Our Little Girl is getting bigger, and has outgrown her crib, which was converted to a day-bed.
My wife said it was time to buy her a real bed. I stumbled on a bunk-bed for sale at a local thrift-store. I've always loved bunk-beds and thought that the girl would love one too!
It was also coming up very soon on Christmas. I bought the bunk-bed and decided to transform it into a bed fit for a PRINCESS, and have it ready just in time for the holidays!
Step 1: Tools and Materials
This project used the following tools and materials.
Tools for project:
Drill and bits
Trim gun or hammer and brads
Tape measure and pencil
Paint brush and roller
Clamps - bar clamps and spring clamps
Hot Glue Gun
Materials for Project:
Bunk bed to be modified
4'x8' sheet of 1/2" plywood - one side finished for painting
Other smaller pieces of 1/2" plywood - equal to about half a sheet (I used scrap material)
Assorted Trim - Base, Cove, End-Wrap, etc. (I used whatever scrap trim I had available.
Several feet of 1" or 3/4" assorted width wood boards; 4", 5", 7" - I used whatever scrap materials seemed appropriate.)
Cedar 1"x4" board
Primer, Paint, and accent color Paint
Craft Store plastic jewels
Step 2: Planning
The first real step in the project is simply to plan out what I wanted to do.
I sketched "thumbnail" images of what the finished project might look like. I drew several different style castle shapes and marked down any ideas that I had. Getting this down on paper would help me remember any ideas that would otherwise get lost and let me show my ideas to other people to get additional input.
I also did an internet image search for both castles and bunk-beds to get additional ideas.
After various sketches, I decided that the castle should have two towers of rather thick proportions, and an arch that connected the two. The top of each castle tower would have castellations, or decorative parapets with regularly spaced notches. In the middle of each tower would be a gothic arch-shaped window. That window would allow the Little Girl to look out, and the window sill would act as a small display shelf or place to set a doll.
I also decided that the castle would be relatively Two-Dimensional. I don't have much of a background in carpentry, so I wanted to build something that would not only be simple, but also easy to disassemble and transport. Being "flat" would also take up less space in a relatively small room.
Cutting out the windows, adding the window sills, and adding trim would all be very easy to do, while adding a sense of depth.
Step 3: Bunk Bed Base
To start with, I purchased the bunk-bed from the thrift-store. Price was $100. This included the bunk-bed frame, ladder, and two "box-springs" and their supports.
I transported the bed to where I would be working on the project. My father has a heated workspace at the back of his garage that I was allowed to use. Besides being warm and well-lit, there's also some tools available there that I don't have in my own garage, including a chop-saw and table-saw.
I set the bed up on top of scraps of 2x4. That would allow me to paint all the way to the very bottom. This bed does NOT have feet. Instead, the entire width of the head-board and foot-board lay on the ground. This is good to help spread out the weight of the bed, but would make painting more difficult.
To prepare the bed, I first primed it. Primer is usually cheaper than paint, dries faster, and provides good adhesion for the paint. The bed frame was stained, but not really varnished. I didn't see any need for sanding or other surface prep, other than the priming. Priming took longer than I expected. There's a lot of total surface area to this bed, and plenty of corners and nooks and crannies.
Once primed, I stacked up the bed components so that I could start designing the castle around it.
Step 4: Towers
To build the towers, I would first cut a piece of 1/2" thick plywood to 2 feet wide by 6 feet long. That gives me a very wide tower, with enough wood left over to use as a wider section at the top of the tower.
I set the table-saw to two feet and ran the board through the length, then cut off the extra 2 feet on the end.
Both towers were then temporarily clamped in place to the bed frame using speed bar clamps. That allowed me to plan out the size and shape of the central arch. The towers were placed with their outside edge aligned with the outside edges of the bed.
To build the tower tops, I looked through the assorted smaller pieces of plywood and found one that was 28" by 20" inches. I cut that in half to have two pieces of 10" by 28", as those proportions looked about right for the towers. I was also taking into consideration the height of the ceiling. The ceiling in the shop was a similar height to the bedroom this bed would go in, and I didn't want the towers to be too tall.
