daveheinzel.com  Since 2000
by Dave Heinzel, September 22, 2014

Bunk beds

For the past two years, my kids have been sleeping on mattresses on the floor. I've looked for bed frames many times, but I always get stuck in a loop. The problem is that cheap bed frames are flimsy and poorly-designed, and expensive options are sturdy but usually over-designed. I've been looking for beds that are sturdy, simple and moderately affordable.

The other problem I have is that when I find an option that meets my sturdiness and design criteria, it's usually three to four times more costly than it would be to build it myself. I haven't had a garage until recently, so building it myself has been out of the question. But out of principle, I'm not going to buy a bed that I could make for a fraction of the price. Even if I know I won't make it.

Fortunately, the kids don't seem to have any idea that it's ghetto to sleep on the floor. I was careful not to express frustration or disappointment about their bed situation in front of them. And having unanchored mattresses leads to many fun situations, such as makeshift tumbling mats and forts. Not to mention the many times I have moved the mattresses to the living room for bedtime movie parties.

After moving into a rental house that has a garage, I started the search again for beds. No luck. So I decided to build my own set of bunk beds.

There are a million kinds of bunk beds. My options were narrowed slightly by already having two twin sized mattresses. Still, there are several options for ladders or stairs. Many designs have shelves or storage. And I needed to consider, at least for a moment, a slide.

After searching practically every style of bunk bed I could find online (and brainstorming some ridiculously complex options, thanks to a recent trip to the St. Louis City Museum), I settled on a classic design that fit my level of craftsmanship, budget and timeline. The ladder would be on the short side of the bed (so the person on bottom could easily get in and out) and would be angled to make climbing easier.

the final computer-generated design
With the passenger seat removed, all the lumber fit in my WRX.

I started by designing the bunk beds in 3D on the computer, taking into account the size and charateristics of available lumber, construction methods that would hide most screws and a design that would be strong enough for all of us to be on the top bunk at the same time. I wanted a design that looked timeless, handcrafted and basic. Not flawless, but not clumsy. Comfortable. There were no visible diagonals, so I carefully planned for their structural equivalent in other ways.

Once the design was finalized, I used the 3D model to calculate and optimize the sizes and quantity of lumber I would need to purchase. With lumber, hardware and some miscellaneous supplies, the total was roughly $250.


Construction was straightforward and enjoyable. I followed the spreadsheet I created from the 3D model, making all of the cuts first. I had spent great care with the design to not have weird measurements, and this helped enormously when cutting and assembling. Every single piece and connection fit perfectly the first time, with no exceptions. This is the first project where I've been able to say that. It was like measure ten times, cut once. But it was worth it.

Hannah and the kids helped me prime and paint the frame. We chose a traditional off-white paint (Valspar Woodrow Wilson Presidential White) fitting of the classic style I was aiming for. I went with a glossy finish since many of the surfaces would be touched often (I loathe the chalkboard feel of flat paint).

There was one last detail — colorful rainbow slats underneath the top bunk. This would provide a bit of color and give the person on the bottom something fun to look at (while they are pouting that they don't get to sleep on top). It's a Heinzel touch.

The colors bled onto the workbench when painting the rainbow slats.

One night last week, Keil and Hannah came over and helped move the bed segments from the garage to the kids' second floor bedroom. Everything came together beautifully. The ladder proved to be exceptionally strong, and there was plenty of headroom on both beds.


The kids love the new beds, and to my surprise, there were no fights about who got to be on top first (I later found out they had agreed to both sleep on top together). It's nice seeing a project through from design to execution. It's nice to show the kids that I can build stuff. Mostly though, it's nice to give them something that feels a little more like a home.


Awesome! Great job, and very creative—but I would expect nothing less!

Sep 22, 2014, 5:24 P.M.

Nicely done, Dad!!!

Angi Davis
Sep 22, 2014, 5:30 P.M.

Awesome, Dave!!!!
Loved reading your blog about design and construction.......and love the photos...
Especially love the rainbow colored slats!!!
What fun!!! Glad Mia and Ethan are enjoying their new bunk bed!!!!

Sep 22, 2014, 5:44 P.M.

Superb in every way

Matt Penning
Sep 22, 2014, 6:17 P.M.

Dang Dave! Great job. I especially like the paint job and the Heinzel touch on the slats. The details make a difference. I know the kids love it :)

Cuz'n Sarah
Sep 22, 2014, 6:46 P.M.


Buddy Sue
Sep 22, 2014, 7:02 P.M.

I have a 15 year old who would rather live at your house than mine. :)

Sep 22, 2014, 7:22 P.M.

No surprise at all! I knew you were an awesome dad from the first moment I met you. The bed looks great!

Betsy Martin
Sep 22, 2014, 9:33 P.M.

Is there anything you can't do? Nicely done. In guessing you will be moving on to building your house

Sandy davis
Sep 23, 2014, 7:12 A.M.

Beautiful, Dave! Nice design, construction, painting, color pop slats. I especially like the workbench "accidental art."

Sep 23, 2014, 11:45 A.M.

Love reading your blog! Wish you would write more often :)

Sep 24, 2014, 9:24 A.M.