The Matchbox, like nearly all tiny homes, saves on space with a sleeping loft: forty square feet elevated roughly seventy-eight inches off the ground, just enough room for a mattress and its occupant(s). Having spent my fair share of nights in the Matchbox’s queen-size loft, let’s take a look at the the good, the bad, and the ugly of loft living, from safety to sustainability to sex—and everything in between.

The Matchbox and its spacious loft, with the skylight adding a feeling of great openness.

To begin, lofts are cozy—like, really cozy. When designed right, with ample headroom and a generous skylight and soft linens, the loft is a lovely place to read, rest, or watch the clouds drift by. A hideaway flatscreen (like the one featured in the Matchbox) can transform the space into a tiny cinema, and the removable skylight provides quick egress to the roof—important for safety, but also a lovely place to sit and contemplate on those warmer summer nights.

The loft does great in the cold as well. Because hot air rises, a loft will always be the warmest place in a tiny house, so running the fireplace a short time before bed is typically enough to keep one comfortable for hours: no need to use electricity the whole night through. And when things get a tad too toasty, easy access to the skylight allows for heat to be vented up and away at will.

Then, of course, there’s the space savings: forty square feet elevated means forty square feet of surplus down below, or forty square feet less altogether, allowing for a tinier, simpler, cheaper, greener home—though one not without a few admittable tradeoffs.

Brian designed Minim House without a loft, as he found the elevated bed useful only “if you’re young, don’t drink much, can handle rain noise, and don’t get too creative during sexytime.” Some fair and very valid points: loft ladders are more physically taxing then simply rolling into bed, for starters. When I had surgery last year, I had to spend a week away from the Matchbox because I couldn’t make it up the loft, and after a long run or a full day of rock climbing, lifting myself into bed is something of a chore.

They also, indeed, require more sobriety to climb. I’m a responsible drinker, so I’ve yet to find myself in a serious liquor-versus-ladder showdown, but loft safety more broadly is a serious concern. In testing a (failed) method of securing my ladder to the loft this winter, I fell off it twice while climbing, fortunately making it back to my feet with only a few bruises. And while my memory foam mattress and calm sleep demeanor protect me from rolling right off the bed while asleep, most tiny house lofts do lack railings, and thus are a terribly dangerous idea for he-who-tosses-and-turns or she-who-sleepwalks.

To Brian’s third concern—rain noise—I can’t say I ever recall being bothered by the crash of rainfall, but perhaps my fondness for nature’s dearer sounds leaves me biased. I won’t, however, rebut Brian’s final claim: a loft does, indisputably, limit your intimacy options.

I’ll admit that in designing my loft and choosing its height, “maneuverability” played a key role. I’m quite satisfied with the way the loft turned out; I find that between the queen-size mattress, the flat ceiling, and the raised skylight, there’s more than enough space for a roomy romp. But there are limits, of course: prohibited positions and the occasional bumping of the head and a mild awkwardness that demands that one, well, have a little familiarity and shared sense of humor with one’s loft guest(s). It’s a tradeoff, sure, but one with a simple solution, if need be: just take it downstairs.

Getting downstairs is, in itself, something worth noting. Life with a loft means no more rolling out of bed. Waking up and descending into productivity becomes a careful, deliberate action, and when really tired, it truly is the last thing you want to do—when the loft is nice and warm and the space below cold and unforgiving, even more so.

***

So there’s the good: lofts are simple and cozy, they take advantage of thermodynamics to save energy, they provide easy access for escape (essential or otherwise), they save considerable space, and though the athleticism required to climb in and out of one daily is sometimes a pain, there’s something to be said for a loft doing its small part in keeping you young, both at heart and in body (the edge of the loft also serves as a perfect pull-up bar, I should add).

And then the bad: they’re not the safest sleeping solution (a fall or two is to be expected), and they are a bit of work to climb down from after a long night of slumber. They limit sex—not prohibitively so, not at all with a little creativity, a well-placed skylight, or a descent downstairs—but they do, incontrovertibly, make some of its manifestations a touch inconvenient (I won’t argue that Bob Dylan’s “Lay, Lady, Lay” wouldn’t have quite the same ring to it were that big brass bed switched out for a tiny house loft). And they do bite a chunk out of ceiling height in the bathroom (atop which they’re usually placed), perhaps making it difficult for the taller among us to shampoo and lather without bumping a hand or elbow against the bottom of the loft.

Finally, I haven’t forgotten the ugly. Up to this point, I’ve been discussing a well-designed loft, a loft like the one with in the Matchbox (exact size 66″ x 88″ x 39″), with a flat ceiling and a wide skylight and a queen-size mattress and three-and-a-half feet of space to sit up in. Or like the one in the Pera House, with shallow dormers and loft windows and lengthy dimensions. Most tiny house lofts, however, are designed with little thought toward livability, a casualty of a gabled roof design that looks cute on the outside but feels like a coffin on the inside.

A typical tiny house with a gabled loft—cute, but not necessarily comfortable.

