Above: Four drab-green full-size bunks in a Lake Tahoe home designed by Marea Clark.

If recent events have you longing to slink back into the proverbial womb, whether it’s in the form of swaddling cashmere pajamas or a weighted blanket, consider a more primeval mode of pampering that’s trending again: the built-in bed. “There is something nice about having solidity on at least three walls around you,” says designer Thomas Jayne, founder of Jayne Design Studio. “I think a lot of times they get installed because the idea of a bunk room is kind of fun and romantic.”

Their storied lineage is part of what appeals to Sean Scherer, an artist and designer who calls the box bed one of his signatures. “They’ve been around since medieval times for warmth and conservation of space; the Dutch call them a bedstee,” he says. “Now you see them everywhere. I’m always amazed.” Amazed, but not surprised, because they impart instant nostalgic comfort that begs to be napped in. Scherer designed one for a client with an “acidy green” interior; another is sheathed in mirrors to bounce light around, suppressing claustrophobia.

builtin beds  elle decor
In a California home, Martha Mulholland’s built-in is layered in three vibrant linens.
Laure Joliet

He likes that they’re adaptable to all architectural styles—“It could be very midcentury as well as very 1850s.” But it must never feel like a Sheetrock box, one reason Scherer prefers to line each of his bed boxes with beadboard. Done well, each one should stand like a piece of carpenter-built furniture in order to achieve the ultimate goal: making you feel “like you want to just jump in.”

“The Dutch call them a bedstee.”

Designer Maria Speake, of the firm Retrouvius, also counts built-in beds as one of her calling cards—one that never goes out of style. Case in point: For a client’s nine-year-old son, she installed a fanciful bed edged in peeling blue reclaimed tongue-and-groove boards, with red-and-white striped curtains and an arched half–stained glass window that emits an incandescent glow. Proof that the look has staying power? The son is now 17, and “he’s still in it.”

builtin beds  elle decor
In London, Retrouvius made a box bed from old pine boards once used for curing cheese.
Kim Lightbody

Like a hammock, these reprieves are flawless dreamlands for one, and one alone, Speake says: “They feel really comfortable and generous, but it’s a bit of a squeeze for two. You’ve got to really like the person.” Lighting tucked within the box is essential. Speake has also found that “what makes for a really delicious box bed is a window to natural air. That is the key thing because you’re super cozy inside but have fresh air coming in and blowing over you—there’s nothing better.”

Of course, you can get a hint of the bulwarked feeling without creating an entirely cloistered cubbyhole. Designer Peti Lau recently framed a store-bought Pottery Barn bed with anchor-gray built-in cabinets and shelving, and lined the walls in a wallpaper she designed, inspired by a Malian Bògòlanfini mud cloth, to create a hotel vibe. She says it’s an especially powerful tactic in guest bedrooms: “I’ve always loved built-in beds because it’s a great way to save space and also to kind of create a moment.”

“It’s a great way to save space and also to kind of create a moment.”

Then there’s the Murphy bed, being reborn by Ravi Patel, cofounder of Oclo—branded as the world’s first all-inclusive luxury version, complete with an integrated desk, lighting, and USB charging stations. “I grew up with a built-in bed back in India, where they don’t replace furniture for decades,” Patel says. “My parents still have my childhood bed.” When he couldn’t find a hideaway bed to suit his life as an electrical engineering student at NYU, he and his colleagues created a pop-out one that—unlike a truly built-in bed—can be removed in two hours for its next destination, leaving the floor intact. “The only things you’ll see in your room are the four holes from the screws you’d put in the wall.”

builtin beds  elle decor
Bunks painted in PPG Paints’ Shrinking Violet in the kids’ room of a South Carolina house designed by Suzanne Kasler.
Francesco Lagnese/OTTO

Dreamers should note that a built-in bed does have some downsides. “It’s not flexible,” Jayne says. “You build a bed and you’re committed. Think about when you were a child, how many times did you reorganize your room? It’s a pretty large capital investment.” Another drawback: You may never want to get out of the thing, says Speake of Retrouvius. She notes wistfully that built-in beds are little worlds for sleeping, reading, and dreaming: “There’s something incredibly sweet about closing the curtains—not just on the world outside, but on the rest of the house.”

Dress It Up

Once the custom bed is installed, it’s time to cover it. Here, three designers suggest the choicest linens to use.

  • “I go for a classic quilted Matouk coverlet or bedspread. I just like layering, and
    sometimes you want to have the heaviness.” —Peti Lau
  • “For me, RH, Restoration Hardware is a no-brainer. Most brands have only one or two good fabrics—RH has morelike 20 or 30.” —Ravi Patel
  • “My go-to is E. Braun & Co., which has the most beautiful selection of embroidery
    and colors. Aleta in London has a wonderful selection, too, and for something a little more graphic, Les Indiennes is where I tend to look.” —William Cullum, Jayne Design Studio

october 2021  elle decor

This story originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE