Design Dilemma: Living in the Attic
Italians call it “la mansarda.” It’s that attic space that some people fill up with unused junk, and which others utilize as a full-out living space. Italians are among those who expertly exploit the living potential of attics whenever possible. In fact, “la mansarda” is actually highly-valued real estate in Italy. The attic is considered funky and cool, with an air of sophistication. Intellectuals and artists live in mansardas. Attics are also regarded as cozy, since many large Italian palazzos aren’t.
Check out the attic apartment below, which is certainly a place to put your feet up and settle in with a good book. There’s even a rooftop terrace for taking in a little sun on warm Italian afternoons:
Or check out the place below. A large attic has been converted into a glamorous apartment replete with storage, display place and a fireplace. Bravo!
Now here’s the problem with attics: they require meticulous planning, both in the construction phases and in furnishing. Challenges include low ceilings in some areas, pitched roofs, tight quarters, and little room for storage and built-ins. So what’s the key to making attic space livable?
- High-quality windows. Absolutely imperative to livability are skylights and/or conventional windows that allow for cross ventilation and lots of light. Here’s where Italians spend the big bucks to make sure that windows don’t leak, can be opened and closed easily, and can be shaded when necessary on blazingly hot, sunny days.
- Carefully planned storage. Most often, this means installing a closet system in the part of the attic with the lowest ceiling. This ensures that the the highest ceiling is utilized for moving around and other everyday activities. Italians have an advantage over many when it comes to this, since the typical Italian ceiling is usually much higher than its American cousin.
- A sleeping loft. This is a favorite strategy in really large attics with high-pitched roofs. The lower level of the attic is used as living space, (as seen in the first picture) and the sleeping loft directlly under the roof creates a convenient nook when it’s time to retire.
- A reduced number of furnishings. In tight quarters with low ceilings, too much furniture can feel like a storage room. So the Italian mansarda is typically lightly furnished, and may include lots of built-ins, such as built in tables and benches, closets, couches, etc. Floor space is kept open and free of objects. When furnishing is used it usually has lighter lines. Lucite chairs are a favorite.
- Outdoor space. Many mansardas are built with cutouts in the roof that allow for a terrace. In a country with wonderful sunny weather, a little outdoor space helps make an attic apartment feel complete.
- A modern approach. Just because you live in an attic doesn’t mean it has to feel like something out of Victorian England. Italians are hot on a clean modern look in rooftop apartments. Check out three examples below of glam “attic” apartments and drool!