Plot Twist: This “Built-In” Bunk Bed Is Actually a $299 IKEA DIY

Sarah Sherman Samuel inspired the ceiling.
green built-in bunk beds with drawer

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As all parents know, kids grow up fast. When lifestyle blogger Wendy Gilmour moved out of her house near Glasgow, Scotland, a year ago while it underwent a major extension, her son Hunter (now 6) and daughter Summer (4) were still in toddler beds. But with the completion of the renovation finally in sight, Gilmour seized the opportunity to scale up the kids’ rooms, too. 

Luckily, she already had an IKEA Mydal bunk bed, which she scored for $35 on Facebook Marketplace to provide extra sleeping space for visiting friends and their kids. The beds were in decent but well-loved condition, so Gilmour started brainstorming how she could “make them a bit more beautiful.”

close-up of bunk bed ladder

Having mined Pinterest—including finding inspiration in Sarah Sherman Samuel’s boy’s room setup—she came up with the idea to position the bed in a nook in the kids’ room, then frame it with some elegant millwork. Although Gilmour and her husband had never attempted anything like the project previously, they were reassured that the beds themselves were structurally sound. Here, the mom of two explains how she transformed a basic piece into a dreamy design.

Create the Illusion of a Built-In

lumber leaning against unpainted bunk bed
bunk bed project in progress

You’d never know that the bunks were not custom-made, but a well-placed piece of coving does wonders in tricking the eye. To give the impression of the structure being built in, Gilmour embellished pine slats with inexpensive strips of beading to look like molding that she matched to the room’s existing trim. Inside the beds, tongue-and-groove–clad panels running along the head and foot of the bed frame form slim ledges for the kids to stash a few items. Another cool feature? Nothing is actually fixed to the wall; the bunks can simply slide out once the kids have outgrown them. (Her only regret is not choosing to work with MDF: “I wanted it to be real wood, but the pine hasn’t stayed completely flat.”)

Find a Color Everyone Loves

green paint swatches on wall
green paneled book nook above bunk bed
Paint, Little Greene; Wall Lights, Churchgate Cotes.

The Gilmour family home is more than 130 years old and her decor choices skew mostly traditional: “Primary colors just wouldn’t have worked,” she notes. To find the right hue and make the kids feel involved, she had them paint three sample shades (that were whittled down from a larger selection) onto cardboard and pinned them up on the wall. “I picked the short list—it’s a trick I also use when I want to influence a decision with my husband,” jokes Gilmour. Hunter settled on Jewel Beetle by Little Greene as the winning color. “I think he mostly chose it for the name, but it’s deep and warm and very cozy in that cocooning bunk environment.” The striped ceiling was hand-painted (with the help of FrogTape) for a playful touch and to create a sense of depth within the room. (Gilmour’s tip: Peel the tape off when your final coat is still wet to get expertly crisp lines.)

Spotlight (Rather Than Hide) Awkward Angles

green striped ceiling in bunk bed room
Pendant Lampshade, IKEA U.K.

The shape of the room provided Gilmour with a challenge, because while the bunk’s frame was almost the exact depth of the alcove under the house’s eaves, the length fell short. Drenching the inside walls and sloping ceiling made for a cohesive look—and leaving the negative space white created the opportunity to create a different “zone.” In the future, Gilmour has plans to add a climbing wall to the back of the frame.

Don’t Scrimp on the Details

close-up of paneled inset shelf
close up of bunk bed drawer
Pull Handles, From the Anvil.

“Sometimes bunk beds can feel like a budget way around multiple kids sleeping in one space,” says Gilmour. Which is why she upgraded the bottom storage drawers (bought new from IKEA) with weighted brass pulls—which she dubs “the jewelry of the room”—that will patina beautifully over time. Gilmour also sourced a pair of plug-in wall lights and spray-painted the twisted cable wires so that they blend in against the walls—while the recessed shelves at the head of the beds add architectural interest and a spot for toys, books, and a glass of water. 

green built-in bunk beds

Gilmour is saving the reveal for when the family soon return home for good and hasn’t yet decided if the kids will share the room: “The pair of them have a tendency to chat late into the night, which is very sweet, but then they’re tired.” The answer? Most likely a separate room for Summer—cue epic sibling sleepovers and a whole new space to dream up.

Olivia Lidbury is a freelance writer based in the U.K. She has been regularly contributing to Domino since 2021, pitching charming British houses, whimsical apartments and must-see vacation stays. Olivia also regularly writes for a number of national U.K. titles such as The Times and The Sunday Times Style magazine. She lives just outside of London in Kent.