I spent a few nights in the loft of a Tumbleweed tiny house—thankfully, before I began constructing the Matchbox—and reacted so strongly to the claustrophobia of a gabled loft (that is, a pointed roof with a thirteen-degree pitch on either side) that I changed the Matchbox’s roof design to a flat one the very next day. Yes, they look mighty spacious when photographed at the right angle with a wide-angle lens, but sleeping in a steeply gabled loft is a bit like camping in a tent: fun for a few nights, but clearly not built for long-term comfort, and certainly not built for two.

Richie Tenenbaum’s yellow tent, which affords more space than the typical loft (though, presumably, the same level of discomfort).

***

Of course, there’s no right answer here: for some, a gabled loft will do just fine; for others, any loft whatsoever would be absurd. For me, I’m more than happy with the Matchbox’s loft—despite its drawbacks, it’s the best thing for the space and for my needs. And as always, for a chance to check out a variety of tiny house sleeping solutions in person, where you can get the truest sense of scale and suitable sizes, feel free to come by any of the upcoming tiny house tours at Boneyard Studios.

Cross-posted at Adventures in Simplicity.

Category:
Design, Jay, The Houses

Join the conversation! 12 Comments

  1. Our loft is strikingly similar dimensions. 88″w,93″d,39″h… the memory foam is 10″ thick.

    Agreed about the gable coffin, which is why we went with big boxy dormers.

    There’s just enough room to sit upright without feeling cramped, but not quite enough room for either one of us to sit fully upright on top of the other… which is incredibly limiting.

    The two of us absolutely love the sound of the rain, so that isn’t a big deal… but sometimes I go down the ladder and think to myself that one of these nights I am going to wake up in a state of urgent bathroom need and the ladder is going to be my downfall (literal and figurative.)

    So we keep a bowl upstairs just in case one of us wakes up nauseous.

    Our next tiny house will have an elevated bed, but only 50″… if you are clever about it you can still use the space underneath as an office :)

    Last thing I want to be doing in 20 years time is climb up and down a ladder every day.

    How about changing the sheets? It was fun the first couple of times just out of sheer excitement of actually making the bed in the Tiny House… but every time I tun the bed down, the novelty wears off just a little bit.

    Reply
    • Yeah, I’m sporting a four-inch memory foam on my end, which certainly helps—and then the skylight actually rises about a foot above the rest of the ceiling, so at the right point of the bed, there’s actually about four feet of height.

      And, yes, ABSOLUTELY: totally forgot to mention changing the sheets, or really making the bed at all. It’s an absolute pain.

      Reply
  2. Jay, this was an excellent review of lofts… thank you! For those like me who are in the almost-done designing stage, it confirmed my choices of dormers, stairs on the side, and a perfectly placed skylight. Please keep your posts coming, we appreciate them!

    Reply
  3. great post! you beat all of us to writing about sex in the loft! ; ) It’s a discussion we all had after the TW workshop a couple years ago and Margaret said she would write about it but never did!

    Reply
    • Thanks! I found it impossible to really review the loft fully without at least mentioning it (though I definitely left room for expansion of the topic). :)

      Reply
  4. Hey there, I was wondering how well you’ve dealt with winter. I’m just slowly steeping into the tiny house movement, but I live in Ontario. We’ve had a pretty nasty winter this year, so I was wondering if you could do a post on winterization and winter habitation? Thanks.

    PS: Matchbox=gorgeous. ;)

    Reply
    • Thanks for the support! And yeah, that’s a great idea. I’ve done pretty well this winter—just good insulation and a trusty electric fireplace to keep me warm, but I can definitely try to get a post together in the coming weeks. :)

      Reply
  5. This is so good to read about! My boyfriend and I are in the very beginning stages of design, and the loft specifics are a big sticking point, for all of the reasons you touched on. It doesn’t help that he’s 6’5″ and I’m 5’3″ – a comfortable height means very different things to each of us.

    The skylight is particularly interesting to me – do you ever regret having the bright light right there in your face in the mornings? Or have you had any leakage problems? I’ve heard both ends of the spectrum on them – they’re great, if you put them in right there’s no problem – to – they are bound to leak eventually, or cause other headaches, no matter what you do.

    Reply
    • Emily, so glad to hear it was helpful. That 14″ height difference definitely complicates things a bit, but nothing a few creative tiny house designers can’t figure out.

      As for the skylight: Velux (the brand I own) sells these great solar-powered blackout blinds that I would so highly recommend. They’re pricey (about $300), but easy to install (and very worth it). They reduce heat gain/loss by about 50% (a must in the summer) and block 100% of light, so if I want to sleep in, I close the blind fully; if I want a pleasant natural awakening (I actually haven’t used an alarm clock in years), I can open it all the way, or just a little bit.

      As for leaking, no complaints after the first 1.5+ years. I’d advocate for installing the skylight and waiting for a few heavy rains before working on the interior ceiling, so if there are any leaks, you can spot (and fix) them right away. Largely, though, building a high curb (mounting the skylight on 2x4s) will keep any moisture from pooling around the opening, so yes, I’d say that a properly-installed skylight should never, ever really leak.

      Best of luck with the build! Let us know if you guys have any other questions.

      Reply
      • Thanks so much for your response (and speedy too!) That’s great to hear about the skylight – I look forward to visiting the Boneyard and seeing for myself :)

        Reply

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