How To: Build a Bed in an Airstream
When we bought Metaladon it had bunk beds for small children. Pretty cute but we couldn't agree on who got top and who got bottom so we decided to build a new bed we could both sleep in.
(sort of - we started the demo before taking a good pic)
(we decided the toilet worked out better in the bathroom)
We wanted to follow the K.I.S.S. principle and essentially built a standalone bed that if things went horribly wrong or we wanted to drastically change the bedroom configuration in the future, it would be easy to re/move the bed.
We didn't want to try to build some kind of a curved bed or bed that relied on support from trailer walls as we had seen in a number of similar posts online. Instead, we built a bed frame with all right angles but made is visually appealing by creating a "shelf" against the rear trailer wall (left side of the bed if lying on your back) and the side wall that the "headboard" abuts that are contoured to the shape of the trailer.
The only structural difference between this bed and a bed you might build in your home is that it's not a standard size (it's the width of a queen size bed but 4 inches shorter) and it has unfinished sides and supports that you can't see because they're against the trailer walls. If you follow this post as a guide to build your own bed make sure to keep in mind that a standard mattress will not fit in a frame of the same dimensions. As you'll see below, we had a king size memory foam mattress that we cut to size.
Other than an odd shaped mattress there wasn't really anything out of the ordinary needed to build this bed. Standard wood you can get at any lumber yard or Lowes or Home Depot, paint, stain, screws (or nails if you prefer), and some basic tools that shouldn't be too hard to get your hands on if you don't already own them.
What You'll Need
Here is what we used to build our bed. Use them as a guide but we urge you not to take them as gospel because you might have different tastes and different requirements based on your trailer configuration.
1-2x6 10ft (headboard and footboard)
4-2x4 8ft (supports/legs - header, footer, bed rail)
3-2x4 8ft (upper side wall supports - header, footer, rear wall)
1-2x6 8ft (side rail)
1-2x4 8ft (exposed bed rail - 2x4 provides 15 1/2 inches of clearance, 2x6 provides 13 1/2 inches of clearance)
12-1x3 6ft (mattress supporting slats)
2-2x2 8ft (mattress support rails)
1-2x3 8ft (center support)
2-1x2 8ft (for connecting mattress support rails together)
1-4x8 3/4in sanded plywood (side walls/mattress enclosure)
1 4x8 3/4in red oak plywood (head board and rear side "shelves")
Red oak wood veneer edge banding (to finish plywood edges)
2-2x4 joist hanger (for center support)
4 hinges (for mattress support)
8 angle brackets (to reinforce sides and affix frame to floor)
#8 2-1/2 inch general purpose screws
#6 1-1/4 inch general purpose screws
Long filet knife (if you're cutting a foam mattress)
Clothes iron (for applying edge banding)
*All links above are to the same tools we own, used for this project, and like
Below are the dimensions of our bed. Please use these with extreme prejudice! This is the configuration that worked for us in terms of size of bed we wanted, height for storage, location of things like water pipes and hot water heater, etc.
Headboard and footboard - 59 inches (#1) x2
Side rails - 78-1/2 inches (#4, #5) x2
Mattress support rails - 73 inches (#7) x2
Mattress support slats - 58-3/4 inches (#6) x12
Mattress support slat connecting rails - 70 inches (#9) x2
Center support beam - 73-1/3 inches (#8) x1
Legs (short supporting 2x4s) - 13-1/2 inches (#2) x5
Legs (long supporting 2x4s) - 19 inches (#2) x5
Side wall supports (#3) - depends on how tall you want your supports. Be careful not to build over a window frame, outlet, speaker, etc.
Mattress enclosure side walls (#10) - depends on how tall you want your enclosure to be and how high you want your "headboard shelf".
Rear and side shelves (#11) - These will have to be custom cut depending on the curvature of your trailer.
The leg design is simple. We screw two 2x4s together, one shorter than the other so that the side rails and head/footboards rest on top of the shorter 2x4. The rails/boards then screw into the taller 2x4. Whether you put the taller 2x4 on the inside or outside of the frame is up to you and should be based on your needs. We used a combination of inner and other to maximize the size of the frame and work around obstacles.
