Design 101: Attic Closets

Attic spaces, or rooms with sloped ceilings, are typically used for storage. Often, I am asked; “what is the best way to make this space into an attic closet?” One design idea is using the knee wall for a hang rod because clothes on a hanger have a slope that can match the ceiling. This post will tell you how to use the sloped ceiling to your advantage and maximize space for clothing storage.

First let’s describe an example space, for illustrative purposes. Let’s assume you have a space where, when looking in, the left and right walls slope down to a lower wall in the back of the space. Next look at the slope of the ceiling and the height of the back wall, also called the knee-wall. A higher knee-wall and a ceiling with a steep slope are advantages.

Next consider there are three basic types of hanging clothes, each with different rod height requirements: gowns need a rod at 72”, dresses need a 60” rod height, and shirts or suits need a 40” rod height. We refer to the later as “short hang”. Also consider that hanging clothes, on a rod, need 24” from the wall to the front of the hanger. Look at each wall in your space, and considering the rod heights, think about which type of hang can fit on each wall. And finally notice the clothes on a hanger have a slope when viewed from the front, just like the ceiling.

Let’s deal with the back wall, or knee-wall, first. Usually in an attic closet this wall is the longest, and its height is probably much less than the height requirement for short hanging clothes, 40”. When designing a closet usually the rod is located on the longest wall; and even better if this wall is facing the entrance, because facing the shoulders is visually pleasing.

Our goal is to fit a 24” deep cabinet tall enough for a hang rod, located 12” from the back of the cabinet, and with space below the hanging clothes for bin or drawer storage. Typical height allowance for bins or drawers is 8”. The cabinet sides will be notched, along the top and back, to match the slope of the ceiling. What we need to do is find out how this cabinet will fit. Can it be placed up against the back wall? Or does the cabinet need to be a certain distance out from the knee-wall to get enough height for the hanging clothes?

Example Attic Closet Cabinet Arrangement

Attic closet cabinet arrangement showing hang rod, notched sides, and lower drawers.

First let’s determine your exact height requirement. Select the longest short hang garment to be hung on this rod. Measure the garment on a hanger from the top of the hook to the tail.

Now for the fun part! Get masking tape and place pieces 12” and 24” out from the knee wall. These spots represent the location of the hang rod in the cabinet and the front of the cabinet. Next measure from the floor to the ceiling at the 12” and 24” marks. What did you get? If the height at the 12” mark is at least the height of our requirement, 43” in this example, then the rod can be placed at the 12” mark. The 24” mark represents the front of the cabinet. So in this example the cabinet back can be up against the knee wall and the cabinet sides can be notched to match the angle of the ceiling.

But what if the height at the 12” mark is less than 43”? In this case we could either discard the allowance for bins and drawers or we could move the cabinet away from the back wall to get a higher rod height. For the former our new required height is 35” (43” – 8”); for the later we can determine how far out the rod needs to be placed from the back wall to obtain the 43” height needed.

Let’s tackle the latter situation – where does the cabinet need to be to obtain 43” of height? Set your tape measure to 43” and move the tape along the ceiling until your reach a point 43” from the floor to the ceiling. Mark the spot on the floor with a piece of tape. Next set the tape measure to 24” and place the tape measure on the floor with the 12” mark on the piece of tape on the floor, and the zero end towards the knee-wall, making sure the tape measure is perpendicular to the knee wall. Place two more pieces of masking tape on the floor, one at the zero point and one at the 24” point on the tape measure. Next measure the distance from the knee-wall to the piece of tape marking the zero point above. This is the distance the cabinet rear needs to be from the wall. Check the side walls for obstructions and make sure the cabinet will not be blocking a window or door.

What about the space behind the cabinet. If the space is say 6” from the wall, consider building a set of shelves 6” deep. They can be accessed through the cabinets as typically clothing cabinets do not have a back. Cabinet backs are required for freestanding cabinets and clothing cabinets are always attached to the walls with cleats. Or consider stack-able bins. Overall, plan on using space behind the cabinets for season switch storage.

What’s left? Considering our example room cabinets can be stepped along the left and right walls or placed on the walls to the left and right of the doorway. Here is a photo showing a window seat with a tall cabinet.

Attic closet with window seat and tall cabinet

Attic Closet with window seat and tall cabinet

I hope this post helped you to understand how to use a knee wall in an attic closet to your advantage. Thanks for reading! Please contact me if you have any questions or feedback on how to improve this post.

-Rich Fairfull

Date 07/14/2015
Category Closet Design 101

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