life in a tiny apartment.

August 19, 2019
bunk beds in a tiny apartment | reading my tea leaves

Tip # 186: Don’t knock it ’til you’ve stacked it.

We live in New York City. And while the crumbling brownstone we call home is far from the most extreme example in this city of people living one on top another, when we fall asleep at night we know there are four floors of people sleeping below us. On summer evenings, when James and I manage to sneak onto the roof of our building and take in the sunset, the view we see is chockablock with people stacked just like us. Giant block towers with glowing windows set against a pink and purple sky.

Taking stacked sleeping one step further inside our own tiny apartment seems logical, but I still deliberated between low-profile bunk beds, or a trundle, or a shared double bed for the kids’ narrow bedroom. To be totally honest, I didn’t fully grasp what a difference bunk beds in a tiny apartment could make until we had our kids sleeping in them. Here’s how it’s been going:

bunk beds in a tiny apartment | reading my tea leaves


I’ll probably jinx all my good luck by putting this in writing, but some combination of weaning, and summertime exhaustion, and finally sleeping in a bed sized for a child instead of a baby, means that Silas has been sleeping beautifully. Magnificently! Blissfully! There was a bit of negotiation and kinks to work out in terms of finding a new bedtime routine. We had a bit of up and down and up again regarding where bedtime stories would be read before landing back in our big bed where we’d always read them before. But overall the transition regarding sleep has been easy. Nay, wonderful. I’m not naive enough to think the new beds were the only factor here, but since the first night our kids started sleeping in them, we’ve all been getting unprecedented sleep in this tiny apartment.


With the floor space that we gained in the kids’ room by moving out a crib, we were able to welcome a rescued desk from a local pre-k classroom. And the room has become less of a place just to sleep and more of a space to play. More than that, it’s become a space where the kids seem to feel a real sense of ownership. The beds themselves serve as the jumping off point (sometimes literally, though thankfully not yet from the top bunk) for imaginary games of every stripe. The kids’ desk being in their own room leaves them a bit of privacy and a space to create away from the hubbub of the rest of the apartment. As they get older, I imagine the bit of individuated space will be even more important. Right this minute, I’m scoping out possible sconces or clip-on lights so that each kid will have their own private space to read. (Recommendations welcomed!).


I’ve gotten lots of questions about how we’re making the bed. For now, we’re using fitted bottom sheets only. Both kids sleep on relatively lightweight mattresses and so James and I haven’t found changing the sheets to be very much more onerous than changing sheets on any bed. The corners lift up easily and with a grunt and a pull or two, the bottom sheet’s on. Because it’s been summertime, the kids have been sleeping with their small baby blankets only. Come cooler weather, I’m planning to use throw blankets or toddler-sized duvets or blankets over top. For the next few years anyway, I can’t see the value in wrestling twin-sized flat sheets or blankets onto the beds. Their room is fairly stuffy all year long, so I’m hoping a lightweight blanket or quilt for each of them will be easy enough to wash weekly and cozy enough to sleep under. Specifics TBD.

bunk beds in a tiny apartment | reading my tea leaves

Other things:

+ The bunk we settled on is the Oeuf Perch Bunk Bed. I was torn between this bed and tackling a more involved DIY hack of the Ikea Kura, but when we were given the opportunity to rehome a set of secondhand Perch bunks directly from the designers themselves, we decided we couldn’t pass on the opportunity. We couldn’t be happier. When James and I were briefly solo in Brooklyn back in July, we took my parents’ car and rumbled over to Park Slope to drop off our crib and pick up the new-to-us bunks. By the end of the night we had everything set up and ready to go. (The video instructions available to set up this bed are genius and leave out most all room for error or spousal disagreements. I highly recommend them to anyone tackling the project.) To save space, we’re using the replacement ladder that comes with bed’s trundle option. (Full disclosure: I’m not certain this ladder can be purchased separately from the trundle typically, but it’s been a huge space-saver for us and such a welcome addition to the bed!)

+ The kids’ desk was rescued via my local Buy Nothing Group and before that, from a local elementary school updating their pre-k classroom. I repainted it in the kids’ requested color: pink. The color is Calamine No. 230 from Farrow & Ball, who generously provided a small pot of their paint for the project. I decided on the Modern Eggshell finish for durability and it’s been lovely. (More on this desk and the oft-asked-about art supplies very soon!)

+ The kids’ sheets were a gift from Lewis Home in the Rosehip print which is so sweet and subtle and even more lovely in person.

What else? Bunk bed fears you need allayed? Questions? Fellow bunk enthusiasts?

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  • Reply Elaine Cubbins August 19, 2019 at 11:22 am

    I love bunkbeds! When a grad student at U-AZ, I chose a bunk bed for my small bedroom in shared housing with two male housemates. My dogs slept underneath me, and I was on the top bunk. I had more room than my housemates did in their bedrooms, plus a quirky fun place to crawl into every night. I still sleep in a single bed, but in a black metal daybed frame as I am decades older and prefer to not climb the ladder. It is big enough for me, with dogs sleeping below and my cat in her own bed on a small cedar chest. I own this house with three bedrooms, a double bed in one for visiting couples, and the other is my study. Perhaps I’ll put a bunkbed in there.

