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The Mountain Fixer Upper: Bunk Room Reading Nook

In our quest to not waste any space (in either project—Portland and Mountain), we searched for ways to create function in empty walls all over the house. Once a house is demoed and the walls are opened up, you can see where you can possibly build in to create more storage…and so we have, particularly in the bunk room. Previously, the room (which used to be the master bedroom in the original floor plan—see below—was a dark, windowless rectangle, and right outside of it was a pull-down ladder that led to an almost finished attic.

Emily Henderson Lake House Before 3001

The ladder was charming in theory but kind of a death trap. As you can imagine, the kids were OBSESSED with going up there and in my attempt to “say yes” as often as possible as a parent we would help them get up there. But Birdie was too little so I’d carry her, and one time I fell and, in an attempt to protect her, I didn’t catch my fall with my hands and fell HARD. I thought I had a concussion (or at least whiplash) and looked down to find a massive gash in my leg. It was kinda terrifying as you can imagine and both kids were freaked out (but still wanted to play, of course, because #kids). So that made that decision, and not because the kids couldn’t be taught to do this safely, but because this is a house that we’ll likely bring up friends and their kids so the danger and liability would stress me out (and this is a completely “stress-free” house). But, we wanted to utilize the above space because once up there, it was a cute finished attic with a window. More on that later, because today’s post is how we created the stairs, the oh-so-important reading nook, and make-shift closet.


Emily Henderson Lake House Floor Plan Second Floor Entire Floor Annotated 01 1


Emily Henderson Lake House Floor Plan Second Floor Entire Floor Annotated Changes 02 1

This room had the biggest walk-in closet ever. Oversized, actually, especially for a weekend cabin. That space was needed because we wanted to A. put in a stacking washer and dryer and B. build proper stairs to the attic playroom.

Emily Henderson Lake House Before 287 Copy 11

Emily Henderson Lake House Before 298 Copy 11

So we had to steal from the closet to do this, which many of you warned against but we don’t really use the kids’ closets at home for clothes and up at the mountain house, we’d need the closet even less as they’ll mostly be in casual clothes (i.e. no need to hang any of Charlie’s dress shirts or Birdie’s dresses). Sure, we need storage but a proper hanging closet would not trump the attic playroom.

As a reminder, here is what is happening in this room:

Emily Henderson Mountain Fixer Upper Second Level Kids Bunk Room Bunk Beds 02

On one side, we have their built-in bunk beds, which we wrote about here. Many of you made some very good suggestions on this design that we are considering, so stay tuned on that; we’ll do an update post with the suggestions from today, as well.

On the opposite wall are the stairs to the attic playroom and our nook.

Emily Henderson Mountain House Bunk Room Nook 06

If you are wondering why the windows are placed where they are, it’s because the lower roof line peaks like a triangle right there. Putting in natural light was crucial to us (in every room) and we worked with Marvin to maximize the light and function but this room was tricky. We will likely put a piece of furniture in between them to make it feel intentional and we all agreed that more light was more important. It doesn’t look like there is that much space in that angle, but there is a lot of clearance between the stairs and a piece of furniture that could fit in between those two windows.

As we demoed out, we saw this space in the wall that didn’t go all the way up so we couldn’t actually push the stairs, but it was enough space to do something with, surely.

Emily Henderson Mountain House Bunk Room Nook 01 1

For scale, here’s a photo of Velinda (left) and Julie sitting in the nook. These two, always doing what it takes to get the job done.

Emily Henderson Mountain House Bunk Room Nook 02 11

So obviously, it seemed the perfect place to put a little reading cave for two or more little humans (or two little humans and an adult). So Velinda took on the task of designing this nook and rendering it all out. We went through a few edits:


We went through a few options for wood cladding, stair detailing, pull-out storage, etc. At one point, the ceiling shape didn’t allow for a curtain, and I had to get that curtain in.

We landed here and I LOVE IT.

