Build a Bed for Cheap (and Look Good Doing It)

Photo: jm3 / Flickr

Without a doubt, there are some components to today's beds that are just unnecessary. I see things like elaborate canopies or ornate sleigh beds and think, "Cool, but not me." Perhaps it is the price tag they bear (or the fact that in any given 3-month period a toddler will vomit in it) that keeps me from considering anything beyond my immediate needs. I think that most can agree on the core parts of a functioning bed. (See also: Build Your Own Furniture: 9 Helpful Tips for Non-Carpenters)

The Mattress

While you can get a little creative with the makeup of your mattress, for budget's sake, it's not always prudent. Today's mattresses have really come a long way, and offer everything from organic, memory foam, pillow-top, extra-firm, and air-filled models. A great way to save money, space, and delivery hassle is to invest in an all-in-one mattress (one that requires no additional box-spring, and uses slats in the bed frame to keep everything supported.) You can pick the mattress size that suits your lifestyle, but remember that bigger is always more expensive (and this includes an increase in frame, sheets, and covering costs, as well). If you can get away with a double or queen, it can save you a lot in the long run over the cost of that coveted California King (which wouldn't even fit in most doorways of my home.)

Eco-friendly options are hitting the markets by the gaggle, offering everything from recycled components and organic coverings to their consumers. A recent trip to Keetsa in San Francisco turned out to be a very enlightening stop for me. The mattress (while not claiming to totally eliminate the petroleum problem of memory foam) did make use of recycled materials and tea leaf extracts to counter some of the waste and toxicity. The best perks of the product was that it was uber-comfortable, and had a unique form of odor control (all-natural, of course). While not the cheapest on the market, they were reasonable, and with free shipping to your door, I could see myself as a customer. (And don't even get me started on their ingenious method of vacuum-compressing the mattresses into a box that you can carry home on the public transit systems.) Check Yelp for a look at over 50 reviews on this very shoppable store.

The Frame

Unless you plan on convincing your friends that minimalist is best, putting your mattress on a frame is a must. (I won't even go into all the problems that can occur from allowing your mattress to rest directly on the floor — bugs are enough of a mention for me.) Frames don't have to be fancy, and some of the most functional and attractive models have come from the collection at IKEA. You can build a frame yourself (check out super-easy instructions for a platform or a simple wooden frame ), but if you can part with $200-250, you can get one ready-made to match any décor.

Simple box-like frames with clean lines will cost you the least, and they will allow for you to get a little creative with your headboard choices. (They also take up much less room than sleigh beds or elaborate frames with storage systems.) Keetsa (mentioned above) also offers a bed frame that folds in half for easy storage and transportation (and it's made from recycled metals). You may find a daybed frame or super-sturdy futon frame can also meet your needs.

The Head and Footboards

I never had headboards on my beds. Space almost never allowed it, and I found them to be more trouble and expense than they were worth. Since doing my recent bed-shopping experience, however, I've been convinced that there may be a headboard out there for me (although I'm still convinced that a nice cedar chest or ottoman makes the best foot furnishings).

If you decide to go with a headboard, simple will cost you less. Try to avoid anything covered in cloth (unless you are a very, very neat person). With three drooling toddlers and a proclivity towards bed rest with each pregnancy, I find that the less porous surfaces are better. Easy cleaning and maintenance leave them looking better, longer.

Very clever individuals can avoid commercial headboards altogether, using creative juices to mount most any solid, attractive, or personal object directly to the wall (just behind where the bed will be). I've seen surfboards, vehicle grills, and canvas paintings used at the "head" of various beds — all giving off a sense of style that just can't be manufactured in an offshore furniture assembly plant.


Blankets, sheets, duvets (and duvet-covers), shams, comforters, quilts, and the like can really make a bed the place to come home to. Buying new isn't always necessary (I love picking up handmade quilts at auctions and flea markets), but layering is helpful to regulate temperatures in areas where hot vs. cold is an hourly battle. Styles can change as often as you wash your bedding, so go bold and pick something that says, "This is your room!"

Do you have a bed that screams who you are? Or do you prefer to crash anywhere (including your best friend's couch?) Let us know what you've done, where you shop, and how you've kept it under budget. I'd love to hear from you!

(And thank you, Roger, for sharing 6 hours of bed-shopping fun with me in San Francisco — next time, let's shop online.)

