Attic Closet

Closet space is at a premium in most homes. It seems that our possessions continue to multiply, while homes are built with less places to put them. Unless the home is custom built, there is never enough closet space, nor is there a storage room.

Converting attic space into usable living space is a great way to make more usable floor space in the home. At the same time, it opens the door for adding additional closet space in the attic as well. That additional closet space might be used by whoever is occupying the bedroom in the attic, or if there is enough of it, providing space for the family in general.

One key to turning attic space into closet space is to use space that is not usable for anything else. Attic finishes often end up with odd areas of space that really don’t function well as floor space, either because the ceiling height is too low or the floor space is too narrow. Those spaces are usually ideal for building a closet, even building a walk-in closet.

Of course, this will usually work out the best if the closet is planned as part of finish the attic. Areas that work out well for closets might very well be left out of the attic finish, just because they don’t work out well for living space. Making it all part of one big remodeling project will ultimately save on costs.

Even so, pretty much any attic closet is going to be unusual. Most either end up in the knee wall or with a slanted ceiling. While that is a bit of a challenge from a construction viewpoint, it’s a bigger one from a design one. Trying to make an effective closet, without taking away from usable floor space, can be challenging.

Closets in Knee Walls

Probably the most common form of attic closet is a closet in a knee wall. This area is normally not used as living space, because of the low ceiling height. But just because it isn’t tall enough for walking in, doesn’t mean that the space can’t be used.

Closets in knee walls are usually short, due to the sloping of the roof. The big trick in designing them is to figure out where to place the knee wall, so that the closet can be accessed, without people hitting their head on the wall. In most cases, that means having a ceiling height of six feet, one foot out from the face of the closet.

Putting a closet in the knee wall usually means adding in two knee walls; one for the face of the closet and one for the back. Rarely do people run the closet all the way back into the eaves, although that can be done. If a back wall is added in, it needs to be far enough back to leave 24” of usable storage space.

Another way to do this is to just put a back knee wall in, with the front of the closet not being a wall, but rather treating the entire surface as if it were a cabinet front. Frame around the doors and fill the space between them with plywood, rather than with drywall. This saves on depth, giving you more usable space in the closet. An entire knee wall can be turned into cabinets, putting doors and drawers one beside the other, much like kitchen cabinetry.

These closets in the knee walls can be used either for hanging clothes or for storing other items. Installing dividers into the knee wall cabinet can make it ideal for storage of shoes, sweaters and other items, in addition to leaving space for clothes hung on hangers.

A number of different companies make “closet systems” which provide closet organization for the wide variety of things that people keep in their closets. While they are not made for use in an attic closet, with a sloping roof, it’s really not all that hard to modify the design, making them usable. All that usually has to be done is cutting off the tops of pieces, so that they will match with the slope of the ceiling.

Going at the Knee Wall from Another Direction

If the attic room is wide enough, the knee wall can be brought out away from the wall, making a much bigger closet, even to the point of turning the cut off area into a walk-in closet. The wall can be set in such a way that there is room to walk behind it, with shelves on the room side of the closet and a clothes bar on the shorter side, towards the eves.

Even if there isn’t enough room to cut off enough for a walk-in closet, the idea of separating off enough space to make an almost full-height closet is not without merit, especially if there’s a small dormer that needs to be dealt with. Dual closets, with the doors facing each other, can be placed on either side of the dormer. If there’s so much space that it makes the closet too deep for practicality, combine this sort of closet with spaces which are accessed through the knee wall.

Installing Closet Rods on Sloped Roofs

It’s actually extremely easy to install closet rods on with a sloped roof and there are many different ways to go about it. To start with, if the closet area is being divided up by vertical partitions, then normal closet hanging rods can be mounted to those partitions, installing the closet rod just like it would be installed in any other closet. The one big difference is that the closet rod will be extremely close to the ceiling, whereas in a typical closet it would be a foot or more off the floor.

If there are no partitions, then brackets for the closet rods can be mounted directly to the ceiling. There are closet rod supports, which are designed for use as a center supports, being shaped almost like a screw eye, but with a flat base to screw through. The key here is to space the mounting of these supports so that they fall right on the rafters. Then use screws which are long enough to get through the drywall and at least an inch into the wood.

