Lift Up Storage Bed

Once again, I’ve been called upon to help maximizing space in a small dwelling. The space under a bed is an obvious candidate for storage, but a conventional steel bed frame and box spring consume all that, and even better designed beds that replace the pointless box-spring with supporting slats can make it hard to access the space beneath.

Because the client wanted to store 6 pairs of skis specifically, the obvious strategy was to build a lift-up storage bed. There are commercially available units with a similar method of operation, but they have extra material, a larger footprint, and a higher sticker price than the ‘you cover the costs and I’ll build my portfolio’ rate that I charge my friends.

The finished bed is made of spruce dimensional lumber, with stained and varnished laminated pine panels for sides. Definitely budget materials, but with enough sanding, patience, and coats, the resulting finish is richly coloured and smooth. The final exterior design element of note is a toe-kick recess along the floor on three sides to prevent stubbed toes and give the bed a floating appearance, which helps to lighten the look of the wide panels.

finished storage bed

The mechanism uses off-the-shelf automotive trunk struts, and casters and bar stock  from the hardware store. Large diameter bolts keep the pivots square to the frame, even with big stacks of washers used for horizontal spacing and alignment of the strut and linkage. Nylok nuts ensure it won’t loosen with use.The upper platform is reinforced with flatbar since it is subjected to constant tension from the struts when the bed is in the down position. The linkage moves the platform forward as it is lifted so the top edge of the mattress doesn’t hit the wall behind the bed.

lift mechanism

I designed the linkage geometry so that the strut force lifts the frame progressively. In the lowered position, the strut is held compressed but mostly places the platform frame in tension, with little force acting downward. In the upper position, the arm swings out and the strut acts quite directly to hold the platform up. In this way the bed stays down on its own, but also easily supports a mattress and bedding in the up position. When the bed is lifted it initially bears down on a caster (obscured in the picture above) and rolls along the top of the rail, until it lifts up enough to cantilever off of another caster rolling along the bottom, which is what prevents it from tilting forward.  Operating the bed is quite ergonomic since the strap handles used to lift it are at the foot of the platform and the casters and linkage which bear the weight are near the head of the bed.

lifty-lifty: look Ma, no hands!

The weight of the platform, mattress, and slumbering bed-users is borne to the floor by 8 solid wood posts on the periphery, leaving the entire middle section unobstructed for storage, and the wide side panels prevent any racking of the frame, resulting in a very stable bed.

The footprint of the bed is only a few centimeters wider on all sides than the mattress itself. This was a critical design parameter as the bedroom door swings within a scant few millimeters of the frame.

rescued space put to work, with all that stuff hidden nicely from view

The end result fits the room, looks clean, stores a ridiculous amount of gear, and is easy operate.  I look forward to tackling similar projects when the budget allows for some custom machined metal parts to keep tolerances tighter and simplify final assembly. In the meantime, making due with the tools and parts at hand is a fun part of the challenge.

Transforming Table: Flexible Furniture for Small Spaces

My good friends Scott and Tania recently moved into their shiny new laneway house. Tania wrote a nice review of my work on her blog, and includes a good picture of the piece in its home.

Flexible furniture is one way of making the most out of a small space. A flexible piece of furniture embodies similar materials and energy to a conventional piece, but is more valuable to the user because it fits their life better. Further, something that fits a space well and is built to last is less likely to be replaced. In this way, design effort, meaning human attention, can make a dramatic difference in the real world value of an end product.

I started with a consultation and lots of sketches, and moved on to CAD to sort out the geometry, estimate the materials I’d need, and make sure everyone was happy with how it would look.

CAD plans

I settled on birch ply for the casework and top surfaces because it’s strong, dimensionally stable, and straightforward to work with.

The legs are solid alder, to match the casework in their home. I machined custom aluminum plates to reinforce the leg joints and add a bit of industrial bling.They swing on heavy-duty gate hinges, which were needed to minimize swaying due to slop in the hinge joints.

under construction, nearing completion

The two draw-leaves are brought even with the main table top with a custom lift mechanism that uses UHMW plastic ramps and a pull handle, one for each side. The leaves and legs are mounted on heavy duty ball bearing slides, so the footprint of the table expands as the surface area does. This leaves the center free for people to comfortably stretch their legs, which was a major usability design goal, and also makes the table look surprisingly svelte in the ‘up’ configuration.

underside: how to cram a full-size table into a tiny space

The legs were finished with clearcoat, and the top was hand painted a glossy white, to match the interior of the house it lives in.

coffee table

This is a one-off and a bit of a prototype, but it still performs as expected. It’s quite the puzzle to account for the intersecting and overlapping geometry in different positions, and give sufficient tolerances for things to move without having the mechanism be loose. Doing a full set of scale drawings was invaluable: I managed to build the entire table without wasting any wood to wrong cuts.

full size dining table!

I suspect I’ll be making a lot more of these kinds of pieces as urban living gets increasingly cramped, and people come to expect more from their objects than a single static use.