On the tower tops, I drew out the castellations (notches) as Four inches each. This evenly uses up the 28 inch width (4" x 4 positive = 16" and 4" x 3 negative notches = 12" for a total of 28".) At first, I wasn't sure how tall the notches should be, so I drew them as 3, 4, and 5 inches. In the end, I thought 5 inches looked best.
I drilled holes in the corners of the notches with a drill bit big enough to fit the blade of the jig saw. That way, I could easily make the cross cut with the jig saw. After cutting, I traced the first tower top onto the second board, then cut that one as well.
The tower tops were put in position and clamped in place.
As I was a little farther along in the project, I felt that the tower tops would seem more three-dimensional by simply spacing out the top section. I cut two pieces of scrap plywood to 28 inches wide by 5 inches tall. Those boards would go BEHIND the tower top. They were nailed on with the trim gun, then the castle tower top was nailed on over the top of that. The surface of the tower top was thus one inch away from the main column of the tower, giving it a little bit of depth.
I also had a section of 1"x7" board. I cut it into two lengths of 24" long and nailed those to the bottom of the towers to provide the look of a sturdy foundation tower.
Step 5: Central Arch
With the rough towers in place, I could plan out the central arch.
The arch would cover the side board of the top bunk, as well as the lower of the two slats of the railing. It would span the distance between the two towers.
To design the arch, I used C.A.D. - Cardboard Aided Design. Cardboard is an inexpensive and easy to use material to create full-size mock-ups of parts. I put a piece of cardboard where I wanted the arch and moved it around until it was positioned in a way that looked good. Then I clamped it in place, drew pencil marks of where the arch crossed the towers, and drew in the bottom curve or the arch.
Next, I cut out the cardboard arch, then put it back in place, so that I would be able to see the finished effect. I could also test out a few things that are hard to do OTHER than in the real world. For example, I sat on the bed to see if I would hit my head on the arch or not. Cardboard mock-ups are great for testing functions like that.
Once I was happy with the cardboard, I traced it on to a piece of plywood. Unfortunately, since I only free-handed the arch, it wasn't as smooth and symmetrical as I would have liked. To fix that, I would have to build a tool to draw an arch.
I used a piece of scrap 3/4" wood, about two feet long. I drilled a hole in one end large enough for a pencil. I put a screw through the other end, about 18 inches away from the pencil. The distance between the screw and pencil determines the size of the arc.
The distance between the two towers is about 31 inches. I drew an arch based on a 36" circle (18" x 2) This gives a wider, flatter arch, instead of a semi-circle.
I then test-fit the plywood with the arch drawn on it, after confirming that I liked the look, I cut it out with a jigsaw.
The arch was then held in place by three screws through the back of the upper bunk railing into the arch.
Step 6: Windows
Another key feature that I wanted was Gothic Arch Windows.
To make the windows, I would create a template, trace it, then cut it out with a jigsaw. After that, I would create a window sill.
To make the template, I would sketch it out on a piece of paper. The window was larger than 8.5x11", so I taped two pieces of paper together. I sketched roughly what I wanted to window to look like. Next, I folded the paper in half, through the peak, so that both halves would be symmetrical. Then I cut the paper with a scissors.
The window template came to be 6 inches wide by 16 inches tall. The proportions looked about right. I wanted the window to be large enough for the Little Girl to look through, for a Barbie Doll to stand in the window, and the overall window size to look in proportion to the towers.
I centered the template, placed it at a an appropriate height, taped it in place, then traced it with a pencil.
I then drilled holes in the bottom two corners of the window, similar to what I did for the castle tower notches.
Next, I cut out the window with the jigsaw.
To create the window sill, I used a 1 inch by 3.5 inch cedar board. I set the depth of the table-saw to half an inch. I then passed the board through the table-saw multiple times, moving the guard over by 1/8" each time. That's the thickness of the saw-blade. After multiple passes, I had a 1/2" wide slot that matched the thickness of the plywood tower.
