small space living // the toddler bed dilemma

At the beginning of the year we wrote about living small with two kids and for the most part, not much has changed. Lillian in still sleeping in the mini crib (in the dining area!) but lately it’s been more evident that she’s ready to move to a regular crib. She now prefers to roll onto her tummy (and sleeps much better that way!) but is limited on space to do that in the smaller crib. (We also had issues awhile back with her legs getting stuck between the slats, but adding a bumper helped significantly with that.)


Moving Lillian to Avery’s crib (which has been converted to a toddler bed) is the easy part – the decision that has us stumped is what to transition Avery to. And yes, that brings up the toddler bed dilemma. It has always seemed silly and a waste of money to buy a separate toddler bed + mattress, but I now find myself leaning in that direction.

Here’s why:

+ Yes, it would be better for the long-term to get in her a twin bed but really we don’t have space. (If we did, I would definitely get her this one…sigh, maybe I’ll bookmark it for a future house.) When you’re used to a crib, a twin all of a sudden feels HUGE. We also need to keep both girls in the nursery until we can move our offices out of the house (and yeah, we’re at least 6-9 months out from that) which means space is limited as it is. For a few days I was excited about the possibility of doing our own hack on the IKEA Kura bed (you should really Google “IKEA Kura hack”, it’s ridiculous), thinking that some of the toys could go under the bed and that would free up space for the crib. But, after measuring it out we were worried that the bed would overwhelm the space (it pretty much has to go in the same spot as the crib) and that really, it would take longer than we think to implement our own modifications. (Which in my mind, involved painting the frame a blue-gray and adding maple plywood “rails” to the three exposed sides of the bed.)

twin options

+ I also considered just getting another IKEA Gulliver crib, but that seems like taking a step backward at this point.

+ So, toddler bed? A few weeks ago I came back around to the Gulliver toddler bed, which seemed perfect since it’s in-between a crib and twin mattress size and would match the crib. When I went to check the stock online, they were sold out of the birch version. So I checked again a few days later and same story. And that’s when I realized that every store was out of stock so maybe they’re not making it anymore? At any rate, after seeing the white version in person I was less excited and didn’t like being limited to IKEA sheets (although I suppose you could just use a twin sized duvet). ANYWAY. Back to the drawing board. Or rather, the internet.

toddler options2

There are a handful of modern toddler beds out there but I don’t know, nothing that I could get too excited about or justify spending a lot of money on. (For reference, I found other affordable options from KidKraft, P’kolino and Babyletto). And yes, I love right angles as much as the next modernist, but on a kid’s bed it seems a little silly (and potentially dangerous). I even considered the much-loved Jenny Lind toddler bed. It’s not exactly modern, but I could see pairing it with some fun bedding to balance out all those curves. Well, it’s a moot point now because Kyle completely and passionately vetoed it. (I can’t blame him, it would feel out of place in our house.) For the same price, I also like this bed from Land of Nod, but the in-store floor models I’ve seen haven’t taken abuse very well (chipped paint, etc.) and I’m concerned about long-term durability. Obviously some of these wouldn’t match the Gulliver crib but maybe it doesn’t matter that much (we could always tie the two together with complimentary bedding).

So why don’t we just build something ourselves? I know, that totally would have been our solution a few years ago but don’t forget we still have a half-finished bathroom and laundry room in our basement (going on three years now!). And really, I think if we did it ourselves it would be a very simple platform style bed and I’d prefer something with a bit of head board and foot board. I know, we could just do a mattress on the floor but I think it’s going to be a struggle giving up her crib as it is (especially if it’s going to Lillian) and want to do something she can be excited about, something that’s very “big girl”.

Eventually, we’ll probably go the bunk bed route (because who doesn’t have fond memories of their sibling kicking the top bunk mattress from below?) but we’re probably two years away from that. The long-term plan is to put both girls in the basement bedroom, but there isn’t enough space for two twin beds down there.