Emily Henderson Mountain House Bunk Room Nook 01

We took the stair railing floor-to-ceiling which is both mid-century and good for safety. It is in a 2×2 wood and, spaced out, it ends up being two per tread. While we haven’t settled on a carpet (although I do like this one) the stairs and this room will be carpeted for safety and softness.

To get to the nook, you kinda have to do a step up into it but once inside, Velinda really maximized it and tricked it out.

Emily Henderson Mountain House Bunk Room Nook 03

While the exact textiles aren’t chosen, we designed it to have a curtain track on the inside so that the kids can close it and feel like they are in a secret hangout. On one side, we have some built-in storage that has a closed cabinet at the bottom of it and shelves with our brass rod detail above.

Emily Henderson Mountain House Bunk Room Nook 05 2

We designed these narrow vertical cuts on the face of the cabinets, which is what we had planned for the kitchen cabinets but we ultimately rejected it because it would be harder to keep clean. The whole space is clad in our rough cedar tongue-and-groove, which was driven by the ceilings in the living room to help the whole house feel consistent and not like a brand new build.

Then, Velinda channeled her inner mischevious child and put in two secret drawers that look like unassuming shelves. IT’S SO MUCH FUN.

Emily Henderson Mountain House Bunk Room Nook 04 Final 2

These will be opened by a magnet “key” that will be installed nearby (think like a pediatrician’s office) and each kid will have their own treasure drawer.

Nook 7.17.18 Render 01 1

The space under the stairs is up for grabs and obviously an opportunity to bring in more storage.

On one side, we have some hanging storage for guests that are so inclined. We will also have a wardrobe in this room, but having this feature is also nice. We realize that if we Airbnb it out, we will have grownups in here and some “adults” put away their clothes while on vacation.

Emily Henderson Mountain House Bunk Room Nook 05 Grid 1

On the other side is room for suitcase storage and a shelf with a lip for T-shirts/pants and a top narrow shelf for socks and underwear. Velinda did a FANTASTIC job of really maximizing it in the smartest way possible.

Emily Henderson Mountain House Bunk Room Nook 03 Grid Copy 1

We are SO excited about this room and it’s definitely the one that we are furthest along on design-wise. We’ll need some furniture (dresser, and wardrobe) but otherwise it really doesn’t need much. I’m still on the hunt for perfect playful yet modern and fresh carpet for them, would LOVE some suggestions.

Here is the whole room in action so you can get a sense of how both built-ins exist in the same space.

Emily Henderson Mountain House Bunk Room Bunk And Nook Animation Final

Per usual, we’d love your suggestions if you have done anything like this. You guys are honestly SO helpful and we’ve found that we are tweaking the design of this whole house based on your suggestions so THANK YOU.


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73 thoughts on “The Mountain Fixer Upper: Bunk Room Reading Nook

  1. STUNNING! Seems like such a fun room. Just wondering if the cabinet doors actually open out into to the nook or if they open in, because they might be a little hard to open if they open into the nook, especially if there are a lot of people in there. Great job as usual!

    1. Yes the doors swinging out concerned me too. Wondering about utilizing sliding doors, though then obviously one would only have 1/2 access at a time and not be able to have something wide inside, i.e. certain games maybe.
      A Tambour door could be another possible answer, though I am not sure what size you can get them. I am working through this same challenge in a remodel for a client in a very small bathroom that has an in-wall storage area and no place for door.
      I am wondering if another curtain could actually be a very simple, charming solution. Love the secret drawers! All of it is super use of space and very special!

      1. OOh i love a tambour door. I think that the pillows and where you’d really lean is on the opposite side and I don’t think that they’ll be storing everyday things in there, not that you don’t want easy access. We’ll think about it though. thanks, Vicki and Ell.

      2. Or maybe just leave the bottom section open and throw a basket or bin in there to hold whatever needs to be stored. The doors don’t make sense to me. They seem in the way – and how much storage really needs to be available in the nook anyway?