A variant on this, which fits well with modern styling, is to use iron pipe and fittings to make the closet rod, with flanges attaching the rod to the ceiling, at the rafter. A short stub of pipe would then attach to the flange, with a T holding the sections of pipe that form the closet rod. Elbows should be used at the ends of the pipe, rather than Ts, unless it is necessary to have the closet rod extend past the end of the last flange; then a simple cap can be used. The pipe is strong enough to support clothing that is hung on the outside of the flanges.

But if it’s Sloping the Other Way?

When trying to install closet rods the other way, where the slope is going across the direction of the closet rod, the secret is dividing the closet rod into sections. Two or three different sections of closet can be placed side by side, with dividers in-between. The closet rods can then be mounted horizontally, using normal closet rod brackets, which are attached to the dividers.

The Best – Utilizing a Narrow Attic Space

The best attic closets come out of taking spaces in the attic which are really too narrow to use them as living spaces and turning them into closets. think of a narrow attic area, that one can walk down the middle of, with sloped ceilings on either side. The center area that can be walked in might only be two feet wide, but there’s still a considerable amount of space available on either side.

This is pretty much a ready-made area for a walk in closet, no matter how deep it is. Some people have made walk-in closets that are 20 feet deep in areas like this. The area on either side of the aisle space can easily be used for closet rods, shelves, drawers, and shoe racks, all depending on the creativity of the person designing the space.

One valuable thing that attic walk-in closets offer the opportunity to do, which most other walk-in closets don’t have, is to have at top to cabinets and shelves. This top shelf area can be thought of like the top of a dresser; a great place to put jewelry boxes and other small items that need to be kept accessible, while being stored away in the closet.

One of the keys to designing such a space is to see no space as unusable. Rather, the idea is to find some way of making every nook and cranny into usable storage space. Ends, where it isn’t practical to put closet rods, can be turned into dressers or shelves for shoes. Areas under dormer windows, which don’t offer enough height for a closet rod are ideal for drawers as well. The little angled area above the closet rod can hold a shelf, even if it doesn’t seem like the triangular space would provide storage for much. I’ve had a shelf like that in a closet and it became a great place to store my hats.

attic, closet framing
Attic closet framing, Dawn Peterson

Oddball Spaces

Any time anyone is trying to make an attic closet, there are going to be oddball spaces which just don’t seem to be all that useful. But that’s only true if all we’re thinking about is hanging clothing. Most people have lots of other things that they store in their closets.

I used to own a home with a large walk-in closet and bathroom, off the master bathroom and located in the attic over the garage. The entryway into the closet was an eight foot long narrow area, with a closet rod on the sloped ceiling. There was a straight wall across from that closet rod; but it was too close to leave room for shelves. So I put lattice on that wall, making a place to hang purses.

Purses aren’t the only thing that can be hung on a flat wall like that, where there isn’t room for putting shelves. Ties and belts can also be hung, with an appropriately made rack. A bunch of hooks or something like a hat rack can be used for hanging necklaces, perhaps even in a decorative way.

In addition to the shelf I mentioned earlier, where I kept hats, I utilized some of the roof space itself making wood racks that were something like the prongs of a fork. These mounted to the ceiling, allowing hats with brims to be slipped in, with the brim up against the ceiling.

Perhaps one of the best uses for that sloped ceiling space is for a mirror. While it would not give the same sort of view that one mounted on the wall would, it would be useful for quick reference in seeing how an outfit might go together.

Another very useful item in this sort of attic closet, if the closet is big enough to do it, is to forego the storage space for a short section of the closet and build a bench there instead. This provides someplace to sit while putting on pants, pantyhose and shoes. To keep from wasting the storage space altogether, the seat can lift up on hinges, allowing spare blankets to be stored underneath.

It’s even fairly easy to build a hidden compartment into the attic closet, using the area in the eaves, which is not being used for anything else. The trick is to make a door for the area which matches its surroundings in such a way that it doesn’t look like a door. The back of a cabinet, shelf or drawer unit offers a great place to do this, where it will be hidden from view, hide the cracks around the edges of the door and still be relatively accessible when needed.

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