Design & DIY

Dad builds incredible tree fort-inspired bunk bed

Matt Burley’s daughter Piper turns five this month. Part of turning five for Piper means moving into a bigger, newer bedroom—her younger sister, Paisley, is taking over her old room. That can be a daunting experience for a soon-to-be five-year-old, so Burley wanted to help smooth the transition.

“We decided to do something special for her,” he says. When Burley asked Piper what she’d like for her birthday, Piper said she really liked forts. The one issue with that, Burley says, is “being in Canada, you have winter, and it’s kind of hard to spend outdoors in a fort in the winter. So, I wanted to try to incorporate it into something special in her room.”

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Incorporate it he did. From scratch, Burley built a tree-fort inspired bunk bed with a climbing wall, glow-in-the-dark ladder, colouring space, built-in phone chargers, and LED lights—not to mention two beds. “I just started planning and next thing you know, I got carried away,” Burley admits.

The entire structure is slightly larger than four-by-eight feet and is built in sections with each section being removable. “That way, down the road, if she wants when she gets older, we can change it a little bit,” Burley says.

Burley started by building the structure of the bunk bed. He attached it to the wall and floor for stability but adds that if you were to remove a dozen screws and the four pieces that hold it to the floor, the entire structure could slide away from the wall.

To build it, he used mostly standard spruce. With wood prices skyrocketing, he avoided using expensive wood, but still managed to mix in some cedar four by fours. To give the bunk bed fort a uniform look, he used a dark walnut stain and a clear coat.

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For much of the build, Burley worked in the backyard, cutting the wood with a handsaw after the girls had gone to sleep. Partly because a handsaw is quieter and partly because it rained most of the week, preventing him from using his power tools. “It was a lot of work,” Burley laughs.

Despite working on it after the girls went to sleep, the bed was not a surprise. Piper watched as each section was assembled in the new bedroom. But Burley says Piper couldn’t quite wrap her head around the final picture. “She just saw it as bunk beds, cool.”

Burley created space for a single bed up top, where friends, cousins, or Paisley could sleep. He added a double bed down below for Piper. Other additions followed, like the rock wall that leads up to the single bed. To make it secure, Burley pressure fit the wall to the floor and the edge of the structure and then screwed it into place.

At the base of the single bed, Burley added a platform with a window overlooking the room where the girls can sit and colour. To create a textured look on the window’s shutters and flower box, Burley used a Japanese wood-burning technique called Shou sugi ban. “I just burned [the wood] to the point where it started to look like crocodile skin,” he says. “Then you let it cool down and you put on a clear coat. In this case, I used a matte finish clear coat.”

While Burley did indulge in the design of the bed, safety was his top priority. He wanted to make sure the structure was as stable as possible. “I typically end up being called Captain Overkill,” he says. “I put another 10 screws more than you need to and make it a little bit stronger than it needs to be.”

Overkill is right. The whole family could play on the bunk bed. According to Burley, the upper platform can support up to 500 pounds. He also used overlapping boards to ensure there were no exposed screws. He even added grip tape to the ladder that glows in the dark in case Piper gets up in the middle of the night.

In total, the bunk bed took approximately 25 hours to complete with Burley working on the weekend and in the evenings. Materials for the structure cost around $1,000, but Burley adds, “that’s with wood prices going up 40 per cent from last spring to now.”

Piper has yet to sleep in the bed—Burley plans to add some finishing touches to the room, like a paint job—but he says she’s already eager to hang out in the fort.

For Burley, it’s been satisfying watching Piper’s excitement, but the build was also an ode to his father. “Over the years, my dad taught me how to do stuff by working on projects with him.” When Burley and his brother were kids, their father built them their own tree fort in the backyard, a project that inspired this one. “My dad used to always say, it’s not what you buy, it’s what you build.”

We can’t wait to see what he builds for Piper’s sixth birthday.

Looking for more fun projects for kids? Cottage Coach Adam Holman will be showing you how to build a kids’ picnic table at the Spring Virtual Cottage Life & Outdoor Living Show, March 26–28, 2021. Attendance is free, click here to register.

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