A Workaround Approach to Kneewall Built-Ins
Without modifying the framing, a carpenter tucks storage and style beneath the roof in a second-floor hallway.
This Cape Cod-style bungalow was built just before World War II (the war that would change everything, including the way houses are built). It’s compact and efficient, with a steep roof made of intersecting gables and eaves with no overhangs. It has simple moldings and few extras. The house reflects its era—a time of great struggle—with a modest amount of comfort.
Though the current homeowners appreciate their home’s history, they’re a growing modern family and needed more storage. But adding built-ins that protrude into any of the home’s small rooms would mean losing valuable floor space, which is at a premium in this house. So when I was hired for the project, I suggested we turn our attention to the narrow second-floor hallway at the top of the home’s steep winder stairs. It’s a spacious, light-filled area, and the 4-ft.-high kneewall under the sloped ceiling left us with an unclaimed triangle of attic space to work with—or, perhaps more accurately, to work around.
Designed to fit in
Like most roofs of its day, these 2×4 rafters were framed 24 in. on center, and the kneewall was framed to match with a stud aligned with each rafter. Though they are undersize according to modern building codes, these simple roof assemblies seem to stand the test of time in our climate and under our limited snow load. All the elements of the assembly are critical to its success—the rafters, collar ties, kneewall, exterior wall, and floor joists create strength through geometry. This means old roof frames such as this one are a lot like roofs framed with modern engineered trusses: You can’t modify them in any way without creating a major weakness.
Not wanting to open a can of engineering worms, we…