35 Bedroom Design Do's and Don'ts

Try these expert design solutions that, no matter what your decorating style, will transform your bedroom into the sanctuary you've always dreamed of.

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March 25, 2020
By: Chelsey Bowen and Leah Hennen
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Do Make Your Bedroom a Private Sanctuary

Even the most decorated houses often have a dirty little secret: a dull and dreary (or cluttered and chaotic) bedroom. Because it's a private space, this room is sometimes the last to get our decorating attention. However, this is a place you should love to spend time in, an indulgent oasis and welcoming haven from the stresses of the day. "The bedroom should not be overlooked; in fact, it should be the best room in the house," interior designer Shelly Riehl David asserts. "You deserve to come home to a beautiful, relaxing space where you can close the door to the world."

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Do Use the Right Hues

Color is a powerful design tool, and should absolutely be used in the bedroom. But experts advise opting for restful shades and a soothing, monochromatic palette to keep the mood subdued. Soft greens, blues and lavenders create a feeling of calmness and serenity, while rich, lush hues like persimmon, brown and amber envelop you in cozy warmth.

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Don't Go Color Crazy

Save the bright reds, yellows and oranges for other rooms. "Anything too vibrant will distract from the relaxing feeling you're trying to create," says Aimee Kim, a Los Angeles-based interior designer known for her luxe, yet peaceful, bedrooms. "Use toned-down versions of your favorite colors in the bedroom." That might mean choosing mauve instead of eggplant, or pumpkin instead of tangerine.

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Don't Neglect the Ceiling

Don't lie in bed gazing up at a bland, blank ceiling. Add an eye-catching hue to visually lower the ceiling and give the space a feeling of comfort and intimacy. Or try this: designer Shelly Riehl David likes to paint the ceiling a slightly lighter version of the wall color. "Ask the paint store to knock down the color 20 percent for the ceiling," she suggests.

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Do Add Detail Overhead

Beyond paint, you can stencil or wallpaper the ceiling, add architectural elements in the form of beams or moldings or use a decorative paint treatment. Other options for adding interest to the fifth wall: torchieres and uplights that wash the ceiling with warm pools of light; a canopy or tented bed that wraps you in warmth and comfort as well as bringing color, pattern and texture to the surface above you; and an intricate medallion and sparkling chandelier that add to the room's ambiance and create a focal point.

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Don't Skimp on Storage

When you picture a private sanctuary, do you envision piles of newspapers and drawers too stuffed to shut properly? We didn't think so. "Clutter equals stress, so the bedroom should be clutter-free," designer Shelly Riehl David says. The key element for creating a no-clutter zone: good storage. Having a place to stash everything imparts a sense of calmness and order, so integrate hidden storage wherever you can.

Do Find Just the Right Size

Too-small furnishings can be a problem as well, getting lost in a large space and falling short on functionality. "Beds keep getting taller, and nightstands need to be taller, too, so you don't fall out of bed when you reach for a sip of water in the middle of the night," designer Shelly Riehl David says. Before buying furniture, make a simple, to-scale sketch of your bedroom as well as paper cutouts of the furnishings you're considering. That way, you can be sure that everything fits and that the scale of various furnishings complement each other.

Do Banish Screens

This is one of the hardest things to do, especially since most of us use our phones as alarm clocks, but work on keeping screens out of your bedroom. Not only does artificial light exposure actually make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep, but it's also better to start your morning with mindfulness or a quick meditation rather than scrolling through your phone. And who knows? You may finally read through the pile of books sitting on your nightstand.

Do Opt for Dressers as Nightstands

Instead of puny bedside tables, choose generously sized nightstands with drawers or doors that let you hide books, magazines, reading glasses, lotion and other items out of sight, but within easy reach. In fact, small dressers on either side of the bed serve the same function as nightstands, but offer much more storage space.

Don't Skip the Foot of the Bed

A small settee or bench is a lovely addition to the foot of the bed, but if you need extra storage, opt for a trunk or a storage bench instead. They're perfect for concealing extra bedding and throw pillows when not in use.