We used 5 legs. 2 legs on each the headboard and footboard and 1 leg on the bed rail against the wall. We toyed with adding another leg to the center support beam but decided that it was going to create problems for the under bed storage so we made a commitment to keeping our combined weight under a certain, undisclosed limit.
Assembling the headboard and footboard is nothing more than attaching the legs to it. The key is to making sure the legs are attached in such a way that when you put the boards into place, the legs will not be obstructed by anything.
In our case the footboard legs needed to be placed so that they would not hit the hot water heater or obstruct the exterior compartment door. We also needed to work around some water pipes and valves.
The side rails just need to be screwed to the headboard and footboard. Keep in mind that the measurements assume that the rails will be attached to the ends of the 2x6s. Be careful not to place the rails inside the headboard and footboard. Refer to the image of the leg above and note that that the side rail spans the full length of the frame, covering the entire side of the leg.
Mattress Support Rails
Using the 2x2s, create two support rails that the mattress support slats sit on top of. You can see the full length rail in the image above. Make sure to affix the rail at the appropriate height knowing that the slats will sit 1 inch higher than these rails. Also keep in mind the height of the rails if using a 2x6 for on side rail and a 2x4 for the other side rail since they can't both be placed at the bottom of the rails and still be level with each other.
Center Support Beam
At this point we added a center support beam to reinforce the mattress support slats that we are going to build. All that is needed for this step is a 2x4 joist hanger centered on the headboard and the footboard at a height that the 2x3 will be the same height as the slat support rails.
Mattress Support Slat Structure
Now that we have the frame built we need something to support the mattress. Instead of using plywood as we have seen in many designs we chose to use 1x3 inch solid wood slats to support the mattress. The slats are lighter than plywood, easier to lift, and you can seen through them to see where things are stored.
The slats are attached to two 1x2s which keep them together so that they can be lifted up as one piece.
The image on the left shows the slats connected to the connecting rails but does not show the connecting rails attached to the support rails with hinges. The image on the right shows how everything fits together. *Note how the connecting rails are NOT attached to the ends of the slats. The slats extend far enough past the connecting rail to sit on top of the 2x2 support rails.
Once everything is fitting well, attach the hinges. You may want to wait until you're finished with the side walls and shelves.
At this point we have a functional bed frame. Unfortunately it's kind of ugly. Adding "walls" helps pretty things up and make the bed look more substantial. All we need here are pieces of 3/4 plywood attached to the headboard, footboard and far side rail 2x6s. What's tricky is cutting them to the correct length and height. The first time we cut our headboard wall it was too short for our liking. It was exactly as high as our mattress would come once it was laid down. We wanted it high enough that the shelf would be significantly above the mattress. This would help avoid knocking a glass of water off, accidentally resting our head on the wooden shelf and we thought it just looked better. We were short on wood and on time so we used two lengths of board to complete the headboard at a final height of 15 inches above the 2x6. This was too high for the existing electrical outlet so we had to move the outlet up about 6 inches. We left the side wall at the original 8-1/4 height which gave us a cool stepped look. Something to also keep in mind is that you'll have to cut the ends of the boars to the contour of the curved wall of the trailer.
The last piece left is the curved shelves on top of the headboard and the far side walls. This really comes down stenciling the curve of the wall to use as a template to cut curve correctly. We used thick contractor paper for this. We pressed it into the curve to get a crease that we could use to cut a stencil. We also used the higher-end red oak plywood because we thought the finish would look nicer but I'm not sure if it was worth the money. Be sure to sand it with fine finishing sandpaper to get a furniture quality finish. Also, take the time to add edge banding to the edges of the plywood for a professional, solid wood look. Make sure to purchase edge banding with a similar look and feel to the plywood you're applying it to. If you've never used edge banding you can find plenty of videos on youtube to help you do it right.
And there you have it. A beautiful bed with storage to boot (not for boots, to boot... whatever that means)
A special thanks to Stan from sunny San Diego who gave up his Saturday to spend it with us in the sweltering heat of Jamul to help us to get the frame "nailed" down. We couldn't have done it without him.