So here’s a question, how long can the average sized kiddo sleep in a toddler bed? I read 6 but that seems overly optimistic. I think I could justify the purchase if I knew she could use it for the next year or two (before passing it along to her sister). Has anyone else been in a similar situation and come up with a good solution? Are there other simple and well-made beds out there that I’ve missed? I’m crowdsourcing here.


58 Responses to “small space living // the toddler bed dilemma”

  1. Val Weiss says:

    Hi Lauren….we are in a similar situation with a 2 bedroom house (small space living) that’s occupied by myself, my husband, our 4 year old and baby on the way (oh and our dog Ami). We’ve moved our master bedroom to the basement and are upgrading our daughter’s room to our old room. Because she has a bit more space we are transitioning her into a twin bed. She’s been in a toddler bed since about 2.5 years old. She’s almost 4.5 now and has been just fine, sleeping fine too. If we needed to keep her in her toddler bed I would be fine with that until she were 5 or 6 but we took the time now to upgrade. I think the toddler bed is very efficient as a stepping stone and allows for workable room in a small footprint of a house. I say go for it. We borrowed from a friend so we didn’t really need to invest in it.

  2. Nat says:

    Lauren, I have an almost 6 year old and she sleeps in one of Ikea’s metal extendable toddler beds (in black). We have yet to extend it. She’s average in terms of height. One thing that led me to buying the toddler bed is that they are so much lower to the ground and, in case the kiddo falls out, they don’t have far to fall. I love the side rails, also for safety reasons. I anticipate we could easily still get a few years out of the toddler bed before needing to extend it.

    • Lauren says:

      Thanks Nat, good point on the height. We don’t have any rails on her current bed but it’s something that would be nice for whatever we end up with.

  3. Jill says:

    You could temporarily relocate the chair and footstool in the nursery to the living room and remove the wardrobe in the nursery as well. Then put the dresser under the window, purchase the twin bed you actually like, and put it with its long side against the left wall and the crib with its long side against the right wall.

    The nursery chair would not look out of place in the living room, and it would still be steps from the nursery, so the function is all retained.

    You will need some storage roll-outs under both the bed and the crib to make up for what was lost from the wardrobe.

    And then you can scatter the shelving boxes and toys around as makes sense.

    • Lauren says:

      Hi Jill, the glider and ottoman have already been moved to the basement (my office) which helped a lot. I think the wardrobe has to stay as it holds so much stuff now. I’ve thought about moving the dresser but the width of that wall (to the left of the barn doors) isn’t really enough for a bed or a crib. And the window on the left side really prohibits anything going on that wall (unless we do a short toddler bed) as the sill is somewhat low. It’s good to think a bit more drastically though, I’m sure there is a solution out there that I just haven’t even considered yet. πŸ™‚ I think the real challenge with the space is the lack of wall area due to the big sliding doors and windows.

  4. jen says:

    I shared a room with my two sisters growing up and remember my baby sister sleeping in a toddler bed until kindergarten. I think it’s completely feasible.
    Our 2 year old has slept on a twin bed since she was 8 months old. It’s the Montessori practice of a “floor bed” — so the mattress is right on the floor. It’s worked really well for us and for her. It’s especially nice for cuddling since we can stretch out. πŸ™‚

    • Lauren says:

      Thanks Jen, I do like that aspect of the twin! Even though I sit on the converted crib with Avery it does make me feel a bit nervous sometimes. πŸ™‚ I even considered trying to do a trundle type configuration under the crib but we’d have to find something smaller than a crib mattress to fit.

  5. Alexandra says:

    I have the tiniest second bedroom ever for my son (and soon to be baby), and we’re going to do the following. first off, we cleaned out a ton of toys and have things stored in the main part of our house, so there’s not a ton in the room… then we found a bed through Hayneedle (the Houston) which in the lightest wood looks a ton like the Gulliver bed. The boys will share a room and until the younger one is ready (2 ish, i suppose), we’ll have them in two different beds. then when the time comes, we’ll get a higher quality twin bed with a trundle bed below it- which they can use for years theoretically.

