Attention to details key for ‘new’ attics

Other than the basement, the attic is the part of the home most often adapted to new uses. So I suppose the attic will soon be given a new name. Once remodeled, a basement typically becomes “the lower level.” And while “upper level” may be the obvious candidate to designate the attic’s new identity, I don’t think that’s going to catch on — too much potential for confusion with the second floor of a home. Nominations, anyone?

Q: In search of room for an overnight guest, we’ve installed a set of stairs up to the attic and refinished its walls. It’s actually a rather attractive open space, except that the two parallel walls are only 5 feet high because of the roof’s configuration. We’re still trying to figure out what we want to put in this new guest room. But in the meantime, can you give us some design suggestions?

A: Figuring out what to put there may be determined by what you’re able to put there, given the height of those walls. Actually, though, I’ve seen many attics with walls a lot lower than 5 feet, so you’ll have possibilities others don’t.

My first bit of advice is to draw a floor plan showing the different ceiling heights. That should allow you to decide on at least some tentative furniture placements. Even then, these sorts of spaces can be difficult to plan, so I also suggest you consult with a professional designer.

Here’s what I propose, on the shaky basis of never having seen the space: Carpet the entire area in one color and vary the colors of the walls, assuming there will be clear divisions among functional sections of the space. I’d put low-slung bookcases and cabinetry against the perimeter walls, along with a couple of chairs and maybe a couch. The main seating grouping should be near the middle of the space where there’s comfortable standing room.

This photo, from “Bungalow Style” by Treena Crochet, shows an attic made over in some of the ways I’ve mentioned. You can see hints here of the arts and crafts style featured throughout this Taunton Press book.

It’s important to make a decorative investment in this sort of space so that it acquires a look of permanence. An ex-attic will become fully integrated into a home — and thus be used regularly, not just by overnight guests — if it’s transformed into a pleasant environment. Details matter a lot: Give the woodwork a handsome finish and choose some attractive fixtures. In order to live up to its new name (whatever that turns out to be) a remodeled attic has to look like more than just a remodeled attic.

Rita St. Clair is a syndicated columnist with Tribune Media Services Inc. E-mail general interior design questions to her at

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