I then cross-cut the board to 8 inches. That gives me one inch on either side of the window. Next, I used the jigsaw to notch back that same one inch, only in the area of the slot. The finished effect is that the board is shaped somewhat like a capitol letter "H", and fits right into the window frame.
I made two pieces like this, then also set the table saw on a 45 degree angle and cut a bevel on all four sides of the bottom.
Step 7: Trim
To give the castle both a finished appearance and a sense of depth, I installed common wood trim pieces.
I used left-over trim that I had in my garage. The two main types were an "L" shape, used to finish the edges of the plywood, and a "Cove" to make a curve between different depths of wood.
Besides that trim, I also used several boards to add dimension, including a pair of wide boards at the foot of the towers and one crossing the top of the arch.
I measured each piece with my tape measure, marked it with a pencil, and then cut it on the chop-saw. I was fortunate enough to have access to an air-powered trim gun, which was much easier to use than brads and a hammer.
The trim gun nails are small enough that the holes they make can be painted right over, without needing wood filler.
Step 8: Painting
The last major step on building the project is to paint it. I painted the castle white, with pink accents.
First, I had to prime. I gave a coat of primer to almost everywhere. I didn't necessarily prime areas that would be covered once the bed was assembled.
I unclamped and unscrewed the towers and arch to be able to prime the front and the back. After that, I painted it all white. I used an inexpensive white semi-gloss water-based acrylic paint.
For the trim, I wanted a nice Princess accent color. At the big box home improvement store, I couldn't find a small, affordable, can of paint the color I wanted. Since I didn't need too much paint, I noticed that the store sells samples of their high-end paints in an 8 once size. I picked a color that I liked and had the paint department make up a small can for me. Total cost - $3.99.
Before painting the trim, I masked off the areas around it with one inch blue painters tape.
I also pre-painted the window sills before installing them. I've found that to paint small items, it's easiest to wear a glove and hand-hold the object while painting. To paint all sides at once and still be able to set it down, I made a "nail-board". To do so, drive nails or screws all the way through a board, and then set it down nail-side-up. The item can be set down on the tips of the nails or screws without messing the paint.
Step 9: Curtains
Another element of the Princess Castle Bunk-Bed is curtains to block off the bottom bunk. This provides privacy, warmth, and turns the lower bunk into an excellent reading nook!
I purchased the curtains at the thrift store at the same time I bought the bed. The two curtains are NOT the same fabric, but are similar enough that it's almost unnoticeable. Both curtains have a hemmed pocket so that they can be threaded on to a pole.
I purchased a plain wood closet pole, and then cut it to 6'8" long.
I screwed closet pole brackets to either end of the inside of the bed, using the included screws.
I put the curtains on the pole, then set the pole in position on its brackets.
Next, I screwed in two brass hooks on the interior on both sides of the arch. The hooks are used for tying back the curtains.
Not too long ago, I graduated from college. I was pretty proud of the fact that even with all the challenges, I graduated with honors - meaning that I got to wear a fancy gold cord with my black robe. I still had the honors cord, and felt I finally found a practical use for it - tying back the curtains!
The curtains are very long. They can be tucked inside the lower bunk, tied back, or if left long they hang all the way to the bedroom floor.
Step 10: Final Assembly
I intentionally designed the project to be only several main components. A big part of this was to make the project easy to transport and assemble. Besides the bunk-bed, it's only the two towers and the arch.
I was able to transport the entire project in just one trip in my Chevy S-10 compact pickup truck. I did remove the lag bolts of the bed to make it into the smallest components for me to be able to carry by myself and to more easily navigate the couple of turns from the front door to the Little Girl's bedroom.
The bed did NOT come with mattresses. I purchased a pair of Twin size Serta brand mattresses at K-Mart. Yes, K-Mart. I had some Sears store credit that I could use there, along with some coupons and other discounts. In the end, my total out-of-pocket cost for two brand-new mattresses was $22.98
Once back home, I started assembling the project.
First, I simply brought in the bunk-bed and started setting it up in the corner where it would go.
