How to create space for two kids in one teeny-tiny bedroom

By: Matt Grocoff , Contributing Writer
In: Home Improvement Tips, Green Renovations

When our first daughter was born it was easy to imagine her in a tiny bedroom in our historic home. The room was teeny-weeny, but so was she. Now that our second daughter is moving out of the crib and into a "big girl bed," space is becoming a challenge. We want to give them ample space, but we don't want to sacrifice our separate play room/guest room.

Before and after kids room
Here's the room on the first day we looked at the house, before splitting it into a bath and small bedroom.

Using creative design tools and clever furnishings you can get much more out of small spaces in old homes or apartments. We created our daughter's small bedroom using a philosophy from my friend and colleague Michael Klement, principal architect at Architectural Resource based in Ann Arbor, MI. Klement coined the term "Addition by Subtraction" to refer to the design concept of reducing total square footage while increasing the usable square footage using smart design tools.

Before our first daughter was born, we added an upstairs bath by dividing a large bedroom. Watch this video about how we used this space to create a large bathroom without eliminating the bedroom.

We were successful at keeping the bedroom, but the room was much smaller. Again, this was fine with one daughter, but how do you squeeze in two? Here's the simple tools we used to live large in a small room.

Sliding doors:

Subtracting doors adds space. Swinging doors take a lot of room and limit where furniture can be placed. By putting a salvaged door onto a barn door slide, we were able to put the bed against the same wall with the door. The sliding door tucks neatly behind the bed. A swinging door would have taken up too much room and left no other place to put the bed. To add even more space, we will be taking the swinging closet door off its hinge and replacing it with a curtain made with a high-quality fabric. The curtain not only adds a bit of style, it also opens up the 3 feet of space taken up by the swinging door.

Ouef bunk bed:

Ouef bunks

For a small room with two kids a bunk bed is a must. Unfortunately, bunk beds are usually large and clunky. A solid wall at the foot of a bunk bed can make a small room feel even smaller. We needed a bunk bed that would help open up the room. We found the Ouef bed the perfect choice (we got lucky and found one on Craigslist). The Ouef bed is made with FSC wood (from trees from sustainably managed forests), is non-toxic, and has a lower height than traditional bunk beds (64 inches -- much shorter than a typical bunk bed).

The overall design helps keep the space open and allows light to fill the room.

Less is more:

Vintage kids decor

Once we subtracted doors and bunk bed height, we got rid of all the clutter to add more useful space. Decluttering walls creates more visual open space and lets the room feel larger than it is. For wall decor we used a woven twine with antique clothes pins to hang colorful, vintage prints of historic design patterns. This light and airy decor leaves the walls clean but colorful.

We moved the antique dresser into the closet to free up floor space. By putting a curtain rather than a door on the closet it makes it easier to access clothes in a tighter space. We also store clothes seasonally. Anything that the girls won't be wearing for a few months will go into Rubbermaid storage bins in the conditioned attic.

Books, stuffed animals, and toys are kept to a minimum. We keep only the books that are read in a week. We rotate books in and out as needed for variety, but we don't keep dozens of books in the room. The same goes for stuffed animals. The girls keep only a few of their favorites in their room. A small room can quickly become unusable when 15 teddy bears show up for a picnic.

Good light:

Don't block the windows! Natural light is vital in a small space. If you need black out shades at night, be sure to open them first thing in the morning.

Looking for more inspiration? Check out this video from Melisa Fluhr at Project Nursery. Using some simple colors and furnishings, she was able to create a wonderful space for three children in a tiny New York City apartment.