    • Lauren says:

      Thanks Alexandra! I hadn’t seen that model of KidKraft bed. Hmm… πŸ™‚ I like the trundle idea too though I wonder if one kid would feel like they got the short end of the stick? I’m not actually sure bunks would fit in our downstairs room due to the ceiling height so we may be looking at something like that too.

  6. Jenn says:

    Not sure if our solution will be helpful, but we’ve gone through quite a few beds in the last few years, trying to get the right combination for the kids room. We started with the Kura. It did overwhelm the room, and the littlest one decided that he hated it and didn’t want to be on the bottom all the time. So then we moved to two separate singles (the room is 10×11′ barely, as one end loses space to the stairwell). We put one bed in the stairwell cubby, modifying the length to fit. So slightly longer/wider than a toddler bed, cute to fit in the cubby (used Ikea mattress and built the box spring). Third iteration in the fourth year of the house (kids 6 and 10 years of age). Through family we scored a split queen box spring, and made two beds from them having foam cut to size for the mattresses (latex). Made two simple platforms and had the beds in an ‘L’ shape. This was my favourite layout, but towards the end of last year, the now seven year old decided that he really liked sleeping on the floor… O_o. So, we are in our fourth layout. A trundle bed! The twelve year old loves it, and the now eight year old is pretty pleased. He loves that he can make his bed and push it away, and use the space for all his legos.
    Will report back and let you know if this works. I’m sure by next year there will be fifth better, faster, newer plan in place (btw, we’ve never spent more than a $100 a pop on the bedroom plans).

  7. Janelle says:

    I love this post. I have a 21mo old and expecting end of Sept. We have a 2 bedroom house and I am really anxious to see what you guys decide on because we will be in the same situation in 9-12 months from now. Our kids’ room is 8×12 so a full size twin in there be a challenge. I have thought about some options, but haven’t taken any action yet. Please keep us posted on your progress.

  8. Deborah says:

    I am part of a group on FB called No Buy Edmonds. There are similar groups all over Seattle and probably one in your neighborhood. I bet if you put out the word on FB and joined one of these groups that I toddler bed would come your way. Have you thought about getting a bunk-bed now that has a double on the bottom and a single on the top….they can both sleep down below until your oldest feels ready to move to the top bunk. Just a thought. Love your blog.

    • Lauren says:

      Thanks Deborah, I wouldn’t trust the two to sleep together for awhile and we just don’t have space for a bunk with a lower double. πŸ™‚ Good recommendation on the FB group, I’ll have to check it out!

  9. Helen X says:

    I only have one kid (she’s 3). She’s sleeping in the same crib with the same configuration as Avery (but hers is the white version). What I found from her is that she’ll sleep in any place she thinks is interesting, which includes her closet (which I set up as a little hiding spot for her). At this point, maybe figuring out what interest Avery would make that transition for her more smoothly? I’m saying this because of your comment regarding giving up the crib to Lilian πŸ˜› Mine would probably be totally fine sleeping on a twin mattress on the floor if I put a tent type thing over it! Just throwing random ideas out there….. Good luck! Would love to see the final result!

    • Lauren says:

      Haha, good point Helen! I wish we did have a cozy closet or something as I’m sure she’s love it. (At one point I had thought about making a little reading nook at the bottom of the PAX wardrobe but not sure I trust IKEA’s construction *that* much!). πŸ™‚ Maybe we should just buy another mattress for now and see what we come up with?

