Without a doubt, one of the most charming details in our Tree House is the sweet little loft, or maybe it’s the ladder that leads up to it? Either way, I’ll never forget the day we walked through this home, and Scott and I climbed up the ladder to see the surprise at the top. It was at that moment that we looked and each other and said, this is The One, isn’t it? (The photo below was taken soon after we closed.)
But – and that’s a big ‘but’ – as adorable as the loft ladder is, it’s also proven to be a challenge, too. For starters, it slices off the last third of the main living space. Anything we put behind it (opposite the couch wall) would feel cramped. A low, sleek couch was a necessity, otherwise the ladder couldn’t clear the arms. The pulley system was made up of thick rope that not only hurt your hands, but it also took a fair amount of muscle to use, and the fine fibers constantly flaked all over the floor.
It was such a hassle to put the ladder up, that we left it down at all times, and ideally, the ladder would be up more than it would be down. (Embarrassingly, I can’t even begin to tell you how many times we ran into the ropes when trying to make our way towards the bathroom.) And because we have plans to create a built-in banquette where we recently removed the fireplace surround, we needed to come up with a solution that would make lowering and raising the staircase easy! After all, Tree House is too small to be sliced into thirds, you know?
Loft Ladder | Before
For a while, we – gasp! – talked about eliminating the ladder altogether; instead, we kicked around the idea of moving the loft landing to the opposite side and adding a permanent spiral staircase to the corner of the living room (opposite where the fireplace was, by the back door). When we realized we didn’t have adequate space for even the smallest spiral, we began researching modular options, and throughout the day, Scott and I would text each other links to compact, off-the-shelf stair systems.
The problem? Anything new we might’ve installed had to be nixed due to the lack of space. We just didn’t have the square footage to create an entirely new solution! Maybe not surprisingly, but as it turned out, the best option was right in front of us all along – ahem, the ladder we were given – but at this point, our goal was to figure out a way to make it way, way more simple to use. During a frenzy of brainstorming one evening, Scott came up with the perfect, if not eccentric, solution – enter the electronic hoist, or winch!
When Scott first suggested we hook the ladder up to a winch, I had no clue what he was talking about. He showed me videos online, and from what I could tell, hoists were mainly used in garage settings to lift heavy motors or lawn tools. However, the more we researched it, the more we were both convinced this really was a great solution (and spoiler, it totally is!). We ended up purchasing this electric hoist, which has been a dream. And really, really cool. We painted the bright red surround a matte black, and the bright yellow remote control was sprayed white.
The biggest challenge was figuring out how to mount it, and to be honest, we had a rocky start. Initially, we mounted the winch to the side of the last ceiling beam, but not only did the downward pulling motion cause the cable to tangle, but the ladder was unable to go as high into the ceiling as we’d like. The hoist (or winch, as we’ve been using both terms interchangeably) is meant to pull straight up and down, and so after a lot of math, we sketched out a bracket system that would work for our unique situation. Our friend Daniel (the same Daniel that killed it with us on demo day) fabricated our idea to life using 1 3/4″ steel square tubing, and we sprayed it matte black to match the casing of the hoist. Note: Using elbows, nipples and steel conduit pipe from the hardware store could also work!
Do you see those hanging clamps across the top of the bracket in the above photo? Those attach to the top of the hoist in the four pre-drilled holes in the casing you see below:
If I haven’t lost you yet (because believe me, our own brains hurt trying to come up with this solution), maybe the photo below will help! One end of the bracket was secured into the floor of the loft, whereas the other end was secured to a ceiling beam. The electronic hoist hangs from the middle of the bracket, like this:
In preparation for this project, we had an outlet installed in the loft where we could plug it in (and also because there were, like, no outlets in the loft!):
When the hoist cable is lowered all the way, it hooks onto an eye hook underneath the lowest rung of the ladder. The red doughnut-shaped thing you see is part of the safety braking mechanism; once that little plastic piece hits the hoist at the top, the hoist will automatically stop:
To operate, we have to hold down on the remote control. If you let go mid-way, the hoist will stop, but as long as we’re holding the control – or until the red safety doughnut (that’s a technical term, ha!) hits the hoist at the top – the ladder will raise and lower beautifully!
Now? The ladder easily tucks away into the ceiling, and when it’s raised completely, it’s almost completely out of sight. The hoist allows the ladder to recede into the ceiling much, much higher than the rope pulley system ever did, so we consider this a huge success!
If you’re wondering what our electric hoist looks (and sounds) like in action, we created this quick video:
The only thing left to address is the dangling cable of the remote control, seen below. Once the door molding has been installed (that’s the bathroom door you see below), we’re thinking we’ll hide the thick cord beneath a cable cover, run it down along the trim and paint it the same color as the walls. We’ll have to come up with a small holster for the remote control as well, but we’ll get there!
Our plan is to have the ladder raised more often than not, unless anyone is in the loft during the night, taking a nap or just playing upstairs. If it needs to stay down for an extended period of time, we can easily unclip the cable from the lowest rung and raise the cable up, up and away. At the same time, if it’s just us at Tree House (or us + one other couple), there’s almost no need to go up to the loft at all, and so this staircase will stay tucked neatly into the ceiling.
We’re so happy with the results, but we’re especially excited to show all the littles in our life the winch, and most importantly, teach them winch safety, too. (One nephew in particular is obsessed with all things mechanical.) We know they’re going to get such a kick out of the ‘electric’ ladder!