The Loft Project – Building a custom loft bed

Over the winter break I moved into a shared house in Mosaic. My new bedroom had to serve a couple purposes – it needed to, obviously, be my bedroom, but it also had to provide sleeping space for when my son visited, as well as be comfortable and easy to relax in. I needed a space for my bookshelves, my desk, my nice comfy Aeron chair, and naturally my clothing and some other bits. Beds take up a ginormous amount of space and I was working with only about 120 square feet total. A queen sized bed takes up 30 square feet, plus ‘navigation’ around it – I needed to figure out how to use that space the best.

So, a loft.

Loft: space before building
The design for the two bedroom unit master bedroom includes a sort of ‘niche’ area – that space is exactly the size of a queen sized bed (okay, not EXACTLY. It’s 2″ wider and about 15″ short), but after staring at the space, it was pretty easy to picture a loft bed build into the space. The ceiling was high enough, there was an awesome highly-placed window, I was ready to go.

I have a fondness for heavy lumber and carriage bolts, so naturally that’s what I ended up using. I borrowed the Mosaic pickup truck and headed over to Home Depot. Total materials cost was around $160, which, all things considered, wasn’t too bad. I only had to buy one new tool – a 1/4″ boring drill so I could make holes through the 4×4 support posts – everything else I could do with my existing tool set (a very nice feeling I must admit). The hardest choice was trying to determine what to use for the decking – initially I had thought to use sanded 3/4″ plywood, but holy cats that’s expensive ($40+ for a 4×8 sheet, and I’d need two). I ended up using OSB plywood, which was inexpensive and quite strong (but holy cats is it heavy). Not as elegant, but I also determined I’d paint the entire structure (rather than stain or leave as raw wood), so the material for the decking wouldn’t really matter – it would be painted and covered with the mattress

Loft: framing mostly doneOnce I had all the lumber back home, I started building the framing. 2×6 wood for the sideboards and the head and footboards – 4×4 post wood for the corners. The back posts were made ‘taller’ so that I could build what will amount to a headboard against them, with a built in shelf. I set the height so that the decking would be below the window sill but high enough to make ‘bunk’ space underneath accessible. The other design step was to put the 2×6 lumber ‘outboard’ from the posts – this would mean the corner posts woul dbe ‘away’ from the walls and corners, therefore trimwood around the floor would not push the loft away from the wall.

I used 1/4″ x 6″ carriage bolts to hold all the pieces together, boring pilot holes with my drill. This was quite a challenge in several respects. One was making sure the whole thing aligned properly, another was some of the holes needed to be bored while the structure was standing in the space. Not a lot of room to work with!

The lower supports on three sides are simply standard 2×4 studs, also bolted into place. The decking is held up by 5 2×4 stringers. These stringers are hung from the 2×6 side rails using aluminum joist hangers. I have to say, these hangers are one of the niftiest little accessories I’ve used. They made installing the stringers a walk in the park (once I had the right length screws. Grr. 🙂

Loft: painted in placeOnce the framing was done, it was time to paint. I decided to paint the entire structure flat black, mixed at the local hardware store. I overbought on the paint, thinking I’d use a half gallon or so on the whole project, but after I had painted all the structural members, I had only used about 1/10th of the gallon. Later, when I started painting the decking, I was using MUCH more paint. More surface area? Didn’t seem like it… but I guess it just costs more to paint OSB.

Putting the decking on was a bit of a challenge due to the size and weight of the OSB, and the space I was working in. It’s impossible to carry a 4×8 sheet of plywood upstairs in these houses, so I had to cut the sheets down before carrying them up the stairs. The second challenge was the lack of a table saw, so all cuts needed to be done with my skilsaw. Time consuming and inaccurate. I mis-cut one piece (the OSB is tongue-in-groove, and I mismatched the side :-/), but eventually I had the 2 pieces of decking in place and screwed down. Yay!

By this time I was getting pretty tired, and I ended up painting only about 1/3rd of the top of the decking – enough to cover all the edges and a chunk of the surface – everything that would be visible once things were in place.

Loft: As it stands nowAnother community member offered up a very nice queen sized mattress which we schlepped up and put into place. Perfect fit! The drawback was I had calculated based on what I remember mattresses were like. Unfortunately, I have been sleeping on futons and waterbeds for the last 20 years. Mattresses got thick! Fortunately, not THAT thick – I could still sit up comfortably up in the loft space, but there’s slightly less headroom than I had planned. Oh well!

There’s some steps left to do – I still need to put the backing board and shelf along the posts for the ‘headboard’, and I’d like to mount a reading light or two back there as well (with a remote switch I can turn on when I’m climbing into bed). However, I’m ecstatic with the end result as it stands. The loft is secure and doesn’t wobble – it’s comfortable and very ‘cozy’. I adore having the window right next to me when I wake up in the morning, and the mattress is a delight to sleep on.

Total construction time (sawing, hammering, drilling, painting, etc) – about 12 hours. Incidental work (driving and shopping and the like) another 4 hours. Cost: about $180.

I like it.