  10. Priscilla (pg. 67 in Dwell's Special Issue) says:

    We’ve had the IKEA Kura bed for our two boys for 10 years! (how time flies…they are now 12yrs and 9yrs old). We got it when our oldest was 2yrs old and our second baby was born and needed his crib. He wanted to be on the top bed immediately, and it has been our ‘indoor playground’ for ten years and still going strong. The boys love being together and my oldest (now on the bottom/floor bunk) loves being close to the floor so he can spread his books out on the floor to read every night. When kids come over, they all gravitate to that bed to hang out. We have no regrets, so if you can find the space… it’s also good because its not too high to give the kiddo in the top bunk a kiss good night. One downside that comes to mind is my husband doesn’t go up on the top bed to ‘cuddle’ because he’s afraid he may fall through πŸ™‚ I do though.

    • Lauren says:

      Thanks Priscilla (and congrats on the Dwell feature, I’ll have to go check out page 67 now!). It seems like it’s pretty solid. Since it would eventually go in our downstairs basement room I’d need to double check the height and see how it would fit since have a “shelf” along two walls where we furred out our foundation wall.

  11. Wilma says:

    Eh, get another crib. It’s cheap, easy to resell, and you said that within the year, your office will have moved? Then you can get two twin beds–for the girls’ respective rooms. That said…you could always shove a twin in their shared room, knowing that it’s only for the short term. Not nice from a design perspective, but knowing that it’s not for “forever” makes it easier to grin and bear, perhaps. Good luck with whatever route you choose!

    • Lauren says:

      Thanks Wilma, I agree that maybe we’re taking it all a little too seriously. As designers I think we’re always trying to figure out the optimal situation. πŸ™‚

      • Wilma says:

        I agree with you–it’s just that it sounds like there’s not “true” optimal solution–though sometimes the exercise of trying to find it makes it easier to accept that “good enough” just might have to do. I like hearing about your solutions, as we are also in a small-ish house (1200 sq ft) with three boys πŸ™‚

  12. Janna says:

    Our two boys are both on the tall side. Our youngest is two years and two months and is still sleeping in (and loving) his mini crib. He likes to add a lot of stuffed friends and blankets too so the limited space just has not been an issue at all. We don’t plan on needing a normal size crib, he’ll just transition to a toddler or twin. Our oldest is 8, is the tallest in his class, and STILL sleeps in a toddler bed at our cabin. He loves it and does not want to claim one of the twin beds that are always available in our bunk room. He does sleep in a twin at home. All that to say, I think bed size is totally overrated. :). I would not hesitate to think a toddler bed could last you for many many years!

  13. Allison says:

    My 1yo son happily still sleeps in his mini crib. And he is of above average size. I was worried when he first started rolling he was out growing it, but once he got better at rolling it was no longer a worry that he would roll into the sides or whatever. He might kick the side now and again, but its not a problem for any reason. It’s working well and and I don’t know when/if he will out grow it. Maybe the answer is you really don’t need to make any change! We don’t have space (or maybe we don’t want to take the space) for a full sized crib. The room also has a stacking (almost) twin beds we custom built for guests, so some day I hope he moves right to that bed.

    Also, I just put your mud room interior and exterior pictures as inspiration for an addition we are doing. Love your home.

    • Lauren says:

      Yeah, she *just* figured out how to be happy sleeping on her tummy (instead of just rolling and getting frustrated) so maybe we have some more time in the mini crib after all…I had been worrying that the size was affecting her ability to sleep soundly and I think any parent would agree that you’ll do *anything* to improve that situation! πŸ™‚ Good luck with your addition!

  14. Paige says:

    I have no great ideas, but I did want to throw out that people are selling IKEA toddler mattress sized fitted sheets on Etsy (because they’re selling EVERYTHING on Etsy). I’ve found them by searching “toddler bed sheet IKEA” or something like that. There are also sellers that will take your own fabric and make a custom sized version – so you could potentially send in a twin sized sheet that matches your crib sheet? I know this because our dogs’ bed is an IKEA toddler mattress πŸ˜‰

  15. Katie says:

    I remember this first world dilemma. We ended up just building a slated low frame for a toddler mattress. It was simple, cheap and you guys seem handy. One plus was if there ever was an ‘off night’ of sleeping we would just carry the mattress to our room and that seemed enough to keep the monsters at bay. I think we did smores and a celebration with the wood when our son moved to a twin;)

    Good luck!

