Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sam's Playhouse Loft Bed

For Sam's 3rd birthday, we gifted him a homemade playhouse loft bed. I started building it in July 2011, but as is typical, life generally got in the way and the bed took a long time to build. The bed was "complete" by early October (ahead of his birthday), but I purposely did not attach the ladder until this weekend.

First, thanks go to Ana White and her incredible website. Ana is a pretty incredible person - she's an at-home mom who likes nice things, but is frugal. So she started making furniture at home so that she could have nice things, similar to what you'd find in Pottery Barn and the like, but at a fraction of the cost. And over the years she's put her plans & specs online for others to use. Her website has a bunch of plans that she (and now other contributors) have shared. The design that I used is the Playhouse Loft Bed.

I had two main hurdles in making this bed:

1. I'm in Europe
2. Ladder / Stairs Options

Being in Europe has many advantages and opportunities. But for any red-blooded American educated with the US customary system of measurements, the metric system can be daunting and downright frustrating when working with lumber. The Playhouse Loft Bed plans are written to include 1x2s, 1x3s and 1x4s, and other such US units. In German stores, the closest equivalents I could find were 18x43mm (1x2 equiv), 18x70mm (1x3 equiv), and 18x95mm (1x4 equiv). However, the equivalents are not true equivalents, so I had to take the board thickness into account when using Ana's plans.

The other problem I ran into being in Germany is the cost. Lumber is ridiculously expensive here, as compared to what we could have gotten in the States. And it had an impact on what I was willing and able to make. The Playhouse Loft Bed plans on Ana's site include a supplemental design for building really cool "storage stairs", which looked safer than the purely vertical ladder on Ana's original plans. But when I took the cost of German supplies into account, the storage stairs would likely have cost me about $300 US, and that was in addition to the cost of the bed materials. No thanks!

Since I didn't trust Sam's abilities, at 3 years old, to consistently and safely climb up and down a vertical ladder, I decided to deviate from Ana's plans and build a diagonal ladder - reasonably inexpensive and moderately safe. The big challenge there was not having easy to read and understand plans on hand. Fortunately for me, Joshua (our eldest) has a bunk bed, so I was able to use his ladder as a reference when designing Sam's. Using some basic geometry, I figured out that Josh's ladder extends about 27 degrees vertically off the side of his bed (about 63 degrees from horizontal). With that knowledge, and knowing the height of Sam's bed, I was able to calculate rough dimensions I'd need to build the ladder.

Original Ladder Design (by Mike)

As it turns out, the dimensions of the ladder sides were dead-on. I initially estimated about 12 inch ladder rungs (steps), but eventually decided to build them out to roughly 15 inches, which added room for Sam's growing feet, and it helped make the ladder a little closer to the actual width of the bed's opening between the rails at the top. And although my initial plans were to have 4 evenly spaced steps, I ended up putting five on there, with the bottom step as close to the top of the ladder as reasonable since there's still a decent sized step up from there to the top of the mattress.

All in all, I'm very happy with the results. Sam climbs up and down like a champ. He's actually taking his first nap on top now, as I type this blog post. Although he liked sleeping under the bed (in the house) on a futon mattress these past couple of months, I'm sure he's much happier up top, sleeping "way up high" like his big brother does on the bunk bed.

I kept a photo diary of the work as I was building. Click here to see history in the making.