Dormered spaces, or dormers, are those charming areas in homes with sloping walls. They can be considered an architectural feature or a space and storage challenge. They are commonly found in older homes, especially in attics and top-floor bedrooms, but they are making a comeback in new construction as builders add these cool angles in to more homes. If you are a little person, say under 8 years old, they can be magical spaces, outfitted as reading nooks or special forts. But for the rest of us, these spaces can just represent lost real estate.
Closets in dormered spaces can be the worst, unless you employ some tricks to help you get the most out of the spaces. Determine where the bulk of the usable space is first. Is the longest run at or above 45″ from the floor on the sloping wall or on a flat wall that meets the sloping wall? Compare the space on a wall that is flat, sloping to meet the dormer on one side with the running length on the dormer. You might be surprised to find, as we did in a recent closet redesign, that not only could we have just as much hanging space on the wall that was easiest to access, but we also allowed for shelving space on the wall in the triangle above. And as a bonus, we were able to install a second hanging rod on the opposing wall, effectively doubling the size of the closet. Look for the longest run that falls between the height of 45″ and 60″ from the floor to maximize the comfort level and space for hanging items. This configuration came with a bonus. Because we were no longer blocking off the dormer space with a wall to wall hanging rod and clothes, we now could use the rear of the sloped closet for out of season storage that was much easier to access, without having to remove a wardrobe.
In another closet, the entire length of the closet was a hanging rod and shallow shelf that was installed right up against the slanted wall/ceiling, making the shelf completely useless. We re-installed the same closet hardware about 18″ away from the slated wall, allowing us to raise the bar just a bit to make sure everything had enough space to hang without hitting the floor and allow for full utilization of the shelving above, with the help of some baskets. A full geometry course isn’t necessary to understand that there is more space to utilize at the big end of a triangle than at the pointy corner. And we created some additional space behind, allowing for easy access to special occaission and off-season sotrage. It’s not much, but 12-18″ is enough for folded shirts, stacked shorts, and shoes.
If the hanging rod must be placed along the length of a slated wall, so that standard hanging rails and brackets won’t install properly, there are brackets that are specially made to support lengths of more than three feet. You can find it here.
Another way to deal with slanted walls and dormered spaces is to make them work as storage. The term for the upright wall that meets a low slanted ceiling is a knee wall. Many times, a knee wall will be installed that creates vacant and hard to reach spaces behind it. Some people use these as very short closets, but you still need to put doors on the openings. And often these unfinished spaces are unconditioned, making them too hot and too cold. If you already have knee walls built in, consider making them work to house an existing dresser. By cutting out an opening, inserting a dresser, and finishing the front with decorative molding, you have an inexpensive and very functional solution. Just be sure to measure the space at both the front (the knee wall) and the back at the depth of the dresser to ensure there is enough space to accomodate it.
If you have a living space with a dormered section, keep in mind that your furniture will probably need to be located to allow for enough comfortable space getting in to and out of the furniture, but chairs under dormered spaces can work very well. You don’t actually need the entire space behind the furniture to raise and lower yourself. The client who owns the room pictured here originally thought that the slanted space under his stairs was only suitable for his TV. However, when we put the furniture in place, we could get the most seating in the room by bringing a recliner under the dormer.
If have a dormered space but aren’t comfortable with many different angles, consider painting the walls and ceiling the same color. Usually we think of ceilings as some variation between white and the wall color, but by painting the ceiling and the walls all the same color, you minimize the number of transitions that the eye has to process, instantly calming the space.
Whatever your dormer challenges, find a way to make your space reflect the job you need it to do and the uniqueness of your style, and you are likely to end up with a dormered space that is a feature and not a fright.