Building Type: Loft conversion to Victorian terrace
Location: Exeter, Devon
Service: Planning and detailed construction stages
Approx Budget Range: £15-35,000

Loft conversions can add significant floor area and value to many buildings. Smaller Victorian terraces typical of Exeter are not always the most suitable for conversion due to a shallow roof pitch limiting the headroom. Internal configurations of some terraces also make fitting in a compliant stair difficult. Its usual to stack the new stairs over the existing staircase, however often the staircase top is not under the ridge of the building. This means that any new stair doesnt have the headroom in the loft. A dormer loft extension can alleviate this problem, but is more costly and can attract more stringent planning constraints.

The owners of this two bed terrace were looking to improve the daylight and ventilation, create a home office separate from the second bedroom and increase the storage capacity of the house within a limited budget. A scheme was developed where the loft conversion was kept open to the existing stair and landing, creating a form of mezzanine over the bedrooms. This allowed rooflights to illuminate the dark internal landing and stack ventilation for the whole house. The mezzanine & ladder solution allowed greater freedom in use of available headroom.

Keeping the office space open to the house meant for a quality of space over the stairs otherwise not possible. It is a real treat discovering the height and sunlight in the centre of the house. The budget did not stretch to constructing a dormer at the rear and so enough headroom for a stair was limited to the centre under the ridge. With this in mind and a desire not to impact upon the existing two bedrooms in any way (historic architraves, skirting boards, electric positions etc and the associated knock-on costs), it was proposed to use a pull-out ladder to access the loft. This ladder arrangement is fully compliant with the Building Regulations and solves a number of difficulties yet maintains existing doorways and period details. The ladder was custom made to provide decent wide treads and with its handrails is quite comfortable to climb, It is arguably safer than the alternative of space saving stairs or alternating treads where people are tempted to descend forwards and move with less care.

The space created within the roof is a comfortable and productive work environment, away from distractions yet still connected to the rest of the house and benefits of working from home. The sunlight washing over the bright landing is a real benefit to the enjoyment of the whole house. A huge rooflight next to the built-in desk offers views over the surroundings and ventilation to the space as well as a little extra headroom. The main circulation of the loft-office, coined “The Loffice”, is down the middle under the ridge, with peripheral items such as printers and storage towards the edges.

Use of a bold colour up the double height stair wall ties the whole house together and provides interest as the sunlight tracks over it. The timber purlins that were no longer necessary to support the roof after the structural alterations were re-used on-site to form the beams over the stair void. The beams are non-structural but provided support for a temporary platform during construction, and help keep the scale of the space down when viewed from below, which otherwise may have seemed too tall. The beams also allow temporary access for future ladders and platforms for decorating etc. These add character and texture to the space. A local structural engineer worked hard with Tom Spriggs Architect Ltd to keep the new floor and roof support as shallow as possible to maximise headroom.