  • Reply Kellyn August 19, 2019 at 11:29 am

    Looks really lovely – and that desk is amazing! I love how there are two seperate sections.

    We recently got the Oeuf River Twin with trundle….in anticipation of future sleepovers and to accommodate up to two house guests. My daughter is a few months older than Silas, but I still have her in the Ikea Crib turned toddler bed…planning on keeping her in it until it’s absolutely necessary for her to get the boot (once she’s ready for a real bed we’ll have to do some room rearranging since it won’t fit well in her little micro room (that basically used to be a landing and then we threw up a wall)

  • Reply Angela August 19, 2019 at 1:14 pm

    I shared a room with two sisters six and nine years younger than me. My sisters shared a double bottom bunk and I had the top bunk for five years. The top bunk was a sanctuary during middle school! I had a small reading light and a tiny shelf for my book/discman/etc. It felt like a tiny cocoon all to myself. That top bunk is probably why I find my coziest space at home to be my side of the bed.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 19, 2019 at 3:16 pm

      So encouraging and sweet!

  • Reply Kathleen August 19, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    We’ve had bunk beds for a long time, with three boys sharing one room. Two are in bunks and the youngest is in a twin at a 90-degree angle to the bunks, all against the same wall. We have also totally foregone any sort of top sheet. My kids think they are weird! They all have a lightweight comforter or fleece blanket on top of the fitted sheet. That is usually plenty and we live in a pretty cold climate and keep our house cool at night. I agree changing the sheets isn’t too bad, although I still find the top bunk to be a pain. More than anything, our kids have a lot of stuffed animals so it’s taking all those off and then putting them back on that takes the most time. I wish our bunks looked as nice as yours – we did not have a lot of money to spend when we bought them so they’re not as aesthetically pleasing but they work just fine. Your kids room is beautiful.

  • Reply Jessica August 19, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    Lovely! I’m curious about what mattresses you settled on for the kiddos, since we’ll be buying a twin-size for my little one soon.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 19, 2019 at 3:25 pm

      Answered this one in the comment below!

  • Reply R August 19, 2019 at 2:48 pm

    So lovely!! What about mattresses? Any help on finding affordable, eco-friendly mattresses for kids (twin beds) would be appreciated! Thanks!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 19, 2019 at 3:24 pm

      Affordable and eco-friendly is tricky. Add to that needing the mattress to be a certain size and there’s another element to consider. We already had a Tuft & Needle mattress for Faye’s bed and we needed the top mattress to be no more than 8 inches tall, so we eventually found the Nod mattress; also by Tuft & Needle but sold through Amazon and coming in at exactly 8-inches tall. It’s been great so far, though full-disclosure, we did notice a stronger off-gassing smell upon first opening it than we did with either the Tuft & Needle or the Leesa mattresses we have.

      • Reply Lindy August 20, 2019 at 11:22 pm

        If you need to clean the air.. offgassing..?.. and opening windows are impossible.. essential oils are great.. I think it’s lemon.. Is that a white toolbox.. crayons etc?

        • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 21, 2019 at 8:54 am

          Luckily windows could stay wide open! Yes: It’s an old rusty toolbox I painted white and we use it for art supplies/treasures.

  • Reply Z August 19, 2019 at 2:56 pm

    I still have the Ikea Jansjo clip on light that a friend gave to me when she no longer needed it in college, and it has proved itself wonderfully durable, simple, and easy to position anywhere with its very long cord (I believe it is 12 feet?). I think it uses a small LED bulb, but I’ve had it for over five years and haven’t had to mess with it once! The light quality is warm and nice for evening reading, but bright enough that I don’t find my eyes straining whatsoever.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 19, 2019 at 3:15 pm

      Thank you! So helpful!

      • Reply sari August 19, 2019 at 6:27 pm

        I second the Jansjö clamp light. We have several of them, and I agree with everything Z said.

        We recently dismantled our kids’ bunk bed to separate the bunks into two normal beds and give each kid a bedroom (us parents were moved into the unfinished basement where the ceiling height does not allow for actual renovation, so we mostly just decorated!). It was similarly transformative: everyone has a space to get to, and I don’t feel like I have a kid at an arms’ reach at.all.times (they are 7 and 11 so they can take, and even appreciate, a little physical distance). I no longer feel like this tiny house is too small for it’s four habitants, hurray!

  • Reply Helen August 19, 2019 at 3:14 pm

    This looks so good! And I’m happy that sleep is back in your life. Did you donate the little kids table? That is, is the desk working out well for crafts, etc?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 19, 2019 at 3:14 pm

      Thank you! The little white table we brought to my and dad’s house to use there! And the desk has been terrific!

  • Reply Emma August 19, 2019 at 3:25 pm

    You mentioned lighting ideas, we have recently got two Ikea Jansjo lights the are small clip on lights in white (other colours available) which has been a great addition to the kids beds for reading. Just read someone else has recommended this one as well

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 19, 2019 at 3:40 pm

      thank you!

