Reluctant Designer's Guide to Bedrooms
Irwin Weiner ASID - For designers who want some challenge and excitement in their lives, bedrooms are far from an Olympic sport. With a bed being the focal point of any bedroom, taking up to a fourth of the decorated space, many designers choose to phone this room in and turn off, focusing their fuller attentions on other rooms where they can show off their creativity.
Here’s a good example of what I call “Designer Bedroom Avoidance Syndrome.” I was offered an upstairs bedroom in the 2010 Hamptons Designer Showhouse. I turned it into a “second floor sitting room,” as I didn’t think plopping a big bed into the space and having it visually read like a bedroom would properly showcase my design skills. Don’t misunderstand—I enjoy decorating clients’ bedrooms, but they’re just not high on my list for how I’d like to be known professionally.
Like all other decorators, I understand the importance of bedrooms to any homeowner, and one certainly can rank the bedroom as perhaps the room where we spend most of our time, albeit unconsciously. So to atone for my bedroom avoidance at the showhouse, I'm passing along my tips for designing and decorating a bedroom. And here’s the headline: It’s a room that most certainly can show off your creativity.
1. Storage comes first. Your first task in bedroom designing is to plan for adequate room storage. Clothing must have top priority, and everything must be stored properly. It’s key to make certain a bedroom is free of clutter, so there should be adequate built-ins, walk-ins, dressers, and armoires to meet the needs of those who will be sleeping in the bedroom.
Don’t forget to plan for multiple functions in a spare or guest bedroom. Besides containing a bed, daybed, sleep sofa, or Murphy bed, you can plan storage and other amenities to make it a crafting workspace, a home office, or a small library/reading room when not in use by guests.
2. For adults, it’s a retreat. The master bedroom, in particular, should be a refuge from the hustle and flow of the rest of the home. Its décor should be conducive to rest and relaxation. My clients love the master suite to feel like a home spa or a fine boutique hotel. Things that pamper, like an en suite bathroom with a heated towel bar, a steam shower, thick and thirsty Turkish towels, and double sinks, are important. I like to avoid putting a desk in the bedroom. That spoils the retreat feel for me. It brings that work element into the bedroom that we want to avoid.
3. Consider the color scheme. One top linen retailer recently told me that he was surprised that Western bedrooms predominantly use calm and serene colors, a pale and neutral and soothing palette, but he’s seen many Eastern bedrooms that forsake a Zen-like scheme for vibrant and strong, dramatic colors. This is a client’s choice, but most will prefer calm and neutral, which you can make crisper with some vibrant, coordinating pops of color.
If you’re hankering for drama and theater, it’s more appropriate to turn your glitz on in a guest bedroom, a space where people will be sleeping for a much shorter period of time. You can choose to make the decorating more memorable and dynamic in such a space.
For children’s bedrooms, it’s popular to decorate on a theme (princess, nautical, superhero, and so on), but always keep function in mind. Storage drawers, closets, bookshelves, and wall hooks should provide ample capacity for all the “stuff” children keep in their bedrooms, all within reach. Create zones for sleep, play, and study. Some clients will want a child’s bedroom to be decorated in a way that doesn’t lock them into a certain scheme that outdates when the child grows older, like outgrowing pink for a little girl’s room, but that’s up to my client to ultimately decide—I just make parents aware that a specific theme or color scheme can date quickly and not feel grown-up enough for maturing children.
4. Keep beds in scale. They’re the biggest pieces of furniture in the room, but in a showroom or retail space, beds may look small. Get them delivered to your home, however, and they may looked like they’re stuffed into the bedroom. Plan your room for the overall size of the bed, and carefully measure the dimensions of the beds you’re looking at. Take into consideration the thicker headboards and wider side rails of some models.
Also consider the height of the bed as an extremely important part of the scale of the piece. I use the dining room chair and table analogy to illustrate how bed heights in the U.S., as opposed to Europe, have become far too supersized. Dining room chair heights are typically at 18 inches; dining room table heights are typically at 30 inches. Some bed heights are about 30 inches, but that’s like sleeping on top of a dining room table! Lower bed profiles make a room’s ceiling seem much taller and it’s easier for sleepers (and pets, if allowed) to get in and out of bed.
If you won’t part with a thick mattress, compromise and choose a lower profile box spring or a Harvard or support bed frame to help reduce the overall bed height.
5. Shop for beds at the right time. When you're shopping the showrooms with your designer, see beds and mattresses first thing on your list, when everyone is feeling fresh. Many designers make the mistake of tiring their clients out, and then shopping for beds. All beds feel great when you’re tired, but you can’t really discern which bed feels optimum.
Note that some mattress can be flipped and turned, while some cannot. Some large pillow-topped mattresses, for example, can’t be turned. To extend the overall wear of the product, I prefer mattresses that are more versatile. Turn and rotate your mattress on a quarterly basis to even out the wearing. That’s also the perfect time to create a “freshen up the bedroom” routine and launder all pillows, pillow covers, and mattress pads.
6. Create zones. I like to create a zone for seating in any adult bedroom and one for sleeping. If there’s a larger window space, I’ll usually try to cluster the seating around that focal point. I’ll find a good anchor wall for the bed, usually opposite a wall where we can place an LED television, for those who like to watch a show or movie while in bed (almost all clients consider this a necessity).
7. Plan good lighting. Avoid any overhead lights that are glaring. If you’re standing in the room, looking up, you should not see a bare light bulb. Go with a soft chandelier or, even better, an up-light. LED lights are excellent choices for bedside task light (reading, etc.), particularly styles that attach on the wall or headboard, with goosenecks for directing the cool light directly onto the task without disturbing your sleepmate.
8. Flooring is important. The goal is to avoid having to get out of bed and having your feet touch cold, bare wood or stone floors. Wall-to-wall carpeting, even though it’s not my favorite floor treatment, is a preferred way to treat a bedroom. It can make any room look larger, and it gives the room calming acoustics. Of course you can also have rugs in the room as an alternative.
9. Don’t forget the linens. Since the bed is a quarter of your room, you shouldn’t select a fabulous bed design, and then leave it up in the air to have homeowners buy bed linens that suddenly give the whole room a sterile hospital look. Go shopping, and let your designer lead the way by selecting or customizing linens that carry out your color scheme and beautifully dress the bed.
Shop for colorfast dyes in your fabric preferences: linen, silk, or cotton. Cotton, the fabric of choice for most designers, is good for retaining body heat, but it also breathes and does not turn beds into saunas. Cotton percale offers a sheen which many homeowners like, and a less wrinkly weave; cotton sateen has a weave that wears longer but can get wrinkly and doesn’t have sheen.
I encourage my clients to change their bed linens once a week. Ideally, they’ll purchase four sets of bedding: two for the warmer months and two for the cooler months. This gives us the chance to change up the look of the room so it doesn’t become boring, it gives us seasonal options, and everyone loves cozy winter flannel sets. Select bolsters and throw pillows that carry out the overall color schemes and add a finished look to the bed and bedroom seating.