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Widen Your Space Options With a Dormer Window

Say you live in a home with one and a half stories, such as a Cape Cod. Your second-floor bedrooms and bathrooms are tucked under the roof, which cuts down on the usable amount of floor space available. (You simply can't stand up in much of the area.) While the style of house is charming — not so tall and boxy — much of the second floor is unusable, because it lacks headroom. And you think to yourself that you could have a nicer bathroom or extra light or additional storage if only you could create some headroom. This is where a dormer comes in. Typically (but not always) small, dormers can provide that few additional square feet of area you need to achieve your goals. Maybe it's a simple doghouse dormer that brings some additional light and a view. Maybe it's a shed dormer that provides that extra space for a large bath. Or maybe it's an eyebrow dormer that adds some style to the exterior while creating additional space at the interior. Dormers are a terrific remedy for space-challenged areas.

The Doghouse Dormer This wonderfully named dormer, which looks like a proverbial doghouse placed atop a roof, lends a lot of charm to a Cape Cod–style home. From the outside a doghouse dormer doesn't dominate the overall scale of a home's design. It's simply a small and innocuous architectural element that can liven up a roof, while inside ... it provides extra light and space.

In fact, many doghouse dormers create an alcove space that's ideal for a built-in seat and storage. So in addition to providing some much-needed natural light and views out, these dormers increase the overall functionality of the interior, doing so at a minimum cost.

The Shed Dormer Aptly named, because it looks like a shed that's been placed on the roof, this type of dormer will maximize the amount of usable interior space. Shed dormers are common at the back of Cape Cod houses, where the extra space they provide trumps the charm of a doghouse dormer. But it's really easy to get the proportions of a shed dormer wrong, throwing off the exterior look of the whole house. So designing this type of addition to a house requires a careful blend of getting the extra interior space needed versus what will look good on the exterior. Making sure the proportions are comfortable, even if it means sacrificing some interior space, is usually the best route to take. Another important design consideration typically for shed dormers is to make sure that there are several windows, or ...

... there is more window than wall. In fact, many successful shed dormers tend to be all almost window. This maximizes the amount of light entering the interior, visually lightens the structure and creates a nighttime lantern effect.

Shed dormers make rooms in “attics” like this one spacious and inviting, perfect for that game room among the trees.

The Eyebrow Dormer This dormer style, like an eye peeking through the roof, is one of my favorite architectural elements. These dormers are different from doghouse and shed dormers in that the eyebrow dormer's roof is curved, sometimes gently, sometimes not. Because of this curved roof, an eyebrow dormer tends to be a softer way to get extra space out of an attic. Eyebrow windows are also less massive looking than shed dormers, especially when windows don't fill the entire dormer exterior. By swooping its way down to the roof, an eyebrow dormer keeps its gentleness even when there's a lot of wall showing.

The interior space created by an eyebrow dormer is less an extension of the room and more of an alcove attached to the room. And with its curve, an eyebrow dormer is a nice counterpoint to rectangular and hard-edged elements elsewhere.

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