Why Choose A Loft In Your Tiny House?

by andrewodom on August 12, 2013 · 17 comments


537980_481415891924547_1296517423_nThe first time I saw a sleeping loft was on an episode of Little House On The Prairie. Fans of the show may remember the little sleeping area just behind the chimney stack that Charles built specifically for Laura and Mary to sleep in. It was located just above Charles and Caroline’s bedroom (which might I add was only given privacy due to a quilt hanging on a rod). Wait! That isn’t true.

When I was about 7 years old my Granny took my Mom and I as well as two of my aunts, a third aunt, and my cousin Jenny, to Wintergreen Ski Resort during the off season. Located in the Blue Ridge Parkway she thought it would be a great place to take in the changing of the leaves and to access the Parkway itself. My cousin – just two years older than I – and I did not think it sounded very exciting at all. To our delight though the condo we stayed at (which I now suspect was a timeshare my Granny was scoring for FREE!) had this queer little room above the kitchen that looked down into the living area and was accessed only but a small ladder attached to the wall. Barely big enough for a full size bed the loft had an A-frame ceiling and was perfect to play in and make all the noise we wanted.

Fast forward twenty-four years later to the moment Crystal and I were sitting at the computer discovering Tumbleweed Tiny Homes and the loft spaces that seemed synonymous to what we were discovering as tiny house trailers. But why lofts? They seemed so cramped and uncomfortable. And to think of climbing up and down through the night just seemed daunting at best. So why the sleeping loft?

To my dismay there is virtually no proper architectural history to the sleeping loft. What was able to cobble together though is that a loft is historically an upper room or story in a building. Found mainly in barns, directly under the roof, lofts have traditionally been used for storage (almost synonymous with an attic) or for a specific purpose such as an organ loft in a church or a sleeping loft in a cabin. The major difference between a loft and an attic is that an attic typically encompasses an entire floor of a building, while a loft covers only 1-3 rooms, leaving one or more sides open to the lower floor(s).  That brings me to the hayloft.

A hayloft – or hay loft - is a space above a barn, stable, cow paddock, traditionally used for the storage of loose hay or fodder for the animals below. This is of course before the widespread use of hay bales which allow simpler handling of bulk hay. The hayloft was filled with loose hay from the top of a wagon up through a large door oftentimes above the gable end of the building. Since the acceptance of bales though most haylofts have become habitable rooms or even offices. Perhaps the adoption was natural since many times farmers would allow vagrants or untrusted farm hands to sleep out in the hay bale in exchange for daily work. The transition of loft to a home though is perhaps entirely for space saving purposes.

Crunched for space a number of home owners have found that there is no real need for 9, 10, or even 12 foot ceilings as some older homes provide. So taking a cue from New York City loft conversions homeowners and rehabbers around the country began adding loft spaces that would cut the bottom floor to about 7 foot high (still ample height considering the average American male stand only 5’11”) and thereby giving the loft about 4.5′ of headroom; perfect for a horizontal activity such as sleeping or a sitting activity such as desk work or office work. An added loft space would turn a traditional 64 sq.ft. room into a two-level, 128 sq.ft. space (hypothetically speaking, of course). Fairly easy to see why tiny houses favor loft sleeping over single level. With a sleeping loft you can maximize your already limited space thereby taking advantage of every square inch in the house. But is this the only way?

Single level living and split level living in the tiny house community has become more and more popular over the last two years. Beginning with the gooseneck designs of Clothesline Tiny Homes and the recent addition of MiniMotives gooseneck bedroom split-level seems to be a great way to get generous sleeping space (without the ladder or even steep steps) as well as closet or much needed storage room. Single level has also become popular since first introduced by Dan Louche and his Tiny Retirement home and continued with our own Tiny r(E)volution house. The options truly are limitless and I have even seen one or two tiny houses that use non-traditional beds including a hammock and a roll-up Japanese Tatami mat.