        1. I like the idea of open shelving and baskets! Clean up will be a snap and I know that budget isn’t an issue on this, but all I could think of was “wow! What a waste of $$ for a hidden area with a curtain!”

          1. Whoa! I just re-read my post and it sounds so harsh on such a lovely design and space. My concern is that in may be more practical and easier on clean-up. This is what you want in a vacation home. I love the hidden drawers, but maybe open shelving above and below….

  2. So rad!

    The question I have is balancing built-in, customized features in a home versus furniture ie: ‘investments’ that can move with you and do not convey with the sale of the house. We live in a small row home in DC and to maximize space hiring a carpenter and making a built in feature is often the best way to go, but I am also getting nervous that we are making investments that are too specific to our lifestyle and needs, and also realizing if we were to ever move so many of my design decisions would convey with the house and we would be starting from scratch! Welcome any thoughts on how to strike the right balance.

    1. I’m not Emily, but I’d think that how long you personally plan to live in the space would be a huge deciding factor. If I were planning to live there for two years or less, I probably wouldn’t do built-ins, even very generic / flexible ones, because I wouldn’t get the value out of them for such a short period of time, nor would I hope to recover the cost during resale. However, if I were planning on staying put for five or ten years, then I’d definitely do it, because I’d get a quality of life boost that would be worth it to me.

      I’d also think that the amount of your disposable income would factor into it. If you have a lot of disposable income, then sure, go for it. I’d think that the quality of life increase would be equivalent to taking a fancy vacation, and thus worth it. Plus, if you have a lot of disposable income, then you can afford to “take the hit” when the stuff doesn’t move with you, and if future buyers don’t love it. But if you have less disposable income on hand, then I probably wouldn’t do it, or at least, I’d plan it out over the course a full year, so that I’d know that I wasn’t jumping into something that I didn’t really, realllllllly want.

      1. Yah, agree with Jess. This is obviously one of those things that we don’t NEED although I do think it will add value. I think we’ll be here for 10 years and I also want to challenge myself design wise and show interesting/clever solutions to spaces. I also don’t think that built-ins ever NOT add value to a house unless you are doing something SUPER specific. it’s the fastest/best way (although expensive) to make your house interesting architecturally. xx

    2. Also, I have found when moving that furniture that worked in the “old” house rarely works in the “new” house. This is really the case when moving from a small starter home to a larger family home: the volumes of space can be so different. Smaller scaled furniture, perfect in the starter home, often looks silly in the larger home.

      1. And, when you move in say 5 to 10 years, your family’s needs will be vastly different. Even two years brings big changes in how kids use spaces. While Emily’s nook is designed to be a hide out reading spot, later it may become the perfect spot to curl up with an iPad to finish up a school project over a long weekend. Later it may function as more of an additional closet with a simple dowel installed.

    3. Also, as someone who lives in DC, I think built-ins would absolutely add value to a row home because so many of them lack storage!

  3. This is so so amazing! I would be in there for hours with all my books, your kids are so lucky to have this space!!

    Question – what program do you use to create these renderings? Is it AutoCAD? I’ve been looking to learn/study a program like this. I just love how realistic and in depth you get the renderings!!

    Thx 🙂

    1. It’s sketchup that is then rendered in Podium. It takes skiils that I do not have but my design team is wonderful. xx

  4. So, so magical and amazing! Pretty sure I would choose this room. I’m curious about those pull-outs under the stairs. I assume it’s to help reach all that space… I’m having trouble visualizing the mechanism. Is it raised slightly on a track? Is that some secret builder source? Seriously, they both look genius inside. High five to Velinda!

    1. HA. I was going to ask Velinda that myself. I would think its on hidden wheels? Because I think the weight would be too much to just slide, but maybe its built like a drawer on tracks. TBD 🙂

      1. Drawer slides are crazy strong (if you get the right ones). You can get 200lb full extension drawer slides for under 20 bucks retail – even cheaper wholesale. There are even 500lb slides if you need them (trundle bed maybe?) although those are closer to $200 each.