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Build a Bed for Cheap (and Look Good Doing It)

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Guest's picture

Ha my dad always made my bed frames. Honestly 4 pieces of 4x8's with simple hinges to open doors and hide things underneath might not even come to $200. Just make the size with the 4x8's and I think he used something that looked like wall molding, but obviously a lot thicker, all around the inside to keep the bed up. From there you can just throw down a slab of plywood for a harder feel. Plus since it's simple wood so I never mind it with my cat claws it up.

Guest's picture

A couple of years ago, my wife found a piece of old wooden fence in our back yard. We cleaned it up, painted it white, and now it's our headboard. I have to say, it looks downright handsome!

Linsey Knerl's picture

I did read where someone used trellis and some white picket fencing for a charming country-look headboard!  I'm always amazed at other's very simple (but effective) ideas.  Thanks!


Andrea Karim's picture

My sister had big plans to make a headboard out of an antique garage door (which was much smaller than today's garage doors). She never did get around to it, but it would have been ultra cool and shabby chic to boot.

Guest's picture
K. P.

I don't know about a bed but I have made some very odd/unique decorative pieces for my house.

Guest's picture

I stayed in an apartment for 6 months where I only had my mattress on the floor (no boxspring even), and I will never ever ever do that again.

In fact, when I had to purchase a mattress about 2 months ago, I spared no expense and ended up spending almost $500 on a mattress to put on my free frame, but it is worth it for a good night's sleep...

Guest's picture

For my bed setup I went with a Bookshelf bed
see here
(note: I only picked up the bed and none of the extras in there pic).
I needed a complete bed set and really couldn’t retrofit an old bed to do the same as this (even though you could)
What’s great about this bed is that it is a bookcase/ dresser / box spring / lamp all in one piece.
All you need after the bed is the mattress, which any queen size mattress will do.
The shelves I have work great as a dresser, the bed has built in lighting for night reading, and shelves on the top for misc things.
Its one of the best investments I've bought!

Guest's picture

My husband built our bed. It wasn't cheap, but it wasn't built to be. It's made of cherry, king-size, and breaks down into four separate pieces - headboard, footboard, and sides - so it can be moved. It fits a standard king-size mattress. It uses wooden slats on the bottom to hold the mattress in place (with a center rail between the headboard and footboard). We don't use a box spring.

Our bed is beautiful. It took him several weeks to design and build, and we slept on a mattress on the floor until it was done. He's since built cherry nightstands to match. We expect this furniture to be around long after we're gone.

I think a similar bed (not including the mattress) at retail would have been several thousand dollars. Ours cost about $750 for materials.

Guest's picture

I built a queen-size platform bed for my wife and myself when we moved into a basement apartment in Washington, DC because our boxspring wouldn't fit down the steps.


i had to build it in two pieces so we could just assemble it with a few screws once we got it inside. I think i used 2x8's for the whole thing, although i would probably recommend against that to anyone else. it was HEAVY. I'm not much of a builder so I didn't know any better.  on the plus side, it's more stable than just about every bed i've been on.


here's a few pics. however, i did totally forget to take pictures of it when it was finished. it has yet to be sanded down and given a finish; i'll let my wife handle do that when she's ready.


in any case, it was fun to build, we both like it, and it's strong and cheap. i was satisfied.

Linsey Knerl's picture

These are really inspiring stories!  I especially appreciate the photos.  It helps me to picture what I might do in the future (and who know Wise Bread readers were so crafty?)

Guest's picture
Debbie M

I have a simple storebought frame that from the outside looks sort of like the one in the picture only less rustic. I mostly like having a frame so that I can slide things under the bed.

And then for a headboard I have a bookcase. I literally just pushed the bed against a bookcase that was (almost) as wide as the bed. This does make the bed stick out further into the room, but it saves wall space because we don't need bedside tables.

The disadvantage of using an actual bookcase instead of a bookcase headboard is that your pillow might slide into the shelves and then you're more likely to hit your head. So I put boxes on the relevant shelves to keep that from happening. The advantage is that underneath the bed, you have more shelves and thus more places to store things that you don't need to get to very often. Just pull the bed out and reach down to get it. You can also store things in the boxes if you do it right (which I still haven't: for a good size and rigidity, I taped three Amazon book boxes together for use behind each pillow).

Another disadvantage is that the wood from the bookcase part and the wood from the bed frame part don't match exactly. I don't mind. Neither of those woods match our dressers, the tie rack, any picture frames, etc. But all wood looks good together, right? Like in an old forest?