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Do Look for Clever Bed Solutions

Consider a headboard with built-in shelves or a built-in niche, or a bed with slide-out drawers underneath. Some beds even have mattresses that lift to reveal a large storage cavity.

Do Create an Organized Closet

And though it can be pricey, a built-in closet system will utilize every inch of potential storage in that space, helping you keep clothing chaos contained and out of the bedroom proper.

Don't Ignore Space Under the Bed

If new furniture or a closet re-do aren't in the budget right now, "storage boxes that slip under the bed and are hidden by a dust ruffle are a good solution," suggests Beverly Hills-based designer Lori Dennis.

Don't Overcrowd It

Having to navigate an obstacle course of furniture to get to the closet, or sharing the bedroom with an abundance of dusty accessories are not elements that lend themselves to the tranquil, soothing vibe you're trying to create. Instead, keep the bedroom simple and serene. Remember: the look you're going for is beautifully restful, subtly sophisticated and elegantly understated.

Do Narrow It Down to the Basics

"For smaller bedrooms, use only the furniture you absolutely need: a bed, nightstands, maybe a cozy chair and a small side table," designer Aimee Kim advises. "Put your dresser in the closet so it doesn't take up valuable space in the bedroom."

Do Think About the Flow

When placing furniture, make sure to leave at least 3 feet between the bed and walls or tall pieces, such as armoires, and at least 2 feet between the bed and low furniture like tables and dressers. Do your best to keep traffic paths in the room unobstructed, too — if you have to circle around the bed to get from the bathroom to the closet, for instance, you may want to consider repositioning the bed.

Don't Fail to Indulge in Luxurious Linens

The bedroom, more than any other space in your home, should be a tactile and sensual wonderland. "We spend a third of our lives in bed — we might as well do it in luxury," designer Shelly Riehl David reasons. Outfit yours with textiles: adorn the bed with plush pillows, sumptuous sheets, cozy covers and oh-so-touchable throws that make it a place you can't wait to melt into at night.

Do Choose Natural Fibers

When it comes to sheets, designers are unanimous in their preference for natural fibers like cotton (don't settle for less than 100 percent) or linen and bamboo, and for high thread counts (aim for 350 or more). "Synthetic fabrics don't breathe," designer Lori Dennis explains. "Satin sheets may look great in movies, but they have two problems: they make you sweat like crazy and slide off the bed."

Do Bring in Tactile Appeal

Bedding isn't the only place for touchable treats in the bedroom. Drape a soft cashmere throw over the arm of your reading chair, upholster the walls with fabric or textured wallpaper, hang silk sheers or substantial curtains from a canopy bed and create a soft landing by placing a plush rug at your bedside or by splurging on soft, natural-fiber carpeting for the bedroom.

Don't Forget a Cozy Sitting Spot

A quiet place to sit and read — or to sip your morning tea while you gaze out the window — is a wonderful gift to yourself. If the space in your bedroom allows, tuck a cushy armchair and footrest (or a pair, if you can fit them), a small table and a reading lamp into an unused corner or at the foot of your bed to create a reading or sitting area.

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Do Take Advantage of Bay Windows

Window seats save floor space and make the most of natural light and views, so consider a built-in bench under the bedroom window. Designer Lori Dennis recommends an upholstered headboard to make the bed more comfortable for sitting up.

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Do Buy a Large Rug

One of the most common design mistakes in any room, including the bedroom, is buying a too-small rug. Preferably, your rug should have 24 inches on all three sides of your bed. Most designers suggest a 5x8 for a twin, 6x9 for a full, 8x10 for a queen and 9x12 for a king.

Do Bring In a Bench

Even if you don't have room for an entire seating area, do try to add a bench at the foot of your bed. It adds an extra seat to your space and gives you a place to slip shoes on and off every day. Choose a bench that's the same height or slightly lower than the foot of your bed.

