What Is a Built-in Bunk Bed?
A built-in bunk bed is a bunk bed that has been built into the room. Instead of a freestanding bed frame, a built-in bunk bed is attached to the walls of its space to look like a cohesive part of the room. Built-in bunk beds tend to be larger and sturdier—because they're often attached to the walls, floor, and ceiling—than freestanding bunks and have a custom, high-end look.
As Ginger Curtis of Urbanology Designs points out, “[Built-ins are great] when you really want to elevate the look, feel, and functionality of a space, especially when you want to create a space your kids can really grow into for years and years. You have so much control to design to the specific needs of the room and your children.”
But what else should built-in lovers consider before committing to this look (because it is a commitment)? We turned to four experts for the pros and cons on built-in bunks.
Meet the Expert
- Ginger Curtis is the owner and principal designer of Urbanology Designs, an interior design firm.
- Christopher Lusty is the founder of Little Folks Furniture.
- Phil Lawlor is the sleep expert at Dormeo, a bedding supply company.
- Erin Coren is the co-founder of Curated Nest, a family-focused interior design service.
Con: Bunks Are Often Transition Beds
Christopher Lusty of Little Folks Furniture is pro-bunk bed, but not necessarily pro-built-in. “Bunk beds are often chosen as a child’s first ‘grown-up bed,’” he says. “[The bottom bunk] can be used as a single bed until they or their siblings reach an age where they can use the ladder safely. Once the room-sharing phase is over, everyone can easily have their own space again.”
Dormeo sleep expert Phil Lawlor agrees, but notes that you should first consider your children’s ages. “Bunk beds are recommended if your child is over 6 years old, but even then, it might be too soon,” says Lawlor. “Make sure they’re ready to climb a ladder comfortably and are out of the habit of regularly taking night trips to the toilet. If they do, the bottom bunk might be the safest option for now.”
So, if you don't have one child who can sleep in the top bunk, consider waiting until it's officially safe—and remember that a bunk bed may not be your child’s choice of bed forever.
Con: You Can Get a Similar Effect With a Freestanding Bunk
“One of the key reasons built-in bunks are popular is the perception that they are the best option for blending the bed into the surroundings,” says Lusty. “[But], this can still be achieved with a freestanding bunk when you adopt a neutral frame color.”
Either paint the neutral frame to match your walls, or fake the built-in effect by blending the frame into the room’s surroundings with curtains or bookshelves.
Con: Freestanding Bunks Offer More Versatility
One of the key reasons parents opt for bunk beds is because they’re major space-savers. But as Lawlor notes, it can be trickier to repurpose them once your kids have outgrown the bunk phase.
“[You could] hide the contents [of the bottom bunk] by hanging a curtain from the top bunk, or turn the beds into sofa areas for teenage hangouts with friends,” suggests Lawlor. “[If you can], remove the bottom bed and turn this area into a desk space, and use the top space for office storage.”
But while all of these suggestions are great, they might be trickier if you’ve opted for a built-in.
Con: Your Child Could Resent a Built-in Later
Typically, kids’ bedrooms are their one place in the home for self-expression—and Lusty points out that built-ins might limit that sense of freedom.
"As children grow, it’s important to let them adjust the room to their tastes and needs,” he says. “Built-in bunks lack this versatility and could result in intensive renovation later down the line.”
“[It will] prove a big job getting help from a carpenter and a plasterer to do up the area again,” agrees Lawlor.
“You lose the flexibility to quickly and easily update the room,” adds Curtis. “However, this [should not be] a deal-breaker if you think into the future and plan accordingly.”
Con: You Can’t Take It With You
“If you plan to sell your home, [a built-in bunk bed is] not something you can take with you, so it might not be a useful addition in terms of resale,” notes Erin Coren of Curated Nest.
Curtis agrees: “[Consider] how long will you be in your home. If you are planning a move in a year or two, you may want to opt for something more temporary.”
Pro: Built-in Bunks Are Great for Large Rooms
Coren tells us, “When you have a large space where standard sized bunk beds will be lost, built-in bunk beds can add a nice architectural detail to a space, as well as fill up open areas to give a cozy nook.”
Pro: Built-in Bunks Allow for Customization
If you work with someone to custom-design a built-in, you have far more options. “You can be as creative as you want with built-in bunk beds,” says Lawlor. “There are different types of built-in bunk beds that can help with various storage solutions: built-in wardrobe, under bed storage, [an] all-in-one bed and desk. There are also built-in bunk beds designed for specific interests and hobbies, such as gaming.”
Coren agrees. “Consider [built-ins] an investment, so plan what size mattress will be useful for guests as the years progress, and as guests of different ages come over. We suggest larger mattresses on the bottom bunks for older guests and twin [mattresses] above.”
“[Consider] lights, a charging area, [and] a nook for holding a cup of water or any personal items in the wall,” she adds. “Depending on the age of use, stairs are nice to have as opposed to ladders.”
“If built-in bunk beds are designed really well, they will last well into the tween and teen years,” agrees Curtis. “We designed a built-in bunk bed for our two daughters that was not only design forward—something not too little kid-ish but that could go the mile design-wise once they reached the teen years—but incredibly functional. It had hidden storage for their toys and treasures, which eventually turned into much-needed storage space for their clothes.”
If you’re sure your space will benefit from built-in bunk beds in more ways than one, consider these pros and cons. For a more temporary look, freestanding bunks are the way to go.
More to Consider Before Committing to Built-ins
There’s Little Room for Trial and Error
If your child has never slept in a bunk bed before, you might want to allow them to do a trial run before committing to a built-in, advises Lawlor: “They might feel slightly claustrophobic sleeping so close to the ceiling from the top bunk, [or] to the top bed [while] sleeping in the bottom one.”
Mattress Weight Is a Factor
With all bunk beds, making the top bunk can be tricky. But this can be an added frustration with a built-in, where one side of both mattresses is sure to be against the wall. “Luckily, there are light-weight mattresses available that are more suitable for bunk beds, as they’ll be easier to lift in than traditional mattresses,” says Lawlor.