  5. Gorgeous!! And SO thoughtful – the reading nook is so adorable and I’m so envious of all the built-in storage!

    Since you plan to add a wardrobe, maybe the space for hanging clothes in the left under-the-stairs pull-out cabinet is unnecessary? I’d rather have a mirror image of the right side cabinet (with narrow shelves and space to store suitcases) – If I was staying at this house as an Airbnb, I would LOVE the idea of being able to hide our suitcases away. Could also be a good place to store extra linens or pillows 🙂

    1. I agree with this! Especially since this is a bunk room where multiple people can stay I think it makes more sense to have another suitcase cubby, because that’s an AWESOME idea. The hanging storage can be added via a wardrobe.

    2. Yeah this is a great point. If you’re adding a wardrobe with hanging storage anyway, I’d revise the left side under-stair storage to be more versatile for pillows, luggage, etc. PS – this space looks amazing!

  6. I can’t wait to see if anyone suggests carpet in the comments! I’m so interested!

      1. What about Tambe by Stark? Or if you want to go all out, one of their box plaids like Brigade?

  7. That looks so cute, and the storge under the stairs is genius!
    I’m not so sure about the small cabinet doors in the nook, maybe just doing shelves would be easier to access?
    Other than that, I really love the plans for the room!

    1. The shelves would be like 6″, as the ceiling from below is really slanted, along the same lines as the stairs so it gets deeper higher where the top shelves are, but at the bottom of the cabinet its super shallow, maybe even 4″. That cabinet is really to help ground the shelves that are higher so they aren’t floating, but its not terribly functional before they are shallow. Maybe we’ll plug in a render of the cabinet doors open so you guys can understand. At least that was MY understanding 🙂

  8. SO COOL! So many fantastic kid features!

    How rough is the rough sawn cedar? Worried about splinters.

    1. So its the normal tongue and groove, but we are considering using the OTHER side that is just slightly rough because it will speak to the ceiling in the living room more, but honestly that is not set in stone and might change … 🙂

  9. SO GOOD. Just love it. Thank you for sharing your whole team’s expertise and creativity!!

    1. HA. no not this time. I can’t go anymore. it’s EIGHT HOURS so unless its a season that I’m dying or say I have friends in town its hard to commit that time right now. Our goal next season is to be one of the houses that throws ‘Bachelor’ parties and they come drop-in and shoot there. crossing fingers 🙂

      1. Oh that sounds so fun! There was a woman in the audience that was the spitting image of you! Maybe next year 🙂

        I love what you and the team are doing Emily!

  10. So awesome! When we bought a new house last year, there was an ugly office space built into a 3’x8′ niche at the end of the open living area. We ripped out the wraparound cabinets and laminate desktop, and I had the brainwave to make it a reading nook (I am a big reader and my 2 and 5 year old also love books). It’s not 100% done but it’s Stage 1 done and one of my favorite things about the house!

    My main thought here is to possibly convert the cabinet doors into either rolltop-desk style or open-and-slide-back-to-the-sides like you have in the kitchen. It’s a really small space and I’m just imagining the sibling squabbles about the other one being in the way when one kid is trying to get into the cupboard with the doors flapping around.

  11. This room is turning out to be SO beautiful and functional.

    I’ve never designed and used a nook with a curtain, but we did once put a curtain on my son’s lower bunk to give him some “space” from his little brother. It got SO hot in there with the curtain drawn, so the point that he never used it and it ended up being in the way, so we took it down. My suggestion is that you could try it, but don’t integrate it so heavily into the space that it can’t be removed if you run into the same trouble.

  12. Wow, this looks set to be a fabulous room! The combination of the wood, brass and painted cabinets looks really sophisticated, but fun and cozy at the same time. I could spend hours in that lovely reading nook… Quick question, are you planning on bringing in any brighter colours through accessories or will it be a more neutral colour palette? Either way, I can’t wait to see the end result!