Don't Overlook a Lighting Plan

A single, glaring overhead light creates harsh shadows and doesn't do much to help you see what's in dresser drawers or make out the words in the book you're trying to read. Instead, layer lighting throughout the room. In a bedroom, just as in any other space, you need ambient (general, ceiling-mounted) lighting to illuminate the entire room; task lighting (on bedside tables and vanities) to provide focused light for reading and other activities; and accent lighting (in the form of wall sconces, torchieres or art lights) to add drama, wash the room in soft illumination and lend a cozy, welcoming vibe.

Do Consider Scale in Lighting

A general rule of thumb is to measure your bedroom's length and width, add those two numbers together and that's the diameter of your main light fixture or chandelier. For example, a 12x12 room would need a chandelier with the diameter of 24 inches. Sconces should be around 50 to 60 inches from the floor to the top of fixture, and go for 24 to 27 inches tall for bedside lamps (just be sure you're not blinded by the light when trying to read in bed).

Do Have Flexible Lighting

Make sure lighting is adjustable. Bedside lamps with pivoting arms let you direct light exactly where you need it. Dimmers allow you to adjust wattage depending on the time of day and the mood you want. And having lights on separate switches lets you customize the level of illumination; you can turn on lights in just one area of the room without fear of waking your slumbering mate.

Don't Over-Accessorize

When it comes to tchotchkes in this space, less is definitely more. "A lot of people over-accessorize in the bedroom," designer Aimee Kim says. "Be really judicious with accessories — one great piece of art and a few simple accents are all you need. And make sure that accessories work with the style and theme of the room."

But, Do Add Items You Love

Your bedroom is, first and foremost, yours. Incorporate items from your travels or that you've inherited or that just simply speak to you to create a look that's uniquely your own.

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Do Invest in a High-Quality Mattress

Most people have a mattress for eight to 10 years and spend around 7 to 9 hours on it every day. So even more important than our sheets, duvets and quilts, your mattress should be the best you can afford.

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Don't Shy Away From an Extra Step

Designer Shelly Riehl David's favorite trick for giving sheets hotel-level luxury is to send them to the drycleaner for professional washing and pressing. It doesn't cost much, but creates a crisp smoothness worthy of the Ritz.

Do Frame Your Windows

An advantage of a beautifully dressed window is that "drapes frame the window and the view," designer Shelly Riehl David points out, "and offer another opportunity to incorporate texture, color, pattern and softness into the room."

Don't Shortchange Windows

Thin curtains that let the rising sun peel your eyes open at first light or poorly sized shades or blinds that allow light to seep in around the edges don't allow for that most decadent of weekend indulgences: sleeping in. Instead, designers say, choose curtains or shades with sewn-in blackout linings, or opt for thicker, more opaque fabrics that block the sun's glare when you need them to but can be swept aside when you want natural light to pour in. If you like the look of gauzy, transparent curtains that filter light and billow in the breeze, pair them with opaque roller blinds that can be pulled down to maintain privacy at night and to block morning light.

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Do Hang Curtains Correctly

You want your curtains to enhance your room, not make it feel smaller or distract from your soothing aesthetic. Every room is different so these are general rules to start with. Hang your curtains closer to the ceiling than the window frame to create height, and have the rod extend 10 to 12 inches wider than either side of the window to visually elongate the window.

Don't Underestimate the Power of a Mirror

Not just for getting ready in the morning, mirrors visually enlarge your space — making them especially helpful when designing a small bedroom. They also bounce light around to brighten your room and can make quite the dramatic statement.

Don't Forget Your Bedroom's Purpose

Every room in our home has a function. Kitchens are for cooking and eating, living rooms are for gathering and watching TV and offices are for working. Maintain your bedroom's role — sleeping and relaxing — by keeping other aspects of life, such as exercise equipment and work files, out of your sleeping quarters. Be vigilant about banishing these nagging reminders of the outside world, and you'll create a calm place to relax and renew. In other words, a true sanctuary.

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