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Attic Bathrooms: Converted Loft Spaces For A Growing Home

If you have a growing family in a small home, chances are one of the first and worst growing pains you’re going to feel is the lack of bathrooms. Kids can double up in bedrooms, play outside, do homework in the living room or kitchen – but when someone’s gotta go, it’s a lot harder to make do. Fortunately, adding a bathroom doesn’t necessarily have to mean doing a full addition. Really, the secret to adding an extra bathroom to a small home is finding the empty spaces in your home that are going unused. For a half bath, that might mean sacrificing a closet or carving out the space under a staircase. For a full bathroom, though, your best bet is simple: a finished attic.

Attics aren't the ideal space for building just about anything, but with the right pre-planning, they can be the perfect spot to add a full bath (by Mary Barber Fray Interior Design)
Attics aren’t the ideal space for building just about anything, but with the right pre-planning, they can be the perfect spot to add a full bath (by Mary Barber Fray Interior Design)

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Admittedly, part of the reason most attics aren’t finished in the first place is that the sloped ceilings make them, at best, problematic as living spaces. Any space directly underneath a roof is going to be odd shaped at best, and low, slanted ceilings aren’t exactly on anyone’s must-have list. But finishing an existing part of your home is vastly less expensive than doing a full addition, and with a little care, an attic bathroom can be both beautiful and functional, you just need to work with the shape of the space and plan your layout ahead of time.

The slope of some attic ceilings can be quite severe, but even the worst offenders can usually be made to accommodate a functional bathroom (by raum.atelier, Fred Urbanke)
The slope of some attic ceilings can be quite severe, but even the worst offenders can usually be made to accommodate a functional bathroom (by raum.atelier, Fred Urbanke)

The main determining factor in the layout of an attic bathroom is the height and pitch of the roof. If you can’t stand up fully at the highest point of your attic, an attic bathroom probably won’t work in your home, but otherwise, no matter how steep or low your ceilings, you can probably make it work. For example, the ceiling in this attic bathroom is both low and gradually sloped, which means the height in most of the room is fairly oppressive. But the bathroom is laid out so the main thoroughfare is lined up with the highest point of the ceiling, so the only space you’ll be standing in – the area directly in front of the vanities – is perfectly comfortable to stand in.

Placing a freestanding tub parallel to the lowest wall in an attic bathroom is the best way to keep the ceiling from feeling oppressive (by 50 Degrees North Architects, James Bailey)
Placing a freestanding tub parallel to the lowest wall in an attic bathroom is the best way to keep the ceiling from feeling oppressive (by 50 Degrees North Architects, James Bailey)

Placing a freestanding bathtub horizontally along the lowest wall is also a smart move.  You’ll rarely need to stand all the way straight up while you’re in (or even getting into) the tub, and since you’ll be laying down while you’re inside it, even a very low ceiling won’t be as noticeable as it would elsewhere in the bathroom. Of course, low, flat ceilings also aren’t the most fun too look up at, so if you can, it might be worth considering adding a skylight above the tub area. Not only will this provide a great view when you’re looking up from the tub, it’s also a great way to add lots of natural light to the space without sacrificing privacy.

Having a sloped ceiling inside a shower can result in a somewhat cramped experience, but isn't always avoidable in an attic bathroom (by Landmark Group)
Having a sloped ceiling inside a shower can result in a somewhat cramped experience, but isn’t always avoidable in an attic bathroom (by Landmark Group)

Depending again on the height and pitch of your ceiling, it can be a good idea to put toilets back up against the shortest wall of an attic bathroom, too. You want to ensure the ceiling is high enough there to be comfortable for someone using the toilet, of course, but as with bathtubs, a lower ceiling will be a bit less noticeable with this configuration. Where a slanted ceiling is the most likely to cause problems, on the other hand, is in the shower.  A shower or shower/tub combo with a noticeably slanted ceiling (like in the bathroom above) is certainly usable, and not much more cramped than a small shower stall, but this layout is far from ideal. A ceiling-mounted shower head can help alleviate some of the awkwardness, but if possible, it’s best to install the shower as far away from the slope in the roof as possible, if only to ensure the whole shower is comfortable and usable.

The more unusual the shape of the roof, the more difficult it will be to design around - but also the more potential it has as a striking architectural feature (by Thorp Design)
The more unusual the shape of the roof, the more difficult it will be to design around – but also the more potential it has as a striking architectural feature (by Thorp Design)

It’s also important to think of your sloped ceilings not as a hindrance or flaw but as a feature. The underside of a roof can often be quite beautiful, and the design of the bathroom should accentuate – rather than try to hide – the graceful lines and angles of the ceiling. That can mean anything from turning the angled wall into an accent wall with a bolder paint or tile, or something as subtle as using natural or artificial light to draw attention to the more unusual details of the room. Exposed beams – whether they’re functional or not – can also help turn the angles of a low, sloped ceiling into an elegant architectural feature. Paying attention to these small details can make the difference between an attic bathroom that feels small and cramped and one that has an intentional, designer look and feel.

Dividing an attic bath along the middle reduces the space you have to walk at full height, but provides a usable, vertical surface and keeps the bathroom from feeling over-large (by Renewal Design-Build)
Dividing an attic bath along the middle reduces the space you have to walk at full height, but provides a usable, vertical surface and keeps the bathroom from feeling over-large (by Renewal Design-Build)

Depending on the size of your house, the accessibility of the space, and the needs of your family, an attic bathroom may take up your whole attic, or just a small part of it. If you’re going to divide up the space, it’s important to think about how and where to place the walls, and what impact they’ll have on how the room can be laid out. In a fully open attic bathroom, there’s more room to place all the different fixtures, but fewer flat walls to put them against. Dividing the space will create one or more solid walls, but also means having less floor space, and being pressed up against the sloped walls, which you’ll need to account for in the layout.

Either way, thinking about ceiling height and layout at the very earliest planning stages is crucial to building a lofted bathroom that works well and looks good. But what do you think of this slightly unconventional way to add an extra bathroom? Let me know in the comments below!