    • Lauren says:

      Haha, I know – it definitely is a first world dilemma.

    • Gaidig says:

      It’s funny, isn’t it? I was just thinking about how my three aunts shared one bed until they grew up and left home. My husband’s grandmother was one of four sisters and their house had two bedrooms – two of the girls slept on the sofa. Today, not so much later, that’s unthinkable.funny how quickly society can change.

  16. Jamie says:

    My niece and nephew both sleep in toddler beds (in the same room). They turn 5 & 7 next month. An addition to give them more space is planned but won’t be done for another year.

  17. Olga says:

    Why not have your super talented husband whip something up?…. After all of the complex garden planters, desks and other projects, this could be a very straightforward bed that you could design and then transform.

  18. S says:

    One of my almost 4 year olds still sleeps in his Gulliver with no side crib. He has access to a twin bed but prefers this and we don’t see any reason to make him move. He still has lots of room even fully stretched out but never sleeps that way.
    I would just get another crib and keep the one you have (don’t they have an even cheaper one that doesn’t have the removable side?), one less battle to have your younger taking her older sisters bed.

  19. Jennifer says:

    I have a seven year old and five year old twins, and all three have happily used an Ikea toddler beds for.many years.the seven year old just got a new bigger bed, and the five year olds will probably get them in the later this year, but I could probably stretch it a little longer if I had to. All of kids have different body types, and none have complained about being uncomfortable in their toddler beds. I bet you could even find one used, and just buy a new mattress. It has been an inexpensive option that has worked better and longer than I expected. I found some cute sheets at target a while ago, in a stretchy, soft jersey fabric, and they have worked on the beds as well.

  20. LeeAnn says:

    My son’s room is also small on space, so when I was able to purchase the Sniglar bed used for ten dollars I jumped on it then ran to IKEA to pick up a mattress. The white panels are easily changed out for another material. The 63″ mattress length will last him a while yet (he is nearly 6 now), and bedding is easy to come by. We expect to replace his bed with a Kura (or similar) at some point so I buy twin sheets and tuck in the excess. I can also attest to the amount of abuse it has taken…. πŸ™‚

  21. Meite says:

    My parents bought a small house on a quarter section in the middle of nowhere that’s about 450 square feet on the main floor with a half-story above. Eventually, after we grew up and moved away, they remodeled the upper half story of the house as their master bedroom. They ran into similar problems as yourself, the space wasn’t really big enough to accommodate stylish, grown up furniture that suited them.

    My Dad fell in love with matching twin danish mid-century beds. They were perfect for my parents…except the mattress size was an irregular European size that was smaller than a standard twin. So they had custom mattresses made. They LOVE them. I’m not sure who they used

    Maybe you could design (or find) frames that suit the scale of the basement bedroom, and have custom mattresses made. Or instead of having two non-standard pieces of furniture made, design a bed that you plan to keep as a daybed/guest bed after the girls are done with it. Then that custom mattress and bed frame can continue to live on as functional contributing piece of furniture and worth putting a little more money into than you’d want to invest in a toddler bed.

    • Lauren says:

      We’ve actually been thinking along these lines as well…I think the loft space will eventually be a reading nook for the girls and it would be great to have the toddler beds convert to seating of some sort…

  22. Meite says: – sweet looking bed, although no footboard or headboard.

  23. Anna says:

    Wow. So many people getting so long out of toddler beds! My daughter moved into hers at just over two, and we had to get her a proper single bed about 6 months later. She’s not that big, height between 90 & 100cm. She just seemed to be banging her head/not having enough wriggling room in the little bed. Now we have a single bed and a cot for our one year old crammed into their shared room; not sure how it’s going to work when the little one needs a big bed too!

