Ask the designer

Interior designer Denise Walsh, of Donovan Walsh Design Ltd in Limerick,, answers all your attic conversion questions. Email:

Q My wife wants to convert our attic, but I’m not so sure — can you convert me?

A. Attics often become repositories for old memories — boxes of baby clothes, Christmas decorations and luggage are items that get slung up the Stira and are forgotten. With so many homeowners unable to move up the property ladder, it may be time to look at the possibilities above your head. Although it’s hard to imagine through the pile of junk and cobwebs, an attic could be converted into an en-suite bedroom, office or yoga room. Call a builder or attic conversion specialist, such as, to find out if your attic can be converted.

Q. Do I need planning permission to convert my attic into a playroom?

A. It depends. There are two types of attic conversion — ‘roofline’ or ‘dormer’. Planning permission is not required for a Velux/rooflight loft conversion as the shape of the roof isn’t altered or extended. Dormer loft-conversion increases the space and head height, so planning permission may be required if it exceeds the “permitted development allowance” — which states that no part of the new structure should rise above the highest existing part of the roof or exceed the current floor-plan boundary. If your property is in a conservation area, restrictions may apply.

Even if you don’t need planning you may still need to hire an architect or structural engineer to ensure your conversion meets building regulations.

Q. OK, so we’ve decided to go for a roofline conversion — so how do we maximise the space available?

A. Attic spaces are awkward. They usually have long, low ceilings with sharp-rising eaves and rooflights that are low to the ground. The trick is to keep the taller spaces as free as possible for ease of movement. Consider the layout carefully — for example, there should be enough headroom by the desk or bed for an average-height person to move around without having to stoop. Make the most of the eaves, which are ‘dead’ space with built-in storage. One idea is a unit that starts with storage at the lowest point and rises into a lovely, deep desk on which to spread your work out.

Q. Now that the attic is finished, any advice on how to decorate it?

A. It’s best to keep your converted attic light, bright and streamlined. Go for a soft white on the walls to create a calmness that isn’t cold — my favourites are Farrow & Ball ‘pointing’ or ‘slipper satin’. Contrast this with a warm, earthy tone such as Farrow & Ball ‘stony ground’. Opt for a light-wood veneer, such as limed oak, and choose plain, neutral, durable carpet to help make the space feel as large as possible. Avoid hanging lights at all costs. Recessed light fixtures, accent lighting in the corners and bedside or desk lighting will give the room a warm glow. Finish with some colourful artwork, cushions or an upholstered chair.

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