Designer 101: 5-step Master Bedroom Layout

Designer 101: 5-step Master Bedroom Layout

Designer Kenneth Wingard helps you lay out your master bedroom in 5 simple steps.

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By: Kenneth Wingard
Whether you’re in a new home with a large master suite or a one-bedroom apartment, there are both easy and challenging parts to laying out the bedroom.

The easy parts: there aren’t that many pieces of furniture to configure and no one is really going to see it except family.

The challenging parts: it includes the biggest piece of furniture in your house and it’s the room where you will spend the most time, so you want to get it right. Let’s break it down and enjoy the easy parts while also tackling the challenges.

Step 1: Place the Bed
It’s by far the largest piece in the room, so start off by getting it in the right location. Sometimes, most often in new construction, the room has been designed with bed placement in mind. The wall for the bed will have outlets and light fixtures all positioned to be on either side of the bed.

In older or more unique setups, you get to decide this for yourself. Ideally the head of the bed will be up against a large blank wall or between two windows. However, if this isn’t possible, here are some things to keep in mind:

How do you use your bed? I like to get up early and sip my first cup of coffee in bed before the kids are up, so being able to stare out the window and watch the sunrise dictated our bed placement. If you find yourself up several times during the night, you may want to consider access to the kitchen (or the bathroom).

Consider where the entry to the room is. You always want to be able to see the door from the bed. All the experts say we sleep better when we can keep an eye on the door. Perhaps it’s a leftover survival technique from our days before burglar alarms.

Don’t put the bed in a corner. Not only are you making it difficult for two people to climb in and out, you’re making the arguably unpleasant task of making the bed even more unpleasant.

Make sure you have at least 24 inches on either side of the bed. This is the minimum you need to hop in and out.

Don’t put your bed at an angle. Except in very special circumstances, it wastes space in the room and creates difficult spaces behind and beside the bed.

You can put your bed in front of a window. Although not ideal, if it is the best place for the bed then it can be made to work. It just means a large headboard or drapes to help unite the bed and the window into a single focal point.

Step 2. Place the Side Tables
Okay, so it’s not rocket science; just put them on either side of the bed. However, make sure that you have at least a couple of inches of room between the bed, your side tables and the far wall to prevent them from looking wedged in. If you’re the only one using the bedroom, you can get away with using just one side table if space is right, but it’s always better to have two for balance.


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Step 3. Place the Dresser
The second largest piece in the room, it can mess up flow if not in the right location. When you’re not in bed, a bedroom becomes a bit like a kitchen — functionality becomes important. When it’s 6 a.m. and you’re trying to get dressed in the dark, you don’t want to have to cross the room four times to get yourself pulled together. It’s the same for 10 p.m. when you’re headed to bed — if the room isn’t designed properly you’ll end up with a pile of clothes beside your bed every night.

Think of the location of your closet, what you’re keeping in the dresser verses the closet, how you get dressed in the morning and how you get ready for bed at night. Also consider if you can place the dresser in the closet or if you even need a dresser at all. There are a lot of closet systems readily available that incorporate shelves and drawers, eliminating the need for a dresser and opening up the room to other furniture possibilities.

Tip: Find all of Kenneth Wingard’s tips and project instructions here.

Step 4. Decide on Seating
Now that you’ve got the basics placed, take a look and see if you have room for a few niceties. Remember, a bedroom should never be over-crowded; it needs to remain calm and orderly.

If there’s room, seating can be a welcome addition to the bedroom. Two great choices are a bench or settee at the foot of the bed. This creates a place to put on (and take off) shoes, throw the bathrobe and, if it incorporates storage, to keep extra linens.

A reading chair tucked into a corner or beside a window is another nice addition. Unlike a living or family room, you don’t need a lot of space to make a little reading area — a 3-by-3-foot space will do. I find that whether or not you’re reading Shakespeare before you go to bed, it serves as a great resting spot for things that don’t quite make it to the closet in the mornings or evenings.

Step 5. Consider Desks, Vanities and Televisions
It’s always tempting to make a room as multi-functioning as possible. That’s just the way we lead our lives these days. And although I love the old-fashioned concept of a beautiful writing desk or vanity tucked into a bedroom, the reality of today is that these become cluttered with paper, electronics or toiletries. I suggest trying to add these into other rooms.

Regarding the television, I’m the first person to admit I love a TV in the bedroom, and when I have one, I end up watching bad movies until way past my bedtime. Do yourself and your eight hours of sleep a favor and keep the bedroom single-purpose. We have a difficult time disconnecting from the stress of our daily lives as it is, so keeping the master bedroom a sanctuary is important — you can multi-task to your heart’s content once you walk into the hallway.

Now that you have the layout down, you need to make other design decisions — are you going traditional with a matching suite of furniture (once the norm, now often the exception) or something more casual? If there are two of you, how are you going to design the space so it works for both parties? Are you buying all new furniture, working with what you have, or somewhere in between?

While all of these decisions will play into the layout of your room, if you stick with the basic rules, then you have a framework to experiment with. For example, if you are going classic with a matching set, your layout will probably stay pretty true to a traditional bedroom. However, with a more casual room you can start to have fun with the pieces and bend a rule or two to create some charm. Perhaps your dresser is to be replaced by open shelving and baskets; this will be more successful if you follow the basic guidelines for dresser placement and substitute the shelves.

If there are two of you, you have to make some compromises. You can’t have two of everything in the room, so create a layout plan that perhaps has side tables that one person favors, a dresser that another loves and a bed that bridges the gap between the two. Again, a proper layout will help those pieces sit together. Or if you’re refurbishing existing pieces and are creating a more mix-and-match feel, a good layout will help unify the room. Remember, a strong layout doesn’t mean boring! On the contrary, it creates the foundation for you to do something exciting!

Kenneth Wingard attended Princeton University’s School of Architecture and has studied art, sculpture and architecture in Europe, Asia and Africa. It was during these travels he developed an appreciation for the skill of the local craftsmen and began to think about how to combine those talents with his own design sense. He’s worked for Williams-Sonoma and was the Divisional Director of Pottery Barn. His products have been spotted at the New York and San Francisco MOMA, LACMA and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Get to know Kenneth here.

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