What do you think? Do you currently have a bedroom or a sleeping loft? Have you ever thought of single level living? What, if any, sacrifices would have to be made in your tiny house to allow for such? Do you have concerns about loft living? Let’s talk. Leave your thoughts below in the comments.

  • Suzannah Kolbeck

    As we ponder how to get up into the loft (stairs v. ladder), it has definitely crossed my mind about the usefulness of a loft long-term. Older people will have trouble navigating steep stairs, and a ladder is probably totally off the table.

    I do really like lofts, though. Always have. I like the idea of a sleeping nook up and away, like sleeping on a cloud, and I love the sound of rain on a metal roof. They just aren’t always the most practical.

    • http://www.tinyrevolution.us/ anotherkindofdrew

      Simply put, I don’t think there is a long term usefulness for a sleeping loft. When I think of us as parents of a 2-year old I can only see two things: me resenting her for having us climb down a couple of times a night to tend to her -OR- her taking a fall off the ladder trying to get up to us. Neither is pleasing sounding. And to think of my folks who are both hovering at 60 years old I think how impractical it would be for them (especially with my father in the early stages of arthritis) having to negotiate a ladder…well, it just seems ridiculous. Lofts are adorable. They are smart in terms of spacial design. But they are largely impractical except for an isolated age group.

      • db1db2d

        Hi Drew, In designing the prototype trailer that I built and now occupy full time, I discovered that “going tiny” calls on every bit of education and 45 years of experience as an architectural, interior and furniture designer, and then “asks” you to take it a step further by vacuuming up more education from the best yacht and RV designers, including the work of DIY’ers across the planet.

        The beauty of the internet is that the whole world becomes an easily accessible “university”. I thank you for choosing to become a key component of that school. Your efforts and your clear and totally open and honest communications about your process are deeply appreciated.

        One useful “design guideline” to be derived from all this is “From the very start of the design process, try not to “waste” a cubic inch of enclosed space that you don’t have to. You (or the next person to live in your tiny home) may desperately need and appreciate the flexibility that that cubic inch provides later in the process. For that reason alone, I am regularly amazed that given a max width for RV’s of 8′-6″ (before needing a wide load permit) people sacrifice precious interior and trailer frame space for roof overhangs, fenders and utterly functionless (but adorable) porches.

        Which brings us to the excellent reason for the “Loft” which offers “flexibility” in a situation where, in all honesty, you have chosen “limitations” as an overall “ground of being” or “operating principle”. The loft can offer much more than a primary bedroom for the occupant, and from a resale standpoint, it makes more sense as a kid space, guest bed or a storage area for things that are only accessed seasonally or infrequently. Even as a desert dweller, I need a parka and a raincoat part of the year. What I don’t need is them taking up space year-round in what I laughingly refer to as my “Master Closet”. But, as you point out, lofts are “adorable” and sometimes that aesthetic consideration is all the justification required for some folks.

        I tend to demand more than that from a design. Aesthetic AND Functional is my mantra. Given that I have never been a big fan of head-banging, I don’t quite get the attraction radically-highly pitched peaked roofs that make the side walls of the loft non-existent or utterly useless. It looks like the designer is expecting an 8′ deep snow load, while losing many cubic feet of headroom and storage space. A lower-pitched shed roof maximizes both headroom and storage space in a loft.. But then again, I think the idea of trying to make a home on wheels look like a Victorian Cottage is more than a little unimaginative. It’s been done to death, it costs more in labor and materials and it wastes space.

        • http://www.tinyrevolution.us/ anotherkindofdrew

          You are so right in many of your thoughts db1db2d. We were very fortunate in the design of our tiny house to work with my B-I-L who has made a career of designing and building high end interior spaces for horse trailers and RVs. His experience was priceless in my opinion.

          And thank you for your warm words. We try to be very transparent in our entire process including even our thoughts about topics.

