If you're anything like me, you're poor... but not in spirit!
I'm a working artist and musician. The more I decrease my cost of living, the less time I have to spend working & the more time I get to spend practicing, networking and pursuing my dreams! I stumbled upon an apartment here in my home city of Providence, where a group of artists had, essentially, a large closet that they were renting out. At 10' 8" x 9' x 5' 9" , the footprint was just large enough to fit a full sized mattress and little more. They had successfully gotten a few people to live there before, but a such a tiny room without a door (which I have since rectified) that was adjacent to the living room seemed like a meager existence. All of that in stride, the price tag of only $150 a month + utilities still made it an intriguing enough prospect!
Through the use of standard hand and power-tools, new or reclaimed materials, and some imagination, you can customize your space to be more ergonomic, efficient and better suite your needs!
I know that this lifestyle is not for everyone and every space is different, but maybe through this tutorial you might pick up some useful building techniques or inspiring ideas that will be relevant to your current or future living situation!
Step 1: Tools and Materials
- Safety Glasses
- Tape Measure
- Pencil / Marker / Pen
- Circular Saw
- Ear Protection
- Nail Set
- Speed Square
- Wood Glue
- Disposable Gloves
- Stud Finder
- 2 sheets of 1/2" Plywood
- 2 sheets of 3/4" Plywood
- 3 2"x6"x8' framing boards
- 3 2"x4"x8' framing boards
- Box of Screws
- Box of Finishing Nails
- 6 2"x4" joist hangers
All in all, I ended up spending around $300 on my build but it can definitely be done cheaper. I had no qual,s spending that much as in the end, the room ended up saving me much $$$ in rent over a long period of time, plus, it looked great and felt homey and comfortable!
Step 2: Design
The first step in my process was to sit in this tiny room, staring at the walls for a long time. After racking my brain for long enough, I realized a few things:
A bedroom is primarily just:
- A place to sleep (bed)
- A place to store your belongings (closet, dresser, shelves etc.)
- A private place to reflect, recharge and maybe get some work done (desk, chair, door that closes & good aesthetics)
I applied my experience working as a shop hand for a commercial interior decorator, to come up with a plan for ticking off each one of those bullets in the most finically and space efficient ways possible. Once I had a rough Idea of what I wanted it to look like and what materials I would use, I made a 3D model in Google Sketchup. This helped me fully realize the specifics of the build and how it would look all together. It allowed me to play around with different ideas and come up with a finalized plan before I did something I couldn't take back, or wasted time and money buy materials I didn't need, or forgetting to pick up ones that I did.
Creating the Sketchup model:
- Measure the dimensions of the room with a tape measure
- The more specific the better. I included the baseboard heater, the door opening, the window & the trim around each.
- Plug them in to Sketchup and build the room
- If you're unfamiliar with Sketchup, you should check it out! It's an incredibly useful 3d modeling program with a lot of user driven features and it's completely free! There are also tons of video tutorials put out by the makers of Sketchup and users alike, so with a little time, you'll be able to figure out how to use it on your own!
- Use Sketchup to play around with different ideas. Have fun and 'build' them in your model. Save different versions to compare and see what you like the most!
Step 3: Building the Loft Frame
The loft frame was the most important thing to build first as I wanted to make sure that it had enough structural integrity. Most lofts are held up by posts, but since my room is so small, I could get away with using only one by bracing the rest of the platform into the wall studs.
- Find and mark the wall studs. You can use a stud finder, tap the walls and listen to the sound (hallow=no stud. solid=stud). In newer houses, studs are place 16" apart.
- Measure and cut your 2"x6"s
- Screw them into the wall studs
- if you need to use one or more posts, attach those now. Screws, carriage bolts and heft nails all work. Carriage bolts will be the strongest hold.
- Attach joist hangers to the frame walls.
- Measure and cut lumber for joists. Click here to find out what to use for joists. 2"x4" worked for me since it was a small platform.
- Measure, cut and attach 1/2" plywood to the top of the frame.
- VOILÀ! You now have a platform for your mattress!
Step 4: Building the Shelf-Desk Staircase
- From a 4’x8’ sheet of plywood, measure and mark the individual pieces for the staircase shelves. (Because the room is obviously so small, I designed the width of the stairs/depth of the cubbies to be as narrow as I could to function safely and no larger. For me that was around 16” wide/deep.) Use a tape measure to mark the ends of the boards and with a straight edge like a yardstick or the factory-cut edge of another piece of plywood, draw a straight line. Pencil’s are nice because you can erase them easily if you mess up, but if you’re careful, a pen or marker works just fine.
- Once you have your boards marked, cut them with a saw. I found the best method to be cutting them on saw horses with a circular saw and finishing the cuts with a jig saw to avoid any over-cut from the round blade of the circular saw. You can use a table saw as well but depending on your setup/how big your feed table is, it might actually be harder to use this method.
- Once you have your individual pieces cut out, measure and mark the slots where the boards will come together. I knew that I wanted my record collection to be able to fit on the shelves so I designed the height of each cubby to be around 13”. The width of the slots has to be at least the thickness of the boards so for me, that meant around 3/4”. Precision can end up helping you a lot here as the more snug the fit, the more structure the shelves provide for themselves! (I cut the slots to go halfway through on both the horizontal and vertical boards but where I to do it again, I would cut the slots on the horizontal boards to go somewhere between 1/3-1/4 of the way through. I haven’t had any problems with weight being too much for the back portion of each cubby, but cutting the slot to be shallower on these sections will only provide more integrity. The depth of the slots on the vertical pieces is almost insignificant (so long as you leave at least 4” of wood just to be safe) because the voids will be filled by the horizontal boards and provide total structure from top to bottom!)
