Height of luxury: Stylish loft conversions go through the roof
Once home to Christmas decorations and generally ignored by the wider household, loft spaces were traditionally regarded as musty, dark and a bit of a mystery. Even the earliest, basic boarded loft conversions weren’t a particularly attractive proposition – basic in their engineering, they were often adapted into a very simple office, or a makeshift kids’ bedroom at a stretch.
“I think the old perception about the loft was a social one, dating back to the tradition of the servants being kept at the top of the house,” says James Gold, director of London-based conversions specialists Landmark Lofts. “It was about status – you simply weren’t grand if you didn’t sleep in the main body of the house.”
And despite the fact that loft conversions have evolved beyond recognition – by and large, since the Eighties, many people still find it difficult to visualise their transformation into a bright, open living space, James says – “especially when many can only see a fraction of the area’s potential by poking their head up there from a rickety ladder on the landing.”
Now, though, with space at more of a premium than ever, the loft has undergone a shift in status: a bespoke conversion has become the mark of luxury. Specialists like Landmark Lofts are elevating the practice to a whole new level, as more people are embracing – and more importantly maximising – that amazing space under the roof, investing in personalised conversions that can add as much style as value to their homes.
A loft can now become the luxury hotel-style master bedroom suite you always dreamed of, a sound-proofed sanctuary away from the main house, a walk-in dressing room worthy of a film star or a state-of-the-art media room. “The opportunities and possibilities are endless,” explains James, “and this is largely down to the fact that the loft usually covers almost the exact ‘footprint’ of the whole house. People are always astounded by the vast, open space they have to play with.”
The rise of the luxury loft conversion began in earnest in 2008, when planning laws were relaxed, allowing larger conversions to be built. Previously, permitted developments allowed you to extend your home by a certain cubic capacity overall, but in 2008, it was broken-down so that all of a home’s previous permitted cubic capacity could be applied to the loft.
Homeowners are increasingly inspired by big luxurious designer hotels around the world, and loft conversions, with their fantastic potential for bespoke storage, are now being created to accommodate large shoe collections, libraries or wellness suites.
The only limit is your imagination, James Gold explains. “In other parts of the house, you are constrained by an existing floor plan. If, for example, you want to put in an elegant ensuite bathroom, with a steam room and sauna, you have to work within the confines of the existing structure – but in a loft conversion, you’re designing and building a new space afresh. Once people started to realise this, there was no stopping the demand.”
Here, James provides some tips and ideas to consider:
Get the right architect: Before you do anything, discuss your ideas and requirements with an architect who is very familiar with loft conversions – many general architects don’t have a lot experience with them, as it’s quite a specialist thing. A specialist loft company with their own architects will be able to show you what has worked for other clients, and be transparent with what is likely to increase costs. They will also be able to take on the planning application process. Many people think that they can get basic planning and then easily add things on as a design develops, but this is not the case. A good loft company will be able to do 3D modelling to give you a realistic impression of what’s possible in the space: a master bedroom suite will mean a very different approach to a kitchen or a high-tech media room and so forth.
Be open-minded: Ambitious interior design projects are usually most successful when you keep in mind a general goal and be open about how it is executed. A scheme you’ve seen in a designer photo may not be the best use of your particular space.
Invest now and you won’t pay later: If you ever intend to sell your home, to recoup some of the added value, remember that a shoddily executed loft conversion will deter buyers, as the cost of ripping out a bad loft conversion and replacing it is more than the cost of doing it from scratch. A fairly typical conversion, without bespoke taps and terraces, costs about £140-£160 per square foot. Typically, the investment will match the sq ft average price for your area, but in terms of adding value to your home, you can recoup as much as 2-4 times the actual build cost if it’s of a very high standard.
