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11 Jan 2021

Loft Conversions 101 with Sophie Nguyen

In this article, Sophie Nguyen, Director at Sophie Nguyen Architects, offers her professional advice on converting lofts for optimum spatial and aesthetically-pleasing, relaxing areas so you can make the most of your conversion.

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What are the main reasons we all want to convert our lofts?

Converting a loft can:

•  Add extra floor area and potentially increase the value of your house
•  Create more floor area without the need to create an extension
•  Create more living space such as an additional bedroom, a study room or family room, without the need to extend your home.

These lofts are usually uninsulated, as they are not used for living spaces. A quarter of heat you generate to keep warm will be lost through the roof in an uninsulated home. Therefore, insulating your loft is very important as it will reduce heat loss and lower your heating bills. Once the space is insulated, it makes good sense to use it for a living area.

How can you transform your loft?

Add an en-suite bathroom

With an en-suite bathroom, the loft conversion becomes a precious private bedroom that your teenager has been longing for. Or it could be the personal space highly appreciated by your guests.

Adding a rooflight or a dormer window will radically transform this small shower room into a charming room, as it will be flooded with natural light. Also, it will contribute to feeling healthy with plenty of natural ventilation. Good use of a full-height mirror can also add a sense of depth.

Create a view and add natural light

The daylight that floods into a room is a connection to the natural environment and its benefit to our mental health is well known. Furthermore, the sunlight transforms the room spatially, as the light changes through the day. Dormer windows will increase the usable space by adding height. And a rooflight will increase the sense of height – the sky is the limit. In both cases, it will create a space flooded with natural light. A dormer window or a rooflight will generate a connection to the outdoors and will add views of your surroundings. The ability to see nature from a room is a healing element, whether it is the sight of a surrounding park or the views over the street below.

Don’t forget storage space

As the loft is an area under a pitched roof, the space where the roof meets the floor could be perfect to create a line of low cupboards, with shelves and drawers. It is also where the water tank could be tucked away.

Finishes

New roof insulation can be hidden by plasterboard, with a polished plaster to create a modern feeling. Or it could also be covered with white-washed timber panels to give a Scandinavian feel to a new room.

How can architects help you design your dream conversion or renovation?

Here is my general approach using these five tools:

01. Puzzle
The process of designing a home is similar to a puzzle. The pieces are elements – such as sunlight, views, planning matters with your local authority and the budget you want to allocate to the construction. The challenge is to find a design that makes the best of the elements that matter most to you, within your budget and time constraints. This is achieved through a discussion about your aspirations and the way you would like to live – and site constraints. And, it is through designing various spatial combinations that all the pieces eventually come together to create a unique home.

02. The ‘Sunday afternoon test’
I have what I call the ‘Sunday afternoon test’. When it is grey outside – perhaps it’s raining – and the next day is Monday – ask yourself, ‘do I feel happy in this space?’ If I can imagine simply being content to spend my time in a space, with family or friends or on my own, when the conditions are not perfect, then I am reassured that it is a space that will work over the longer term.

03. Let the sun shine in
When I work on a project, I like to focus on the sunlight, its orientation and how I can maximise its entry into the volume. I believe natural light adds another dimension to a space as well as increasing our wellbeing.

04. Revealing spaces
I am interested in revealing spaces that you would not imagine were there. A built-in cupboard in the wrong place can be an obstacle to a wider room. A corridor or a staircase, once relocated, can create an open-plan living room. Rooms should be part of an overall project, where the spaces in between are appropriately considered so that we can create a flow through the different rooms like an architectural promenade.

5. Sketching and modelmaking
When I design a home, I like to explore ideas through making models and drawing sketches. It is an exciting way of allowing time to reflect and visualising the solutions. Physical models are a great way to give you a better idea of the proposal, and by moving the model around in the light, you can get an idea of how the sunlight will play with the space.

Top tips when planning a home renovation

01. Dream! It’s your house, and it is a wonderful opportunity for you to think about how you want to live.

02. Think of the Sunday afternoon test. Am I content to sit here when it’s raining outside?

03. Set a reasonable budget. The design and construction process needn’t be scary. It can be a pleasure, and matching your budget to your aspirations is an excellent way to reduce the stress of the process.

04. Hire an architect. I would say that wouldn’t I! However, a good architect brings both experience to the construction process and creativity to the design process.

05. When choosing rooflights, it is advisable to use standard skylights, double-glazed or triple-glazed, with integrated blinds (manual or electrical), top-hung with hinges, allowing central rotation for ease of cleaning without having to go on the roof.

And, during the build stage:

01. Get a contract. Even the most straightforward contract will bring clarity to the process and will stipulate your rights in the event of issues arising. If a contractor does not want to work with a contract, then you should not want to work with them.

02. Ask the contractor questions that you may feel are too naive to be asked. Is this a fixed price or an estimate? What might make the price increase? Is there any information that you need that you do not have? When is your finish date? Can you give me a copy of your insurance policy?

03. Be fair. It is generally better, and less costly, to reach an agreement where both sides come away with some level of satisfaction.

Further information....

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