    • Reply Isabel August 19, 2019 at 9:02 pm

      How old is Faye? We are in a little apartment in Sydney and I can’t wait for bunk beds, but I’m not sure when my kids will be safe up the top (my oldest is four). I loved sharing a bunk with my little brother until I was about ten – we sailed the seven seas! Recommend a bucket-and-rope pulley to hoist provisions!

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 20, 2019 at 8:36 am

        Faye is five! She’s admittedly also very agile and has been climbing on anything and everything in sight since before she could walk. I feel totally confident with her sleeping on the top bunk. I’m glad Silas is down below, but honestly he also has no difficulty scooting up and down the ladder, which he also does daily. As with everything else, I think this really depends on your kid and what you feel most comfortable with. The official recommendation for top-bunks is 6. (Here’s to sailing the seven seas!)

  • Reply Katie August 19, 2019 at 3:34 pm

    Looks amazing! We have the Nymane wall lights from Ikea on each of our kids’ bunks. Small, not too bright, and, most importantly, remain cool to the touch. I put up clip on light from Target a few years ago, but had to take it down because it would burn your hand after being on after 5 minutes.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 19, 2019 at 3:40 pm

      Thanks so much!

  • Reply Tammy August 19, 2019 at 3:36 pm

    Fellow bunk enthusiast here. My kiddos have had bunks since they were little, and they’ll have them until they grow up, as they share a bedroom in our little two-bedroom house. They’re fourteen and eleven now, and they still like being roomies. From time to time we suggest moving to a slightly bigger house so they can have their own rooms, and they vehemently refuse.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 19, 2019 at 3:39 pm

      music to my ears!

  • Reply Stefany August 19, 2019 at 5:31 pm

    So serene…well done!
    I saw something hanging from the ceiling above the bunkbed in your post- a kite? Do you mind sharing where you found that? Im on the hunt for a paper sculpture or kite to hang above my sons’s reading nook.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 20, 2019 at 8:53 am

      Yes! It’s the Swallow Kite from Haptic Lab!

  • Reply L August 19, 2019 at 5:55 pm

    Just curious about whether the large dresser you refinished still fits in there? What a lovely room!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 20, 2019 at 8:37 am

      Still there in the same spot! Just opposite from the desk now instead of the bed!

  • Reply Susanne August 19, 2019 at 8:49 pm

    Hi Erin, my now 17 year old daughter has had the compact yet powerful IKEA JANSJO clip on lamp on her bed frame for the past ten years. It has been such a great lamp that I’m guessing she will take it to college with her next year! The light is very focused and can be adjusted so it doesn’t bother others who may have already fallen asleep in the same room. Before we found this lamp, she actually used her camping headlamp to read in bed at night!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 20, 2019 at 8:37 am


  • Reply steph August 20, 2019 at 10:54 am

    what a beautiful, peaceful space. i loooove the desk and how uncluttered it is (i’m working to get there: i grew up in queens in a one bedroom for a family of six (bunkbeds required) and i love that you are normalizing this choice. i’ve been indulging in hgtv while visiting my mom and it’s maddening to see so many people say that each child must have their own room (maybe not the best sample + happy to see lots of comments saying otherwise)!

  • Reply Kim P August 20, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    I love this! My younger sister and I shared a bunk bed for about seven years. I remember we had secret talks through the space between the bed and the wall. I was on the top bunk and I had a little bulletin board to keep all my special stickers and notes. I remember being very excited to get my own room but looking back I have many fond memories of that time. My sister has said the same. I think it is a wonderful opportunity.

  • Reply Marina August 23, 2019 at 6:10 am

    I’ve done a lot of work this week. I put together a bed for my girls and we had a place for a table and a huge space for games. It is a miracle that our sofa can also fit in the room, and now we also have a sitting area for reading, watching movies and just relaxing!

  • Reply Kellyn August 31, 2019 at 7:18 am

    When my 2-year-old transitioned from a sleepsuit to blankets, I knew they’d get all bunched up…

    I found a pattern and made her a half fitted half flat sheet. It’s fitted at the bottom, and the top is flat. This might be a solution for the future if you want to introduce sheets 🙂

    It’s really easy to retrofit an old flat to do this (particularly if you have a sewing machine). By hand, it’ll probably be more annoying because you need to stretch the elastic as you sew which would be tricky if you don’t have a machine’s help.

  • Reply Julie September 27, 2019 at 9:38 am

    I am considering bunk beds in my kids’ room but I am terrified of someone falling off. My daughter is 4 1/2 and she is a wild sleeper. Right now she has a mattress on the floor while I decide what kind of bed to get, but I often find her on the floor every night…several times in the night. I am so scared to put her on the top bunk–even if I wait until she is the recommended age (6, I think) I think she’ll wiggle her way down the ladder!
    Has anyone experienced falling or near falling issues? Do you put another bed rail on? I am such a nut.

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