Updated: Jun 4, 2019
Well, we really like to call them guidelines...
Sadly, one of the most used rooms of the home is often one of the last designed and styled, and one of the first rooms closed off when guest come over. The bedroom often becomes the landing place for real-life stuff - laundry, purses, workout gear, your latest read and a host of other items we simply carry off into the bedroom as we transition from our busy days to get some shut-eye.
I have to admit, I have fallen into this trap a few times myself. And, I know better! So, what better gift to yourself than to create a peaceful and relaxing bedroom. Not for design's sake, but for your own sake (and sanity).
The bedroom is more than a place for you to lay your head. It is how you end every day and how you begin every day. The room can help set the tone for your evening's rest and the tone for your next day.
So why not create an inviting and relaxing environment for such crucial parts of your day? Plus, assuming you're getting your eight hours in, it is where you spend a third of your day!
1. Set the mood
Cliche? Yes, but your bedroom is your safe spot; your escape from the rest of the world. It is your place of rest after a long day. Let's be honest, it is where you cry, you rest, you snuggle, you zone out, you have private talks, it is where you simply get to be you, the rawest, most sensitive, vulnerable you.
So first, determine the "mood" you want to set. What do you consider to be relaxing? Are you a "cave" dweller that loves a cool dark room with moody lighting? Or, do you prefer to have open windows, white linens and fresh flowers on your nightstand? Think about how you feel most relaxed - NOT what is trending on Pinterest.
Color, color, color. What color soothes you? Color is so relevant in the bedroom.
Next, strongly consider your priorities (and the priorities of the person you may share the room with). A "bed" room is a room in which you are in the bed. A "living" room is where you do your living. This may sound simple, but looking at most bedrooms, we often blur these lines of intent and purpose. This may take some practice and re-evaluation at times, but if at all possible keep it simple - a bed and clothing.
In theory, technology should be left out of your bedroom. Laptops, tablets, TVs, and yes, even your cell phone should not cross into the bedroom. I must admit, the last one is the hardest, but I have seen people do it, so I know it is possible. A simple start is by moving the cell phone a bit further away from your bed little by little. Glaring at your phone notifications is not the best way to start your day. Take back those tender early morning moments.
Offices often tend to slip into the bedroom as well, which, by the way, is a total no-no. Your bedroom should be an escape from the pressing world. Who really sleeps well with a pile of paperwork staring them down?
Designer Tip: If you are truly limited on space, consider a divider or even a wall of house plants to separate the spaces, giving yourself clear boundaries between work and rest, and permission to let the day go.
In Summary: Determine what "relaxing" means to you and build on your "relaxing" style. Limit your color palette to create order and ease on your tired eyes. If it does not strictly relate to resting and relaxing, take it to another part of the home.
2. Bed + Rug
Determine the size of the bed your room can actually hold. I see a lot of oversized beds in small places and vice versa.
So often, the only planning we put into a room is ensuring ourselves a comfy bed, yet the scale of the bed may be almost as important. Almost.
Scale is vital to your comfort in the bedroom. Too large of a bed can leave you feeling squished and pressured, whereas a bed lost in a bedroom can invoke feelings of loneliness or abandonment. Find that sweet spot where you have room to move around while also feeling embraced by your room.
Designer Tip: If you have found yourself in a place where your bed is overpowering and dominating the room, creating a "squished" feeling, but are not able to replace the bed, consider ditching or replacing the head and/or footboard.
Depending on your bed frame, you may be able to use only the headboard, which might help in narrow rooms. Even no headboard can be more appealing than a large, chunky bed frame that weighs the room down. Remember, if it is weighing the room down, it is subconsciously weighing you down, too!
Your bed is the starting point of designing. Next, the bedroom rug(s).
Ideally, a rug under the bed should come out on either side of the bed. It would also have the feet of the bed planted on the rug. This helps ground the room and is most comfortable when walking around the bed. Aim for at least 2 feet on either side.
Cheat Sheet: Want to know what size of rug to get for your bed? A general rule is for a twin, use a 5 x 8 foot rug; for a full, a 6 x 9 foot rug, for a queen, an 8 x 10 foot rug and for a king, 9 x 12 foot rug.
If you do not have room for a larger rug, consider two smaller rugs, between 2 - 4 foot in size on either side. Bonus, they don't have to match. Mixing textures such as a comfy shag or fur on one side and a vintage Turkish rug on the other is a great way to add personal style to each side of the bed, while also easing too much symmetry.
In Summary: Start by determining the ideal size bed for your size of bedroom. Changing your bed's size may not be practical, but by rearranging or eliminating bulky frames, you may be able to create the ideal balance. Make sure your bedroom's rug is large enough to ground the bed or choose smaller rugs to fit your unique space.
3. Furniture + Nightstands
Again, scale is everything. If your room doesn't have pieces that work together, your room will not feel cohesive and more of an afterthought - which is why we're here in the first place.
Furniture should follow some of the same basic rules as throughout the rest of the house. But for a bedroom, some specific furniture to consider is the dresser, nightstands and a bench.
Dressers should not be parked in front of a window or where doors will inevitably hit them. Because of the natural shape of a bed, lower and wider dressers tend to be more pleasing to the eye. Older, more traditional chest of drawers are suited best for adjacent walls where the height doesn't compete with the bed and nightstands.
Nightstands should be no more than 6 inches taller or shorter than your mattress. The closer to the actual height of the mattress the better. Too tall or too short of nightstands cause all sorts of midnight debacles.
Cheat Sheet: Nightstands generally are 2 to 2 1/2 foot tall and around 20 x 20 inches. However, you should measure your actual mattress height first. Keep scale in mind. Larger king size beds can have larger nightstands, whereas smaller twin size beds should scale down the size of the nightstand. Bonus, they don't have to match, only similar in scale.
Benches are becoming a favorite of mine, and in the bedroom, having a sufficiently scaled bench placed at the foot of the bed can add enormous appeal to the bedroom. Remember, this space is your retreat, quite literally, your place to take off your shoes and let the day go. Here is where you transition from a busy and demanding world to a peaceful and quiet evening. The bench at the end of the bed can illustrate this transition quite nicely.
Cheat Sheet: Benches at a bed's end should be around 3/4 of the length of the bed, leaving a bit of room on either side. So, for a queen size bed, aim for around 4 feet or a little shy of that. For a king size bed, the bench should be approximately 5 to 5 1/2 feet long. Additionally, the bench should be a few inches shorter than the bed. These dimensions maintain a healthy scale as well as practical measurements to keep the foot-traffic flow smooth and safe.
Designer Tip: Don't already have a bench? A set of short stools or a short bench with a basket beside it will work as well. Just remember to keep the 3/4 rule.
In Summary: Furniture in the bedroom should maintain a consistent scale and have various layers of similar heights to keep things cohesive. Nightstands should be close to the same height as the mattress. Adding a bench to the end of your bed adds an inviting space to sit as well as a healthy layer to your bedroom. Bonus, you can (and should) mix textures between headboards, nightstands, and benches.
Overhead lighting should fit the scale and size of the room. Remember when choosing overhead lighting to consider the height of the bed and where things sit in the room. No matter how romantic the chandelier may seem, it can stifle the mood quickly if someone gets injured!
Cheat Sheet: A quick and easy way to see the ideal size of the overhead lighting is to take your room's length and add it to its width for the diameter size of the lighting (l + w = n inches of diameter for overhead lighting). Who knew we'd actually be using algebra today? So for example, a 10 foot by a 15 foot room would use an overhead light of approximately 25 inches in diameters.
In addition to scale of the overhead lighting, be sure to hang the lighting at a height that will evenly distribute light. As a rule of thumb, the base of your light should be at least 7 foot off of the ground. For ceilings taller than 8 foot, increase the height by a few inches for every foot over 8 foot.
Nightstand lamps or sconces are something you want to get right as well. Rivaled only by stepping on Legos, a poorly placed, hard to find lamp is one of the great pains of nighttime interruptions. Considering these lights are our go-to's in the middle of the night and the sleepy fog and disorientating darkness, your light beside your bed should be easy to find, easy to turn on, and a height that doesn't blind you when turning it on.
