All of a sudden, bunk beds seem to be everywhere: You see them in upscale beach and ski homes, as well as boutique hotels like Freehand, Moxy and Proper.
And why not? Stacked sleeping spaces have always been an efficient use of space, whether you’re making room for a growing family or entertaining a large crowd. And now that they’re getting the designer treatment with thoughtful touches that make them feel almost luxurious, bunk rooms are more appealing than ever.
“We’re pretty much doing a bunk room in every house we work on,” said Jenny Keenan, an interior designer in Mount Pleasant, S.C., who creates built-in bunk beds that are appealing to children and adults.
“We try to make them elevated enough that adults can stay in them,” Ms. Keenan said. “We want them to be fun, but we also want to make sure different types of people feel comfortable in them.”
Here’s how she and other designers do it.
Study Your Space
Before buying or building anything, measure the room so you can figure out what will fit. Ceiling height is often a limiting factor. The last thing you want is to hit your head if you sit up in bed, said Holt Williamson, a founder of the design-build firm Cedar & Oak in Austin, Texas.
“Typically, that’s where we start,” said Mr. Williamson, who recently designed a pair of his-and-hers bunk rooms for his parents’ house, where his extended family gathers. In each bunk, he explained, “we want to make sure we get about three feet of head space.”
The measurement should be taken from the top of the mattress to the bottom of the next bunk or the ceiling. That makes mattress selection critical, Mr. Williamson said, because mattresses come in a variety of heights. “It’s funny how that can cause problems later on,” he said, so it’s important to know which mattresses you’ll use at the outset.
Also think about the width and length of the mattresses. Twin mattresses are the most common size for bunks, but can feel cramped for some adults. If there’s space, a twin XL mattress, which is five inches longer, is often a better choice than an ordinary twin, Ms. Keenan advised.
In large bedrooms, it may be possible to build bunks that are wide enough to accommodate full- or queen-size mattresses. Or you could consider mixing sizes.
“We often choose to do a bigger bed on the bottom, like a queen or full-size,” said Brittany Zwickl, a partner at the Los Angeles-based Studio Life/Style. “And then a twin on top that’s mostly for sleepovers.”
Solve Space Problems
Not every bedroom is a rectangular box with a high ceiling, but that doesn’t mean you can’t add bunk beds.
In a room with a lower ceiling, you may have to put the bottom mattress nearly on the floor, like a platform bed, Mr. Williamson said. In rooms with sloped ceilings, Ms. Keenan and Ms. Zwickl have designed bunks that occasionally break the three-foot head-space rule — at least on some of the top sleeping space.
You may assume that you can’t put a bunk bed against a wall with a window, but it can actually work well. “You don’t have to be scared,” said Ms. Keenan, who has installed bunks over windows in a number of projects. She has found that it makes the sleeping nooks more appealing.
“We do motorized shades in those,” she said. “So you just hit a button and it slides down behind the bunk” when it’s time to sleep. During the day, it’s easy to raise the shades and bring in natural light.
Find a Way Up
Few people, apart from adventurous children, will want to use the top bunk if there isn’t an easy way to get up and down. A vertical ladder with simple rungs mounted to the side of the bunk is the most space-efficient option, but a ladder with wide, deep steps can make the climbing more comfortable. And if you mount the ladder at an angle from the top bunk to the floor, it will make the climb less intimidating, even if it takes up a little more space.
If you have space to spare, a steep, integrated set of stairs is the best option. “It’s not a full-depth stair, but it makes it a little easier to step up,” said Brynne Flowers, a founder of John Martine, an interior design firm in Salt Lake City.
Ms. Flowers’s firm recently designed custom bunk beds with a narrow oak staircase at the foot of the beds. For additional safety in the top bunk, the designers added a horizontal rail made from the same wood.
Create Storage Space
Because they hold more people than typical bedrooms, bunk rooms usually benefit from having additional storage space. Drawers or rolling bins can be tucked under the lower bunks to hold a range of things — bedding, for example, or guests’ luggage.
“Giving each person their own little spot, where they can feel a bit of ownership, is definitely part of the design,” Mr. Williamson said.
When he and other designers build bunk-bed staircases, they often put drawers into the stair risers. Ms. Keenan has built small closets with hanging rods into the end of bunk beds, and Studio Life/Style once designed a bunk bed with an integrated desk on one side.
Add Creature Comforts
A few extra details can turn a bunk into an inviting place to read or catch up on email. Ms. Keenan almost always includes a wall-mounted reading light with a switch in each bunk. “That’s for if you want to read but the person above you doesn’t want the lights on,” she said.
She also likes to include a small, recessed niche with an outlet, either behind the pillows or to one side of the bunk. “That ledge gives you a place to set down a glass of water,” she said.
For additional privacy — and fun — consider giving each bunk its own little curtain.
“You kind of feel like you’re in a fort,” which is especially appealing to children, Ms. Keenan said. “You can add elements of whimsy, if you want to take it in that direction.”
And, of course: Don’t forget to add decorative pillows and fuzzy throws.
Try Using Off-the-Shelf Products
Many of the bunk rooms pictured here were custom built according to a designer’s specifications. But that isn’t the only way to create a stylish bunk room.
When Sara Charlesworth, a designer in Salt Lake City, was creating a bunk room for her children, she reused an inexpensive, free-standing bunk bed she bought online for a previous home, adding decorative elements to make it look bespoke. “I didn’t want to just replace the bunk bed for the sake of replacing it,” she said, “because it was still functional.”
Working with her sister, a seamstress, she made a textile valance for the ceiling and added long curtains on a concealed rod that can wrap the sleeping spaces in fabric.
To add reading lights without having to open the walls or hire an electrician, she used wall lights with turquoise cords from Original BTC, which plug into outlets. And instead of recessed wall niches, she added shallow, surface-mounted bookshelves over the room’s wainscoting and wallpaper.
Small gestures like these can make big difference, Ms. Charlesworth said: “It was about making the bunk bed that we had feel more special.”
For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here.