The Smartest Beds for the Smallest Spaces

How to rethink your bedroom when you're running out of space.

May 23, 2022
Photo by Laura Fenton

No Space Too Small is a column by Laura Fenton that celebrates the idea that you can live well in a small home. Each month, Laura will share her practical findings from years of observing how people live in tight spaces, and her own everyday experiences of living small—from the hunt for the perfect tiny desk to how to manage everyday clutter.

Quick: Where will you find the biggest small-space win? In the kitchen? A closet system? Some genius home-office hack? Take a look around your home—whether that’s a studio apartment or a luxe four-bedroom—and ask yourself: What piece of furnishing takes up the most real estate within your four walls?

Unless you’re sleeping on a cot, the answer is your bed. As of January 2022, Manhattan real estate cost an average of $1,612 per square foot, which means that here in my city, one borough away, the 28 square feet of space needed for a full-size bed is worth more than $45,000! A queen? More than $53,000. A king? $68,000.

When I wrote about small bedrooms in No Space Too Small before, I gave advice for everything but the bed. However, if budget allows, I do advocate for investing in a bed that makes the best use of the space it takes up, like a Murphy bed, a storage bed, or bunks. (In fact, I’m so passionate about the importance of beds in small spaces, that I’ve written a whole book about creative sleeping spots, The Bunk Bed Book.)

Here are five types of smart beds for small spaces—and tips for how you might use them:

Photo by Weston Wells

Beds with drawers

A bed frame with built-in drawers is a great way to put your sleeping space to use. In my own apartment, I have a wooden captain’s bed with six drawers built into the frame, which allows my husband and I to store all our folded clothing right in our tiny bedroom without the need for a chest of drawers. Storage beds are also great for guest rooms because you can store the room’s linens in the drawers and leave your guests the bureau drawers to use. In a kid’s room, a bed with drawers can store toys. In fact, we recently swapped out our son’s basic IKEA bed for a twin-size storage bed with three big drawers, so we could stash his toys more neatly under the bed.

Photo by Ikea

Lift-up storage beds

A mattress frame with a lift-up design and storage beneath, like IKEA’s Malm storage bed, is another hardworking storage option. However, you need to know that this style is more practical for storing things you only need to access occasionally—and not your everyday wardrobe. I’ve personally never had one of these, but one of the homeowners from my first book did (she had all her holiday decorations—even the tree!—stashed in hers), as did my sister’s long-ago roommate (she kept her out-of-season clothes and luggage beneath hers).

Photo by Erin Boyle
Photo by White Arrow

Bunk Beds

If you have multiple children and limited bedrooms, bunk beds are a time-tested solution (and a topic I explore in depth in my new book). These days, bunk beds come in all sizes, like twin-over-full models or an L-shaped triple, so there’s a design to meet every family’s needs. Not only do bunks save space and give kids more room to play, there’s something about being enclosed that just feels comforting. Again and again when I interviewed families for my book, parents would tell me that their children used their bunks as a place to retreat. Bunk beds are also fun. With the help of a child’s imagination, a bunk quickly becomes a house, a fort, a sailing ship, and more.

Photo by Maria Del Rio

Loft beds

If you have generous ceiling height, as my first New York City apartment did, a loft can get you two “rooms” into the space of one. I snuck bookshelves and a desk beneath the loft bed in my long-ago bedroom. If you’re building your own loft, don’t feel constrained by the sizes that mattresses come in. My loft was an awkward size, but instead of sleeping on a smaller twin mattress, I had a foam mattress cut to somewhere in between a twin and a full, and just tucked a full fitted sheet in beneath it to make the bed. Some practical consideration: A loft bed should have at least 52 inches of height below to sit comfortably at a desk and a minimum of 68 inches to stand. Above, you’ll want 30 inches from the top of the mattress to the ceiling to give you space to sit up comfortably.

Photo by Weston Wells
Photo by Weston Wells

Wall beds

Also known as Murphy beds, wall beds are a godsend for small spaces. In my early twenties, I invested in a Murphy bed for a 225-square-foot studio. With the foldaway bed I had both a living space and a sleeping space in my single room. Murphy beds are also handy for families looking to stay in a beloved home after the arrival of children. My sister and her husband spent three years sleeping on one in their one-bedroom apartment’s living room, giving their kids the bedroom. And my pal Alison Mazurek, of 600 Sq Ft and a Baby, made it seven years (!) in her one bedroom thanks to a queen Murphy bed in the living room and Murphy bunk beds in her kids’ room. Murphy beds are often an investment at a thousand dollars or more but, remind yourself, they are a tiny fraction of the cost of a larger home.

Photo by Laura Fenton

In the meantime, trick out your current bed

A new bed may be something to consider for the future, but in the meantime, consider upgrading the storage beneath your current bed. Room & Board makes high-quality rolling drawers that are designed to go beneath their own beds, but if you have the right height, can fit under any old bed. The Laundress sells a 100-percent cotton canvas under-the-bed storage bag that I also like. I’m generally not a fan of anything with an open top under a bed (hello, dust!), but we used the Container Store’s wooden bins to stash toys beneath my son’s bed before upgrading to a proper storage bed. If you can’t quite squeeze anything below your bed, you might be able to lift it up on risers to make room for storage. You could even add a storage headboard to an existing bed that lacks a headboard.

One last thing! Remember how your bed is taking up the most space in your home? It’s also taking up the most visual space. How you dress your bed will have a big impact on how your room feels. If you don’t already, get in the habit of making your bed every day—and do it with care! Your bedroom will instantly feel more polished with a freshly made bed, and one study even suggested that people who make their beds regularly also get a good night’s sleep more often than those who do not.

Which of these small-space bed solutions would you consider? Tell us in the comments.

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

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Laura Fenton is the No Space Too Small columnist at Food52. The author of The Little Book of Living Small, she covers home, design, and sustainability. Laura lives in Jackson Heights, Queens in a 690-square foot apartment with her husband and son. You can follow her on Instagram @laura.alice.fenton or subscribe to her newsletter Living Small.


bellw67 May 31, 2022
We have simple steel twin platform beds with plastic tub storage underneath. All the Christmas decorations are there along with a nice bathmat on top of one for the cat. He loves it under the bed. Down to the floor bedspreads hide all the stuff you don't want seen, like the extra Costco toilet paper and paper towels too.
KS May 26, 2022
Uh, no mention of daybeds/twin size beds? Okay, only for guests or for those who sleep alone, but still the best small space solution not mentioned.
Jo A. May 26, 2022
Ikea has zip bags for under the bed similar to the linen ones you mentioned here for a fraction of the cost. They zip and come in black or white.