If you consider the total amount of hours we spend in various parts of the home, bedrooms are by far our most frequently inhabited spaces. Good bedroom design contributes to our psychological and physical health and wellbeing, and with careful planning need not be difficult or expensive to achieve.
The first question to ask is what is a bedroom for? Bedrooms can be spaces for rest, work, storage and play. For all of their potential uses bedrooms needn’t be very large.
East facing windows are ideal in a bedroom. Morning sun, and having a view out a window from the bed are good for the spirit. Locating the bed so you are not looking out the doorway or out windows into the street will increase the sense of privacy.
The location of bedrooms is crucial, upstairs can be beneficial in cool climates as the interior heat will collect on the upper floor. In warmer climates placing bedrooms to the south and near thermal mass will help keep them cool. Good bedding can solve most heating problems. Radiant heat can be absorbed and stored by the human body so taking a hot water bottle or another human being to bed is a good old fashioned and highly-effective way to stay warm.
Sealing up wall vents, fireplaces and other gaps will reduce both winter draughts and summer heat. Windows that can be locked securely and that open at night, will help to passively ventilate the bedroom and improve indoor air quality. Insect screens are useful to keep mosquitoes at bay. A ceiling-fan will circulate air reducing the need for air-conditioning.
North or west facing windows will benefit from exterior shading in summer to keep a bedroom cool. Adjustable exterior blinds or deciduous plantings allow a high degree of adaptability to provide shade as needed. Thermally-effective window treatments are especially important in bedrooms. Heavy lined curtains that have pelmets and run to the floor will effectively trap a pocket of warm air inside. If curtain are impractical or the heaters are under the window then recess mounted honeycomb blinds or face fixed heavy backed roman blinds are the best option. Roman blinds use less material than curtains so can be a good opportunity to using organic and or locally printed fabrics.
Preserve limited floor space by running storage cupboards above head height. The alcove underneath can be used to tuck a bed or desk into. Capitalize on high ceilings by creating a sleeping loft, utilising the space under to fit a wardrobe, desk or another bed. Wardrobes are a cost-intensive part of a renovation, so rather than using mass produced storage solutions, look for creative ways to reuse second-hand cabinets, or hide shelves and racks behind a lightweight ceiling mounted curtain.
Keeping furnishings simple will reduce dust build up, that can contribute to allergies, respiratory problems and asthma. Rugs rather than carpet are useful for warmth and softness underfoot, as they can be aired and cleaned regularly. Painted surfaces and composite timber products off-gas volatile organic compounds into the indoor environment so choose VOC free paints and oils for your bedroom walls and furniture, and EO rated timbers for your cabinetry.
Leave new upholstery or furniture outside to off-gas for a few days, to get rid of the ‘factory fresh’ smell. Slatted bed bases provide good ventilation around the mattress reducing the occurrence of mould and dust mites. Mattresses are commonly constructed and treated with chemicals in the fabrics and foams containing volatile organic compounds such as antibacterial agents, flame-retardants, PVC’s, bleaches, pesticides and dyes. These chemicals can contribute to allergies, respiratory problems, chemical sensitivities and asthma. Mattresses made of plant-based materials such as organic wool, cotton, hemp, natural latex and bamboo are a safer option. Bamboo and latex are naturally hypoallergenic and dust-mite resistant. If you are replacing a mattress divert it from landfill by sending it for recycling.
Ideally use natural fibre bed linens and covers made from organic and ethically produced sources of bamboo, linen, silk or cotton. Wash and line dry new bedding before using it to get rid of any chemical residue from production, or buy second hand sheets and blankets. Try dying old bedding and blankets to give them a new lease of life.
Keep digital clock radios and phone chargers away from where you are sleeping and avoid positioning a bed on the opposite side of a wall to a smart meter, refrigerator or other appliance, as these will emit electro magnetic fields most strongly within 1-2 meters.
Poorly designed and furnished bedrooms can make us sick while we sleep. By applying a few simple design and retrofitting ideas and carefully selecting the materials that we bring inside a bedroom area, we can create a space that is not just somewhere to sleep, but a place to retreat for relaxation and rejuvenation.