Time-tested method helps create sleeping space

February 07, 2009|By CHRISTINE BRUN / Creators Services

Today, we find ourselves living in a time when making our home a snug escape from the outside world is not simply a luxury but a necessity.

Families are being buffeted by the winds of uncertainty, and it is becoming more common to see several generations doubling up in a single home. As a result, sleeping arrangements need to make a house function for the growing numbers living together under one roof.

Nothing is as delicious as sleeping inside a compartment shielded from the rest of the world by soft folds of fabric. Imagine crawling under the covers in a vintage Pullman on the Orient Express as you chug along the open countryside. Not only is the idea of an enclosed bed romantic, but it has a practical origin long before the time of train travel.

It was common in medieval times to carve out a little space to one side of a much larger hall for a bed to rest. The fabric enclosure provided more than privacy. Because heating drafty, stone, feudal structures was difficult, it made sense to fashion a tiny room that could retain warmth throughout the night.


Research reveals variations on this solution in historic farmhouses as well as royal castles across Europe and Scandinavia. Today, renditions of traditional sleeping alcoves are found in urban studio apartments from Seattle to Manhattan.

In the photo, interior designer Jane Marsden converted the attic space in a Blue Ridge Mountain cottage into a charming dormitory loft. She created four single-bed alcoves for use by the owners' friends or future grandchildren. Imagine the fun that could be had by four friends or cousins sharing this cozy room. This idea could be adapted to many a tight bedroom where being small actually helps to achieve the desired feeling.

Marsden used an exaggerated thickness for the curtain rod shown in the photo to hold panels at the windows and to shelter each bed position. You could achieve the same function with off-the-shelf curtain rods in diameters from 1 1/2-inches to 3 inches. Fabric panels with grommet holes are available in a huge variety of choices in stores such as Bed, Bath & Beyond, J.C. Penney's, Target, or Pottery Barn. A Web search will yield dozens of examples.

If you have the budget for a little bit of electrical improvement, it would be a great touch to add an individual light fixture in each compartment. Our example shows simple sconces, but you might consider a fixture with an articulating arm so one could read in bed. You might want to select a fixture designed to handle 100-watt bulbs, and then put the fixture on a dimmer switch. Installing a two-plug electrical outlet per space would allow for computer use after others have turned in for the night.

A similar private result might be achieved by using a four-poster bed that allows for fabric panels. If your ceiling height is 8 feet or lower, be selective when you choose a style of bed. Avoid very thick bedposts, as they will overpower the space. Instead, look for a wrought-iron design with thinner parts, or a Shaker-style bed with slim wooden supports.

Bunk beds are a good, old-fashioned method for accommodating more people in one room. Adding a trundle-bed can provide sleeping space for three people in a minimum amount of floor space.

Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Big Ideas for Small Spaces." Send questions and comments to her by e-mail at

Copyright 2009 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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