          You are right in that we chose a limiting design. For us, it isn’t limiting at all. From a resale standpoint, yes. Luckily though we did not build with one thought for resale. Repurpose? Yes. But we do not intend to sell our tiny house under really any circumstances. Because it is bought and paid for, as it were, we will find a use for it no matter which way the wind blows us. The way you talk about your parka or rain jacket is on point. We too thought about such which is why our “garage” (double-doored storage area on the tongue) serves as storage and seasonal usage. To each his own I reckon.

          Great points though and I absolutely appreciate your thoughts.

  • Kacie Erickson

    Love that you researched through this, Drew! When I decided to do a loft, I knew the one and only way I would do it is if it can be accessible by stairs…climbing up and down a ladder to get to Rowe in the middle of the night? Noooo way, Jose! And for the rough nights with the little person, I’m making sure my couch is an alternative sleeping option.ha! I would love to see more people out there build without a loft, I think the idea of tiny ladders turns folks off, both young and old.

    • http://www.tinyrevolution.us/ anotherkindofdrew

      Totally agree! On all points. Agree! I even think I (along with my family) have come up with an option for 16′ – 20′ tiny house trailers that does not involve loft sleeping.

  • Jan

    Here is one solution to the cramped feeling of a regular loft – curve the rafters:
    https://vimeo.com/47323379
    I’ve been living in this 6×9 foot house for over a year and the loft has the most wonderful spacious yet cocooning feel to it. And my 3 year old son loves climbing up and down the ladder. The rafters were built by ripping 2×6 into quarter inch thick strips then bending and gluing them over a jig. (google glue lam). More work, but well worth it.

    • http://www.tinyrevolution.us/ anotherkindofdrew

      Great video Jan and thank you so much for sharing. I have seen the video before actually and I love the curved rafters. I think if I were a single guy I would enjoy something like that with a staircase of sorts (included within the design elements) to access.

  • Dâvid Be

    My current design includes 2 murphy bed-style. One that can hide the kitchen table and chairs and the other one dropping over the living room area. The loft is still there for the kids with a not-too-steep set of stairs. The stairs take the unused space above the composting toilet.
    I myself don’t like climbing up and down lofts but my kids and their friends love it. Also, it is a great spot for your off season clothes. Here in Canada winter is always around the corner.

    Dâvid Be

  • Olivia

    When my college roomies and I rented a Manhattan apartment it had three sleeping lofts. A boon to us. (More roomates meant less rent per person). But now that my husband and I are considering retirement, it is not workable. Stairs may not even be a good option at some point, so we’re looking at other solutions. There seem to be six. An enclosed space holding only a bed. Murphy bed. A fold out like a futon or sofa bed. Conversion of the dining area (like in Airstreams). A bed suspended by ropes from the ceiling and lowered. Or one that sides out from under another room’s floor space.

  • nancy

    2 things I’ve never cared for in tiny homes were the sleeping loft and steep stairs and tiny kitchens. If you’re off the grid in a rural area you’d be doing lots of scratch cooking, and hopefully, growing your own food. Needs space for that…

    • coffeewitholiver

      While I don’t mind a sleeping loft, I agree completely with the need for a proper kitchen.

      My solution is to move the full bathroom out of my TH and just have an “emergency” composting toilet in there. I will need a litter box anyway, so the bucket will contain all that waste as well.

      For now, I have a gym membership for showering, and when I move to my off-grid and remote property, I’ll build a full bathroom inside the barn. I’ll be using space in there for some food storage as well, and using a root cellar.

      This leaves room in my TH for a really good sized kitchen and a large lounging space which can eventually become my sleeping space (futon).

      It helps to have a permanent spot to park a TH, as that opens a world of options.

      Parker

  • pcooper

    Love the look and idea of lofts but as a senior person it is not practical, I had knee problems and my husband has hip problems. We are planning on a tiny house when we get off the road (we full time in an RV) but no loft for us.

  • Lisa Stalcup

    see if you are older and can not get to the loft because of a health problem or like myself and my old knees wont let me get up the ladder then i need a bed on the floor level

    • Lisa Stalcup

      i would have to use the loft as storage for clothes out of season or maybe a book case that opens out that has storage behind it

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