  24. Amy H says:

    I hated spending money on a toddler bed, but it ended up being the best option. We went with a cheaper Jenny Lind than the one you linked to. We have a midcentury modern home, and its style didn’t totally clash. Our toddler bed was used by two of our girls. They outgrew it by age 4, but they’re tall. At one point we had a bunk AND the toddler bed all in one small room. Aesthetics sometimes go out the window when it comes to our house — too many kids, too little space!

  25. Diana says:

    My daughter, who was always TALL, used her Gulliver until five years old. And she could have used it longer, but then it’s started to be a little too narrow for comfort.

  26. lauralou says:

    I don’t have a good solution, but I did check my local IKEA (Stoughton, MA) and it showed the gulliver toddler bed in stock. Perhaps an IKEA a little further away might have the bed? Or the shipping might be worth it?
    My boys are 18 months apart. They like sharing a room. We had the KURA for a while. We ended up hacking them into regular twin beds because they really overwhelmed the room. And, in hacking them, really messed up the stability. But, even with that, we ended up putting their beds side by side and they loved it. We replaced the Kura beds with twin spindle beds using the ikea bed slats. They’ve been sleeping this way for two years. The two beds eat up the whole room, but they only use their bedroom for reading, sleeping, getting dressed.

    Good luck!

    • Lauren says:

      Thanks Laura, yes – the eventual plan is for both girls to be in the basement bedroom which will just have their beds and clothes (converting the current nursery into a playroom) so we’ll have a few more options.

  27. Lesley says:

    This probably doesn’t solve your problem, since you’d still need another Gulliver crib. But here’s what we did for our twins. First we used their Gulliver cribs with the front off, as in your photo. But since our kids are crazy wild, we were worried about someone losing an eye to those sharp corners at the front. They were in a small shared room in a rental, so we couldn’t fit two twin beds. After searching online for toddler beds, I had an epiphany: Cut the rails off the Gullvers and make them into simple beds with no headboards (no side rails either, but low enough to the ground that it didn’t really matter). Where there were openings at the head and foot, we used the toddler side rail that came with the Gullver to close up one end, and added a piece of wood at the other end. Bonus: we didn’t have to replace their costly non-toxic mattresses and bedding! My kids slept in those til they were 5-1/2 years old, when we bought our first home and they each got their own room and moved to twin beds.

    • Lauren says:

      Thanks Lesley, I know – a lot of this hinges on whether we buy another $$$ crib mattress or just invest in a non-toxic twin. (Her mattress was at least 2x the cost of the IKEA crib, haha!) Interesting idea…I actually looked around for just a simple toddler size platform bed (to make our own modifications to) and they don’t seem to exist!

  28. Jill says:

    Could you move them to the basement now and have your office in the nursery until you move your work out of the home? Then convert the former-nursery-temporary-office into a playroom.

    • Lauren says:

      I hadn’t thought of that but since our kids are mostly home during the day it would be hard (probably impossible) to get any work done. With my office downstairs I can close the door and be “at work” while they’re on the main floor.

  29. Ellen says:

    This toddler bed is lovely and can be used later on as seating
    (Here is a review of the crib )

  30. Sarah says:

    My son is 5 and turns 6 in October, and as of a few months ago he just barely fit into a toddler bed. Like if he were 2 inches taller he would be too tall for it. So I think if your child is on the shorter side they could use one until they’re 6. If I had to guess I would bet it’s like 5 years old for boys and 6 years old for girls, since girls tend to be smaller.

  31. Riley says:

    Hi! I loved this article. We are entering the same journey (sigh) I was not able to tell, and would be so grateful, could you tell me the name of toddler bed in the lower right corner in your picture, or who makes it? It almost looks like a crib with rails that are a lot shorter. Thanks a million, mama!

    • Lauren says:

      That bed was IKEA but I had a really hard time tracking it down and I think they were phasing it out so not sure it’s even available now. πŸ™

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