Next, I put in the box springs and the new mattresses, then put sheets on them. Sheets and blankets were all Christmas gifts to the Little Girl from family members.
After that, I installed the closet pole with curtain and screwed in the brass hooks. Later, I tied back the curtains with the gold cord.
After that, I installed the center arch. Before disassembly, I marked the location of the arch with a pencil. I realigned the arch with the pencil marks. One piece of trim overhangs the upper bunk railing. I ran three screws through the back of the railing into the arch. I was also using "finishing washers" with the screws. These cupped washers give a finished look and help cover any holes or imperfections. I ran one screw through the front of the arch on either side, where the screws would be covered by the towers.
With the arch in place, I could install the towers. I aligned the right-hand edge of the right tower and the post and then connected them with four long screws through the front, again using finishing washers. I did the same with the left tower.
I put a screw through the back of the arch near the bottom into the tower.
I also put a pair of screws through both towers from the back into the top spacer block.
The ladder has hardware on top of it to hook in place. Screws through that bracket keep the ladder permanently in place.
Step 11: Jewels
Once the bed was all together, the Little Girl and I set to work to show off the wealth of her kingdom by attaching Jewels.
My sister had a large bag of craft-store plastic jewels from a previous project. We sorted out the jewels on the floor by shape and color, then picked out a color scheme and a pattern for the jewels, based on what was available.
We chose pink and blue colors to match the pink trim and the existing "Princess Chair" project.
I drew a light pencil line on the central arch, about 1.5 inches from the edge. This gives a margin to where the jewels would go. Next, I marked a center line. We would put the center jewel in first, then work out from there. Working from the center to the outside edges helps make it symmetrical.
The Little Girl handed me the pieces, and I hot-glued them in place.
Afterwards, the pencil line can be erased.
Step 12: Conclusion and Epilogue
Continuing thoughts and notes...
So far, the girl just LOVES the bed!
She's slept well on both the top and bottom bunks. Having the two beds means sleep-overs should be a lot of fun!
There's also considerable space UNDER the bed for storage. The girl also fits well under the bed. She calls it the "Dungeon" and that "Bad people have to go there." Perhaps I should make a fake metal grate to go over the entrance to the under-bed storage?
It would be easy to add a "moat" by sewing a custom blue rug. Rubber alligators could sit on the "moat".
There's a few more upgrades I'd still like to make to the project. For starters, I plan to add a dome light to the bottom bunk, and probably some sort of reading light to the top. I also really like how her Princess Chair turned out. (Three-year-old birthday present.) I'd like to add jewels on the front of the castle to match the chair.
The under-side of the upper bunk (as seen from in the bottom bunk,) isn't that attractive. I think I'll find a pink sheet to make a more attractive "roof" for the bottom bunk.
There's still a little bit of touch-up paint I need to do.
I like the fact that the castle is pretty flat. It was within my carpentry skill set. If I tried to make something more complicated with three-dimensional towers with built-in bookshelves and other complexity, the project may NEVER have been finished. Starting with some sort of finished material (the bunk-bed) and then MODIFYING IT (adding plywood to the front,) is a great way to approach many projects!
WHAT WOULD I DO DIFFERENT IF I DID IT AGAIN?
I think I would plan the back side of the towers a little different. That side just doesn't look very finished. I would plan that out better.
I might also consider attaching the towers to the bed with HINGES. Bunk-beds tend to be naturally more difficult to change the sheets on. It would also be very hard to remove the lower mattress right now. If the towers were somehow hinged on the outside edges, then latched near the middle, and could be swung open, that would make it easier to get at the sheets and mattress.
Bunk-Bed - $100
Curtains - $10
Closet Pole - $10
Plywood - $30
Paint - $22
Mattresses - $23
Screws and misc hardware - $14
Happy Little Girl - PRICELESS.
If you have boys, you can always paint the castle like Camelot or Castle Gray-Skull.
So give it a shot! Even if you don't have much experience with carpentry, almost anyone can cut some plywood, paint it, and screw it to a bed frame!
PS: Thanks to my family for helping out with workspace, carpentry assistance, ideas, and materials!