- Once the boards are cut with their appropriate slots, you can apply a coat of poly shade. It might be easier to do it at this point as you’ll have more access to the whole piece than you will once it’s fully assembled. FYI: This is a finishing touch and not totally necessary.
- Once their all dry, it’s time to piece them together! If the slots are not big enough you can always go back and fine tune them with a saw or some sandpaper. If it’s a tight squeeze, you can use a wood or rubber mallet to bang them into place! This will ensure the least amount of wiggle room. (I don’t own a mallet so I just used a normal hammer while holding a scrap piece of 2”x4” in front of the boards to disperse the blow and prevent damage to the boards.
Once everything is pieced together and in place, you can use brackets to cut down on any shifting that might still occur. Since the fit was so snug on mine, all that was necessary were a few tiny “L” brackets! I used brass for aesthetics but the color makes no structural difference. In the end, I also used a couple to secure some of the vertical pieces to the floor. You’ll be able to tell where you do and don’t need the extra support of any brackets. To provide structure to the back of the corner desk, you can measure and cut a piece of 2”x4” and use it as a leg (easy attachment: screw through the top of the desk into the top of the board) or alternatively, use a large “L” bracket by attaching it to the bottom of the desk and into the wall stud in the room’s corner. (I was a little wearing about how much weight this would hold when used as a staircase, but in the end it felt VERY sturdy and I haven’t had a single problem!
To attach the horizontal pieces to the vertical pieces at the edges of the stairs, I just hammered a finishing nail through the top at either end.
To hold up the window desk, I attache the back of the board to the wall with a large “L” bracket and used a decorative piece of wood, that I believe was a railing spindle at one point, for the leg in the front. If you don’t have anything like that, a piece of 2”x4” will do!
Step 5: Attach the Closet Wire
- At the head and the foot of the bed, measure out a place to attach the eye hooks. Leave enough distance from the wall for the hangers to move freely.
- Drill a pilot hole a little smaller than the width and depth of the eye hook screw & screw in the eye hooks.
- Thread the wire through one of the eye hooks and use the hardware to crimp it securely closed at the other end of the wire. Make sure to measure the appropriate distance so as to utilize the turnbuckle.
- Thread the wire through the turnbuckle and crimp it closed. Hook the turnbuckle through the eye hook and tighten it.
Presto! You have a place to hang your clothes!
Step 6: Finishing Touches
These are all optional and mostly for aesthetics and longevity. The fame and stair shelves will do their job with or without these steps :)
There's a lot of room to utilize reclaimed materials for these finishing touches! Personally, I was able to:
- Craft a bedside shelf out of an old bathtub shelf
- Make the desk leg out of an old railing spindle.
- Turn a free fabric sample into a curtain
- Use a boat dock cleat and some found rope scraps as a tool to tie my curtain back AND to help me get in and out of bed
- Use other found scraps of rope and an old rope clip as a shelf support
- Turn found plywood scraps into extra shelves for a shoe organizer
- Measure and cut the trim
To get a weathered, rustic look, I used a cloth and rubbed the poly-shade into each piece. I then used a piece of fine sandpaper and rubbed the edges. After that, you can apply a second coat if desired! (I found the combination of stain and polyurethane, “poly-shade”, to be more efficient than having to apply the two separately. Neither one is necessary but I feel like the stain makes it look better and like finer wood than plywood and framing lumber. The polyurethane adds a protective, water-resisting layer, that also smooths out the wood more and more with each coat. Personally I was fine with only one coat on the bulk of the wood).
To attach the trim, Apply wood glue to the back of each piece and then apply them with a hammer and finishing nails. They say the glue is the important part and provides more staying power than the nails in the end. The nails just hold the pieces in place while the glue dries, more of less. To hide the finishing nails, you can use a finishing pin to drive them deeper then the surface of the trim.
- Take two scrap pieces of wood and screw them into studs in the wall.
- Stagger them vertically in order to provide a surface to hold the back of the shelf. The front piece keeps the shelf in place whole the bottom piece supports the weight.
- Attache a rope to the front of the shelf and to the ceiling with an eye hook into a ceiling stud or a drywall anchor. You can also attach the eye hook into the wall if that suites your fancy!
Curtain & curtain-tie/support rope:
- Screw a boat dock anchor into the window frame or the wall with some wall anchors
- Attach your favorite piece of fabric to the window frame with nails, upholstery nails, thumb tacks, double-sided tape etc.
- Attach a length of rope to the anchor and use it to get yourself in and out of bed or just to tie the curtain back!
The rest is up to you!
I ended up adding a shelf up top on the sidewall. It’s nice as it kind of serves as a bedside table. For those curious, the shelf itself is made from a prefabricated shelf that’s original purpose was to to fit over a claw foot bathtub! To attach it to the to wall, I took tThat’s pretty much it! If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me a message. Happy building, sleeping, living and saving money on rent!
Grand Prize in the
Small Spaces Contest