Speaking of in-the-middle-of-the-night disruptions, in your half awake/half asleep state, you need the most simple and comfortable paths to the door, the window, and to the bathroom. Think emergencies and the realities of real life, such as sick children. Tripping on things or bumping into furniture every time you have to get up in the dark is no fun. Plus, your spouse will thank you for having planned this ahead of time.
Designer Tip: Steer clear of small, dinky nightstand lights as they tend to knock over easily, especially in the dark. Keep the thirds rule in mind: the lamp should be about a third of the size of the nightstand. And, don't hesitate to test the on/off switch before purchasing. Make sure it easily accessible and that you can find it in the dark. Test it with your eyes closed.
Cheat Sheet: Want to know how tall your light should be? Sit up in your bed and the lampshade should come to your chin level. A trick is to place a tape measure between the bed and the nightstand and have someone shoot a picture of you sitting in your bed. This gives you all the various measurements you need to find the perfect lamp while out shopping!
Finally, consider the room's natural lighting and how you prefer to use it within the room. This goes back to the mood you wish to create. Room darkening curtains are wonderful for light sleepers and for those of us who like to rise and shine to the morning sun, simple blinds that might be the best alarm clock ever.
Curtains should hang above the window and extend out beyond the window up to a foot on either side. Hanging curtains above the window (approximately one-third of the way up between window and ceiling) helps block light when shut and makes the room appear taller and larger. Hanging curtains to the outside of the window allow the curtains to opened fully, maximizing the amount of natural light coming in. Again, the window and room appear larger as well.
In Summary: Lighting is crucial in a bedroom, not only for setting the mood but for the simple practical needs of transitioning between day and night. Overhead lighting should be to scale and take great care in choosing practical nightstand lights that are specifically fitted for your personal space. Window treatments should align with the intent and mood of the room, placed where they maximize window size.
5. Spacing + Details
Yippee! Your bedroom bones are in place and you are well on your way to a perfect bedroom! Let's discuss some final thoughts.
Once you have things in place, check to see that your room follows the 3-foot rule by measuring walk spaces throughout the room. This pertains to the primary natural flow of your bedroom - your walk to and from the closet, to the bathroom, to the door, to where ever you may need to go. It is no coincidence that this comfortable "cushion" space follows the old 3-foot rule!
Adhering to the 3-foot rule keeps everything flowing and naturally pleasing to the eye. If you find your room to be too full, revisit each item, ensuring it falls under a strict "resting and relaxing only" category. If not, find another spot for it.
Small decreases in "stuff" in your bedroom will allow for an increase in your ability to let go and relax. You will find amazing benefits from simple moves such as moving your books to your office bookshelves, leaving only your current reads on the nightstand. Extra storage, such as lingerie cabinets, may be tucked into your closet.
Your details are the spices of the room. They should mirror your desired mood and encourage your dreams. Let them be limited, but specific. As cheesy as it might sound, allow every detail in your room suggest a luxurious and personalized retreat.
Your bedroom is an obvious place to splurge on soft linens and cozy textures. One of your most basic human needs is being met in the bedroom, so take as much care in choosing textures that sooth and comfort you as you do with your own wardrobe.
Designer Tip: Want to avoid an overly sterile hotel look? Build on your style over the course of 6 months to a year. Yes, you read that right. The final process should take anywhere from 6 months to a year to complete.
Sure, you can take a weekend to tackle the major issues. Start by taking nearly everything out and then add back only the necessities and details as they come along. As you finalize details, take your time. Find items that catch your eye while out traveling, thin out items that are not specific to relaxation, and pick and choose items strictly within your color pallet.
Designer Tip: Use a zip-up notebook to create a bedroom journal to toss in pictures, sample and paint chips. Stick the notebook in your car so you have it handy while out shopping or antiquing. Don't forget before + after photos.
In Summary: Step back and make final adjustments to your bedroom. Apply the 3-foot rule as best as possible. Take your time adding the details. Although it may be the most fun part, you will be able to hone in on your design skills if you take your time.
Don't sweat having the perfect bedroom - there really is no such thing. Take your time and add to the room (or take away) as appropriate and feasible within the season you are in. Like all design... it is ever evolving.