Make an entrance: Nothing says luxury like a grand entrance. Nowadays, many people, particularly in period homes, opt for a custom-made staircases that blend seamlessly with the staircase in the rest of the house, incorporating bespoke Georgian or Victoria handrails and balusters. But if you live in a modern house, why not make a feature of the staircase? Cantilevered stairs, with glass or concrete steps going into the wall, changes the personality of the space as you enter – it can be a really exciting feature, unexpected from the outside.
Quirky is good news: Many people’s idea of luxury is to have something architecturally interesting or unique. Houses with interesting or unusual shapes – particularly an irregularly shaped roof – mean that the architect can be very creative with the loft-conversion design. However, you can still do an awful lot internally with a mid-terrace Victorian conversion, although sometimes the ‘concept’ may need to be scaled down a bit. If you use the space intelligently, there’s no restriction on how you use the space, although you may need to raise the ridge up on the house or lower the ceilings of the floor below to achieve extra head height.
Away with walls: You can achieve all sorts of effects by putting up new internal walls. However, lofts tend to lend themselves to ‘openness’, and flexibility is key, especially if you want to change the purpose of the room down the line – it may be a perfect recording studio now, but an extra bedroom may become a greater priority if a teenager needs privacy or a parent comes to stay. Keep the resale value in the back of your mind. Consider stylish 3/4-height partitions to section off areas for different uses; they’re much easier to adapt as they don’t become part of the conversion’s structure.
Let there be light: Most lofts are dual aspect, with windows in the roof slope and traditional windows overlooking the rear of the property, and are often flooded with natural light house – a definite advantage over basement conversions. You can maximise the influx of light with Velux windows angled towards the sky, or French, traditional or bi-fold doors. Sometimes it’s possible to change the roof shape – flat glass skylights are architecturally and visually impressive – but make sure, if you’re using it as a bedroom, that you love the sound of rain pattering down on the windows.
… or don’t: Light can be easily blocked out using built-in blackout blinds on Velux windows, meaning that your loft conversion could be the ultimate home cinema where you can watch movies at midday.
Make it a room with a view: A great view from up high adds enormous value to your house, and if you have one, make the most of it by putting glass doors across one wall, and perhaps having a glass balustrade on your balcony so your views are uninterrupted. If you live by a river, you can even create the impression of dangling your feet in the water from the room. French windows are cheaper and easier to install, and it’s possible to incorporate small ‘lifts’ so that they take in an even more elevated view. Bifold doors have an undeniably designer feel; they don’t have to go all the way across, you can install just 2-3 panels for a striking effect.
Extend outside: A balcony or terrace makes you feel like you’re living in a five-star hotel. Even if you live in a top-floor flat, you can create a terrace with a built-in barbecue and stylish seating as part of your loft conversion. It’s incredible valuable for extending your living area, and is in huge demand: many people are now opting to reverse their property’s traditional structure, putting their bedroom on the floor below, and going upstairs to their living area.
A designer den: A loft conversion can easily be turned into a self-contained flat for children returning home from university, with its own studio kitchen and living area, and if they’re really lucky, why not a built-in AV system with a TV that drops down from the ceiling?
Good vibrations: Transmission of noise through the floors in a house happens because you’re walking on the same bit of wood, but a high-end loft conversion means that you are building on a new, reinforced floor, so nothing in the loft is touching the ceiling below. Which makes it the perfect place for a hotel-style gym or games room. Modern, high-performance shock-absorbent rubber matting can be incorporated for gyms or kids’ playrooms for ultimate comfort. Since the external shell is separate from the rest of the house, there’s no vibration either. Always wanted a music room for your guitars? The acoustics in a loft conversion can be superb, and bespoke acoustic glass can be incorporated into the windows.
James Gold is the director of Landmark Lofts. After studying at the University of Cambridge, Judge Business School and BPP Law School, Gold founded the Landmark Group, which comprises Landmark Lofts, Landmark Architecture, Landmark LLP and Landmark Heating, which have at their core a strong environmental focus and a commitment to excellence.
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