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Bathroom With A Sloped Ceiling: Making The Most of Attic Bathrooms, Steep Gables, and Cramped Additions

The building blocks of interior design are all squares and rectangles. If you’ve ever had the (mis)fortune of using floorplan software, you’ll know: at the very basic level, everything is broken down into small boxes shuffled around in bigger boxes. But where does that leave you if the space you’re working with isn’t quite square? Gabled ceilings are a common feature of older architecture; even newer builds aren’t immune to the occasional angled wall. On the smaller end, they can be a nice bit of architectural flair, but when you’re trying to install a bathroom in a space with a big slope to one or more walls, they’re a headache waiting to happen. The good news is, there are ways to make a bathroom with a sloped ceiling beautiful, functional and even – dare I say – comfortable.

Rule #1: Watch Your Head

This long, narrow, steeply-gabled bathroom is just about worst-case-scenario in terms of layout, but by keeping a walkway at the highest point of the ceiling, the whole space becomes more usable (by Hinge And Door)
This long, narrow, steeply-gabled bathroom is just about worst-case-scenario in terms of layout, but by keeping a walkway at the highest point of the ceiling, the whole space becomes more usable (by Hinge And Door)

Whether you’re building an attic bathroom, converting some other space, or even working with an existing bathroom, the most important thing to keep in mind at all stages of your renovation is: head clearance. The smaller the bathroom and the more prominent the gables, the more likely you are to eventually smack your head into something. Worse, “something” is likely to be hard tile or metal hardware. To avoid both mild irritants and the possibility for serious injury, you absolutely have to plan your layout accordingly. Anywhere you need to stand full-height should be placed carefully in the highest part of your bathroom, and everything else moved strategically to the gables. What does that look like?

Rule #2: Make Sure You Can Stand (In) Your Shower

This super-unusual sloped ceiling might not seem like the ideal spot for a shower, but the high gable will let you stand tall while the outward slope will keep your arms and shoulders from feeling squished (by Giammarino and Dworkin)
This super-unusual sloped ceiling might not seem like the ideal spot for a shower, but the high gable will let you stand tall while the outward slope will keep your arms and shoulders from feeling squished (by Giammarino and Dworkin)

The more stuff you want to fit into a bathroom with a sloped ceiling, the harder the project will be. Adding a half bath is relatively simple, while a 3/4 or full bathroom add a lot of complexity to the task. For the latter two, mounting your shower at the highest point of your ceiling should be a top priority. No one wants to feel cramped in the shower, and making sure you have as much head clearance as possible is key to ensuring the space won’t feel oppressive. That said, it’s fine to have the slope at your back; as you lower yourself onto a shower seat or into a bathtub, you’ll naturally dodge the grade of the roof. So while the shower might look a little cramped and awkward from the outside, a well-positioned shower head should save you from accidentally touching a cold shower wall.

Rule #3: Don’t Give Your Bathroom Vanity Top Priority

This bathroom is definitely a tight squeeze, but orienting the sink and mirror to the highest point of the ceiling helps negate the claustrophobic feeling (by Proform Construction LLC)
This bathroom is definitely a tight squeeze, but orienting the sink and mirror to the highest point of the ceiling helps negate the claustrophobic feeling (by Proform Construction LLC)

Similarly, you want to be able to stand comfortably in front of your bathroom vanity. Many people default to putting vanities against any straight, full-height walls to avoid the room’s slopes. But depending on the slope of your ceiling, that might not be the best choice. As long as you offset the sink and mirror at a high point, you can easily nestle your vanity under a slope that crosses above it. The taper to either side is less disruptive than you might think, and because you stand back from the vanity to use it, it shouldn’t feel oppressive. You can even get away with placing your vanity under a ceiling that slopes toward you, with two caveats: 1) that there’s enough room for a mirror and 2) that the slope is gradual enough that you can still stand straight in front of the vanity comfortably.

Rule #4: Make Sure You Really, Really Want A Bathtub (Before You Try To Build Your Floor Plan Around One)

This bathtub is inarguably going to be a little difficult to get in and out of, but the skylight saves it by making it actually a pretty lovely spot to soak (by Anne Webster Designs)
This bathtub is inarguably going to be a little difficult to get in and out of, but the skylight saves it by making it actually a pretty lovely spot to soak (by Anne Webster Designs)

Building a full bathroom with a sloped ceiling is definitely hard mode, but it’s not impossible. The biggest restriction is that you need more space for a bathtub than you do for a shower alone. A shower can work mounted at the center of a steep gable, but a bathtub underneath it would be difficult to get into, even if you had enough clearance to install one in the first place. That said, bathtubs don’t mind a low slope, within reason. Most often, you’ll want to opt for the same configuration as a shower: with the tub-filler at the taller end and the head of the tub at the low point. Alternatively, put your bathtub at the lowest point of the ceiling. Depending on the slope of your roof, this configuration can produce a tub that’s awkward to get into, but should leave you plenty of room to soak comfortably.

Rule #5: Put Your Toilet Somewhere You Can’t Stand (Because You Won’t Need To)

The slope on this ceiling looks worse than it feels, with the toilet, tank, and skylight lined up so the ceiling should never touch the top of your head (by Bethell Projects Ltd)
The slope on this ceiling looks worse than it feels, with the toilet, tank, and skylight lined up so the ceiling should never touch the top of your head (by Bethell Projects Ltd)

A toilet is a must-have, no matter what else you have going on in your bathroom. But the good news is, toilets actually play quite well with sloped ceilings. As with a shower or tub, as long as you can stand at full height in front of the toilet and sit on it without bumping your head, you’ll dodge the ceiling while sitting down, and hardly notice it’s even there. The caveat here is that the taller you are and the sharper the slope of your ceiling, the harder this is to pull off. But in most cases you can afford to put a toilet in a spot you wouldn’t want to put anything else – which leaves you more room to make things like your shower or vanity a little more comfortable and accessible while standing.

Rule #6: If All Else Fails, Bump It Out

Bumping out a ceiling isn't a project for the faint of heart, but it might be the best way to get a fully-functioning bathroom in a space where the ceilings are just too low (by Bright Common Architecture & Design)
Bumping out a ceiling isn’t a project for the faint of heart, but it might be the best way to get a fully-functioning bathroom in a space where the ceilings are just too low (by Bright Common Architecture & Design)

Of course, sometimes it’s just not possible to bend a too-small space to your will without a little architectural invention. Still, adding a dormer or bumping out your roof is really truly a last-ditch option; this is NOT a small, quick, or budget-friendly project. But, if you absolutely need a usable bathroom and your options are converting a space with a sloped ceiling or doing a full-room addition, modifying your roof is almost always going to be the less expensive option. How much you need to change will depend on your existing architecture, but even a small dormer window (with or without skylight – though why would you not?) has the potential to turn a cramped bathroom from a head injury waiting to happen into a sun-soaked, architecturally interesting space.

Almost by definition, any bathroom with a sloped ceiling is going to be a little bit cramped and awkward. Worse, every space is uniquely different, which means there are no hard-and-fast ways to optimize them. That said, keeping comfort and accessibility in mind at all stages of the design process can make the awkward angles and unusual layout blend into the background. So while these petite bathrooms will probably never feel like a sprawling master suite, with a little care and clever design, they won’t feel like an inconvenience.