  13. omg my inner kid who was a huge bookworm and introvert and loved to slip away and hide with a book loves that nook so much!

  14. These are so amazing! Kids (at least my kids) LOVE nooks, crannies, secret hideouts and places to put their treasures! They’re such little hoarders that way. I’m wondering about the little cabinet inside the nook. What about book storage there? Like narrow, front-cover facing out type book storage? It seem like it would be difficult to open and close a little cabinet there with the cushion in the way?
    Also, the first thing my kids would do is climb into the pull-out cabinets and demanded to get closed in there. Maybe put a little bell inside for them to ring if stuck? We did that with an under the stairs closet and it saved our bacon a few times when we genuinely couldn’t find the kid.

  15. I am wondering… you reduced the closet space in the Kids’ room because the existing one is huge. Understandable, and I would rather have extra floor space too! If you rent it out in the future, is there a closet within the home you could potentially lock? I ask because that’s when I’ve seen really large storage spaces in temporary rental homes before… in some cases the owners keep personal belongings in a large closet, locked, so that they have supplies they need when they stay there seasonally. (Think: snowbirds who live at the beach during the winter and rent out their home in the summer.) I suppose if you ever decided to Air B-n-B the house down the road, you could address that then. I’m just curious. I know the thought could be “we need smaller closets since this is a weekend home” but it could also be useful to have one large space somewhere that is lockable.

    1. Agree, we switch out a door handle in 1 closet in every house we’ve owned for a locking one- it’s just nice to have a space we can throw things in and not have to worry about kids/contractors/guests/cleaning people going into.

  16. I love this room and find it soooo cute! I have great memories of a cubby in a ski cabin and a caboose (it was attached on the outside of a summer cabin) and I think your kids will have so much fun in this room!!

    I would recommend the carpet you choose be consistent with the rest of the carpet upstairs assuming you are doing the hallways too. I personally can’t stand when carpet transitions from a hallway into the bedroom. If you are putting your hardwood down in the hallways, then let your fun carpet flag fly high! Maybe an oversized buffalo?

  17. That reading nook is the stuff of Dreams! As a reader it would definitely be my hang out of choice. I will say as an adult I have had to maximize my space and minimize my book collection. With that in mind I am obsessed with my Kindle. But I always forget to charge it so you find me in weird places sitting next to a plug just to finish that next chapter. With this in mind, do you think it would be possible to sneak in an outlet to help out a forgetful ebook reader? Just an idea. <3

  18. I would make one of those under-stairs pullouts a laundry basket (probably the smaller one). Line it with a large cloth drawstring bag and you can just pull it out and throw it in the car on your way home, if needed, or walk it to the washer dryer area. Also, easy for the kids to pick up their own dirty clothes.

    1. Great ideas and so many inspiring thought. Thank you and God bless for all of the sharing!

  19. Book nooks and window seats are my happy places. I have one pinterest board dedicated just to that! And I have a version of a window seat/book nook in my current home. On floor plans it’s shown as a dining area, part of the living room open to the rest on one side, full length windows on two walls and tall book case filled with favorite reads on the last side. I found a sectional couch that just perfectly fits like a built in. I’ve got the sun on my back in the winter, good reading light, a place to set a beverage, an outlet to recharge my kindle as needed and lots of lovely books.
    As a reader, I thoroughly approve of this post. And as a former kid, a secret hiding place? Even better! I’m a grandma who loves to play pirates with my grandson … I used to kidnap his stuffed puppy and leave a ransom note with the first clue and he would have to follow them all over the house and outside to finally rescue his “puppy” and find the pirate’s treasure (bag of pennies). I’d definitely use that nook as a major feature in the game.

  20. I LOVE the reading nook and I’m sure that the kids will love it! What a clever idea. Great little spot for a game of hide-n-seek

  21. Might I suggest on the wall opposite the cabinets, which I believe in another comment you said would be the pillows/leaning against wall, you put actual cushioned panels on the wall. It was be SO nice to have something fully padded at different heights to lean against, without having to finagle pillows behind your head, back, etc.

