An attic is often the easiest place to add onto your house. No foundations or setbacks to worry about. Everything is already in place, you just have to transform an empty space into your vision.
Create an extra bedroom, a master suite, a media room, a play room or anything you can imagine for much less than the cost of an addition.
My own old house was blessed with an unfinished attic when we bought it, and I knew someday we would turn what was just a messy storage space into a livable room.
The moment came when we discovered we were expecting our 2nd child. I had nine months to figure out a plan, and I couldn’t break the bank doing it either.
While I’ve shared some bits and pieces of the project with you already, I’m finally ready to reveal how to turn an attic into a bedroom with you today!
Make a Plan
Figuring out exactly what you want to do is so important before you start putting up walls and finishing out a space. Think about the layout, where the outlets and light switches will go, the size of your vanity, etc, etc.
The list goes on and on, but you need to know the sizes and locations of everything you want to include before you start so you can plan accordingly.
With an attic bedroom, you will likely be fighting for every inch of space you can get so coming up with some clever ideas to save room can make the room go from passable to incredible.
We wanted to include room for both of our boys and a half bath to save us from midnight potty trips down the steep stairs. We also knew we needed plenty of storage for the things that we “collect” over the years and never seem to get rid of.
So, in a small room, how do you fit 2 beds and a bathroom and still have room to play and headroom for the adults? Here’s the what we came up with. I’ve also included a photo gallery of the whole project at the end.
We tucked 2 beds into the knee wall on one side to keep the room open. We framed out the openings and built huge drawers underneath the beds to utilize as much storage space as we could, otherwise that was just lost space.
There was a chimney in the middle of the room as well as a vent stack that was going to be a real pain to move. We decided to incorporate the chimney into the bathroom wall (leaving the brick exposed on both sides of course!). Then for the vent stack, we cleverly hid it inside a built in bookshelf that also created a little reading nook for the boys in their cushy chair.
We really struggled between doing a half or full bath and for expense and space, we decided to go with the half bath. Installing a half bath is much simpler!
Keep in mind that adding a tub on a second story is not always feasible because of the huge additional weight it adds (especially when full of water) Always be careful that your house can support that extra weight, because most times, it was never designed to.
We had already installed 1″ of spray foam on the underside of the roof and the exterior walls in the attic years ago, and to finish it off we added as much blown-in cellulose in the areas that would be hard to reach once the walls were up. This has made a big difference in our utility bills.
Next, we installed R-13 and R-19 un-faced batts wherever we could on the exterior walls and ceiling of what would be the new climate controlled room.
I also added acoustic insulation on the floor to keep the romping around a little quieter downstairs.
Trim & Plaster
It was important to me that our finished attic matched what was downstairs in our 1929 bungalow. So, the walls were plasterboard with a veneer coat of plaster to match the textures downstairs.
Then for the trim, I put in the same molding profiles as downstairs. Baseboards, casings, windows, everything was trimmed to the exact patterns and dimension as they are downstairs. That’s the only way to make everything fit properly and look like it belongs.
To save space, we also built a dresser into the wall between the two beds. All the drawers and dressers were shaker style front, which are a pretty timeless, yet period appropriate style. We used soft close slides and simple knobs from Hobby Lobby.
We had some real fun here thanks to my wife’s creativity. We wanted something old looking but didn’t want to haul the drum sander up stairs and go through refinishing 300 SF of flooring.
To start, I pulled out the old 1×4 floor boards throughout and brought them back to my shop for future salvage projects. They were just too chippy and full of gaps to work for a little boy’s room.
I then put down 3/4″ Advantech subfloor and had a lot of work to level out the floors throughout the attic. Next was laying down an acoustic underlayment so that we wouldn’t be disturbed by the heavy footsteps of our boys.
Then came the finish floor which was the creative part! I bought 1×8 select yellow pine, tongue and groove siding and laid it down upside down so that it looked like regular flooring. This was MUCH cheaper than buying pine flooring this size and is a little more rustic in appearance which is what we were going for.
The floors were finished with a very cool and very simple finishing process that made them look antique and distressed. I documented the process in How To: Make Distressed Wood Floors.
We followed the same cabinet design for the bathroom, doing a shaker style vanity topped with a piece of soapstone I got at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore for $10!
The sink was a challenge to find one small enough to fit, but luckily IKEA had what we needed and we found a great faucet there to boot.
Then there was a the toilet…I hated dealing with this sinking toilet! The drain line for the toilet was going to make us potentially raise all the floors up about 6 inches which was not possible because of the headroom problem in an attic.
We searched and searched for solution and then my plumber had a moment of brilliance. He suggested a rear discharge toilet which I had never heard of, but apparently they are popular in Europe. Instead of the drain line coming out the bottom, it shoots the waste out the backside about 8 inches high so we would have room to run the drain line without raising the floors or putting the toilet on a huge platform.
We finished the little bath off with a mirror and knobs from Hobby Lobby again.
There were a lot of little things we added, like a room width window seat which looks like it was on purpose, but is really there to allow for the duct work for the HVAC.
We also added a chalk board door to access the mechanicals installed in the attic so that nothing is trapped behind the walls. The door adds a little whimsy to what would otherwise be a boring utilitarian door.
We also created two more doors to the storage portion of the attic outside of the boys main play area. Since these doors access the unconditioned attic, I struggled with a way to make them air tight.
I settled on a inexpensive option that worked great! Since the doors aren’t accessed often I installed Indow sleep panels in the openings. Indow are meant to be installed in windows, but they work perfect here because they form almost a perfect airtight seal. Read more about them in my post 3 Reasons I Chose Indow Windows.
To keep the room warm in the winter and cool in the summer, we installed a mini-split system. For small additions these work great and cost very little to add. We only spent about $850 total for the unit and installation costs.
The End Result
The project cost us just over $10,000 and that is with me doing most of the work for free. But it left us with a great room for our boys to grow into over the years.
The room is cozy and bright and full of space to run and set up sprawling train sets. We were able to turn an empty space into an extra 320 SF of play and sleep space with a vintage feel that adds a lot more value to our home than the $10,000 we put into it, and you can do the same.
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.