Names: Roman, Milo, Luca
Ages: 9, 5 and 2
Location: Bel Air, CA
Room size: 11' x 12' (roughly)
With a two-bedroom house and three young boys to accomodate, Irwin Miller had to get creative. His innovative use of all the nooks, recesses and alcoves results in a comfortable, efficient room that gives all three brothers their own place as well as an inspiring shared space.
In order to maximize space, Irwin designed and built a bunk bed himself, since he wasn't satisfied with what was on the market. He ended up with a beautiful piece that fits perfectly in the kids' room. Irwin also used every last inch of the room to his advantage. He removed the sliding closet doors from the closet and used the resulting alcove for Roman's bed, but he also included shelving in the niches on either side of the closet. Under Roman's bed two buckets hold all the boys' toys and two baskets contain shoes. Since the freestanding twin bed didn't allow the room's door to open completely, Irwin even modified the bed frame by designing a small notch so the door can open more freely. Under the loft bed sits a third twin bed as well as a nook complete with bookshelves and a desk that holds the kids' computer.
How would you describe the look and feel of this room?
I think it's sort of California rustic. Our original house was a hunting lodge built in 1927 – so the bed has a bit of that contemporary wood cabin language.
What is your favorite piece or element?
My favorite element is the ladder to the upper bed. It was built last and in an hour or so, but it is the most long-lasting and beat up element of the bed. There's a lot of action: kids going up and down and playing with toys on the ladder itself. It's a piece that creates a connection.
What was the biggest challenge decorating this room?
The biggest challenge was the size. We have a two bedroom house and a detached guesthouse. Our goal is to have the three boys use this as their bedroom for a few years until we can expand our house or connect to the guesthouse in back. During aspects of design and construction, every inch mattered since there is so little space. What you realize, however, is it is perfect for the kids at this age. They feel very comfortable and so far have no complaints.
What do your friends say about the room?
People ask how I built the bed and want one – that is usually the first reaction. Most everyone loves the room and feels that it's cozy. The kids who visit or come to parties all climb all over the beds and instantly go up to the top bunk to throw things down.
You repurposed a closet into part of the room. What challenges did that change present, and how does the final set-up work for your kids?
The last bed to be added was Roman's – we were considering how to fit a third bed in the room and even thought about getting a queen bed for two of of the boys to share. We ended up removing the existing sliding closet doors. The bed was built in the alcove with shelving in both side niches. One issue was getting the door to fully open which a full-size twin prevented. We cut the corner of the bed and reworked the frame to allow for the door to open a few more inches. One design feature I wanted to maintain was that the beds are at three distinct heights: low, middle and high.
Did you construct the loft bed yourself? If so, how did you design it?
Yes. The idea for this project came out of being unsatisfied with bunk beds on the market. Either they were too flimsy or they were hokey knotted pine furniture that seems to have no design intent. We wanted real mattresses on the beds as well, not the 4" thick foam mattresses on most of the bunk beds on the market. Since the project was built in place with lumber, wood screws and some bolting, there was a lot of freedom to make it work as I was building it. The computer area was added a year later. The bookshelf above was a repurposed shelf I built earlier that had been twice as tall. It was cut down and placed in the alcove at the foot of the upper bed. Because the bed is built in place and does not need to move, I overbuilt it purposely so it's safe and sturdy. There is little if no glue used so when the time comes to change anything I can repurpose the wood and screws for a future project.
Did you do anything special to create storage?
At present two of the boys' clothes fit in the dresser. The next project this winter is building a custom dresser with three large drawers. The design will match the look of the beds in the end.
We have really learned to edit the kids toys over the years, which is a great way to maximize storage. Basically whatever fits under the bed in two Ikea buckets are the main toys. The buckets work well since they can drag them to the living room or outside to play. If the toys don't fit into the buckets or in the minimal shelving in the room, they go to Goodwill or other donation centers. We try not to throw anything away but we definitely recycle, repurpose and donate a lot every year.
One other element we found useful was the basket system for homework. Now that both Roman and Milo are in school, the amount of homework is sometimes staggering and hard to keep track of. Each of the boys has a basket that we can take out when they do their homework at the dining table. Luca, the youngest, also draws and colors so he can be part of the homework scene on school nights. It's a good system that keeps us from having massive piles of random assignments all over the house. We used Elfa drawers from The Container Store; $95.00 as shown.
Tell us about the wall art. It looks like some is kid-generated?
Some of the sketches over the bed are Roman's. The large poster is from films I used to make of the kids when they were younger; we also have a Totoro print and framed classic Disneyland posters. One poster is for Milo's 'Cinco de Milo' party – we have birthday parties every 5 years for the boys so that was a big one.
What other changes did you make to the room?
This room was extremely dark during the day and had originally been an office. We added a Velux Solatube skylight. It's a marvelous element – a hole is cut from the ceiling through the roof and a tubular skylight is installed with a clear dome on top of the roof. The sunlight is greatly enhanced from the light bouncing off the polished metal interior surface. They offer several lenses to place in the ceiling but we removed ours as the boys light to look up at the trees and sky and at night the stars are reflected inside the the tube. It makes a huge difference if you have a dark space.
If money were no object, what's your dream source?
There are some great pieces I would love from Jules Seltzer in L.A. They have some great Knoll kids furniture as well as the Eames elephant. We used to love the old Storyopolis (now moved to the San Fernando Valley); I had always wanted to purchase some original illustration sketches for our kids. I love Miyazaki and some RISD professors of mine – Chris Van Allsburg and David Macauley. Some day...!
• Panton Junior children's chairs from Knoll, Hive Modern, $130 each
• Solatube Velux Skylight, around $500 installed
• Elfa shelving
• Ikea Magnesium track lighting system, $50.00 for track, $20.00 for lights
• Wall paint in the niche: Valspar Crimson Glow Flat