you. For example, if your budget extends to the cost of a Mansard loft conversion, then issues of limited headroom which can significantly influence the design options, will have no impact,
So, it’s essential to be clear about your budget before starting, with a contingency budget if possible to allow for necessary extras within the design your budget buys you. Discussing your budget with your loft conversion professional is helpful when approaching design ideas, as the experts can help you to be realistic about what is possible or about what extras to include in the design. For example, if the current budget allows for a WC en-suite but doesn’t extend to installing a shower, adding the shower plumbing but not the installation may not break the budget now but could be cost-effective later on when installing a shower becomes possible.
Don’t forget to factor in the utilities
Current utilities may also affect both design and budget, so if there’s a tank in the loft, relocating or working around this can impact on both the budget and the final design of how the loft conversion will look or work as space.
Do you need planning consent?
A final, important aspect to get right at the design stage is planning, specifically any likely planning requirements or restrictions. Although many loft conversions fall under permitted development and may not require actual planning permission, building regulations need following and planning permission may be necessary if there are issues such as living in a conservation area.
So, liaise closely with the planning office and your loft designer or architect early on, to ensure that designs comply with planning requirements or restrictions. For example, windows often fall under specific planning guidance, to provide a balance between making the most of the views or creating headroom (for the user), respecting privacy (of the neighbours) and impact on the look of the local environment (community). For such reasons, the planners may not allow dormers with roof lights required instead.
Finally, do also keep in mind that your loft conversions specialist is happy to offer advice about all aspects of design and planning, so do take professional advice.