Guest's picture

Why buy or build a new bedframe when there are so many homeless old bedframes being set out to the curb or sold at yard sales for next to nothing? Most older bedframes are full, not queen, but if you buy the longer "queen" bedrails (you can pick them up at Building 19 as cheap as $25) then put 2x4's between the slats every few feet, you can put your queen box spring/mattress set on them with only 3" overhang on each side (or, you can purchase a full-to-queen conversion frame for around $125 to do the same thing, but why spend the money?). Or, if you have a king-sized mattress, search for matching twin bedframes and put them side-by-side to make a king (the mattress will come about 1.5 inches short of the boxspring on each side, but with the blankets on you won't notice). Most older bedframes have squeaks or loose spots which can easily be fixed with wood glue and/or by putting a 35-cent carriage bolt or "L" bracket to firm things up. My grandfather taught me to refinish antiques, so my most of my dump dive bed frames look gorgeous, don't squeak, and match dump dive bureaus I refinished to match, but I have no qualms about sneaking in a squirt of glue and a cheap L-bracket to tide me over a few years until I get around to refinishing everything.

Guest's picture

When you share your room and your bed, it's very hard to 'go bold' but I do love your photo of the homemade bed frame. I think our next matress will definately be a combo one- the whole box spring deal is just way too over rated for me these days. Plus a pain in the butt to move!


Guest's picture
Guest teri

I needed a bed frame for a sleep number I ordered, passed on the plastic box foundation for $450. yikes
John M.'s bed was the best ex. I found alllllll over the net search. I have a tiny room so simple was the plan, I didn't need the head board cause I painted a mural of Bermuda behind the bed.
If It stops raining I'll get started. I got all the materials to build a king size bed for free because of a gift certif. for Home Depot I lost and found again for $100. All the wood and hard ware cost $85. I got free partical board from a construction sight, they gave me. Still have to buy stain. So except for the matress. and sweat labor. .. its free.... thanks for the plan.

Myscha Theriault's picture

This is definitely about to come in handy for us, Linsey.

When we left Arizona, we got rid of our hold queen matress and kept only the full size mattress and frame for the guest room, and the twin mattress for the daybed we wanted to buy when we got to the new place.

And of course, the queen bed we had at the lake house got toasted in the flood. With everything we have been through, we are thinking of going ahead and splurging on a king when we find a place.

That being said, we are definitely going to pinch the pennies where we can, looking for sheets on sale, trying out your suggestion of finding ways to skip the box spring, etc.

Most of our tools (but not all) are in the military storage shipment that's still in Arizona, so I don't know that building a bed frame will be in the cards. But . . . I'm going to check out the mattress company you recommended and start looking around for king bed frame options, hopefully something with storage underneath, since I'm sure we'll end up with at least a slightly smaller home.

Guest's picture
Bob L.

I like the sturdiness of this bed so I made one like it but I took it one step further by adding some pull-out storage drawers underneath. I came across several ideas on this page: and just ran with it. Now, I have a place for all my clothes and other crap and couldn't be happier!


Guest's picture

I promised my girlfriend when I moved in with her that I would make her a bed frame instead of shopping for one. I insisted I could make it very well and cheaper than buying it. We also both like the notion of recycling and minimising our carbon footprints, etc. I then went further and suggested I only make it from wood found near our apartment, and transported on bicycle. She was doubtful I could do it. I also thought I had overstepped. can imagine my joy when this afternoon I found lying outside a perfectly great queen size bed frame made of wood. Great! She isn't home yet but pretty sure she'll be impressed!!

Guest's picture

I did build my own bed since i am overweight.
It was a real fun but that was a long time ago.
I do not have the tools and the space anymore to do that.
I got my son's bed from a link i found at

Guest's picture

any chance you could email me the parts list? im a beginner carpenter and am looking to build a simple frame for my king sized bed. yours looks good for what i want to do minus the headboard.

i checked out your flickr, but only saw pictures of things half put together but did not see anything that would give me a rough idea on what lumber you had used, thickness, length, ect ect.

jerkius@gmail if you dont mind, thanks!

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Guest's picture
Eric Thomas

I neen to build a king bed because my 3 tear old has canser and hase to sleep with us. So I was looking I cold do myself.

Guest's picture

Does anyone happen to know the species of wood used for the frame in the picture? Thank you.

Guest's picture

I built my own bed with a set of plans I found on the Internet. I didn't save any cash doing it. If you don't already have the tools you will need it gets very expensive very quickly. Furniture building isn't as easy as a lot of DIY and frugality articles would have you believe.