  22. I love love love what you do and say on all your posts! I was reading/looking at old posts about your backyard (last summer) and I have to ask you about the swing set. I figured out it must have been left with the house as it is featured in “before” pictures. I like the idea of swings set apart from the rest of a play area and I like the park like structure. Simple, less space etc. Do you have any idea how it was made?

  23. We have an old cabin (1880s ) that has to be closed up for the winter, because snow lol, and it has two bigger closets in one of the bedrooms, which means you hardly have room to walk around a full size bed. It’s so annoying and I’ve been trying to get my mom to take them out for years !! There isn’t even anything in there because of a few mice (linens and extra clothes have to be stored in trunks). It is nice to have rain coats and maybe some sweaters stored there only because i like packing really light, or you forget or you think you won’t need one. That’s been our experience with cabin closets 🙂

  24. Love love love reading nooks – they are the best. Agree with other comments about securing some upholstered cushions to the walls. Also the rough sawn cedar concerns me only for ‘clothing slidability’ on the wall. Its never fun when the clothes you are wearing ‘stick’ to the wall…

  25. Depending on the strength of the magnet key, it could wipe off harddrives on laptops. Ask me how I know…

  26. Carpet – eww. With 7 children and a few inside dogs over the years, I have cleaned throw-up off carpeted stairs and carpeted rooms to last 3 lifetimes. I would never put carpet in another room again, nor on the stairs. An area rug in the room that can be tossed after, say, the 10th virus is much less laborious and expensive than replacing an entire room of carpet…and people (especially non-home owners) will wear sandy, muddy, dirty shoes all over the home b/c it isn’t theirs and they are on vaca and blah, blah, blah. You will regret the carpet. Now for the stairs….I’m still anti-carpet, but I totally get the safety factor. Falls hurt, but kids seem to break fewer bones on stairs falls than adults do anyway, so once again, survival of the fittest! 🙂

  27. What a great idea for that space. My kids would LOVE this and it has given me inspiration for their closet. I really like that there are cupboard doors in there even if they are not the most functional or easy to use while sitting. My kids love to open and close things so I saw it as a benefit.

  28. I am concerned about the window at the base of the stairs. If kids slide/race/fall down the stairs won’t they hit that window?

  29. This is so fun! That little nook is the best thing I’ve seen in a long time. Love it and can’t wait to see it come to life!

  30. What about something like a wedge-shaped pillow with maybe a couple of small decorative pillows instead of a few loose cushions? When reading in a spot like this one a bigger more structural pillow will provide support and not keep slipping and sliding when you shift positions like a group of cushions will.

  31. I absolutely love this reading nook and, more importantly, I think your kids will love it too! My only concern is the light fixture. With an exposed bulb, I worry about the heat from the bulb messing with somebody’s hair. Do they make LED bulbs in the Edison style? Otherwise, I would probably put in a fixture with a shade to protect the little ones. So excited to see this when it’s finished!

  32. So much fun! My family had a beach house growing up and on either side of the stairs going to the second level there were two little alcoves just like that! Not tricked out like yours but the PERFECT Hide ‘n Seek spots!

    What about recessed pockets in the wall under the nook that could act as a “ladder?” I’m thinking that could be really cool and easier to access for the little kids…

  33. Have you considered perhaps doing a fabric/padded wall to the right, where you’d really be leaning for story and snuggle time? My cousins live in fancy old apartments in Paris and almost everyone “wallpapers” with gorgeous fabric, and thick batting underneath. I suppose it helps to keep drafts out, but to me it always makes spaces so much cozier. You could really beef up the batting underneath the fabric on the right wall so that it’s a space that really begs for snuggles. Also:If it were me I would really want lighting on that right side, interior wall as well.

    I LOVE this nook and especially love the way you’ve designed the storage for underneath the stairs. So exciting!

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