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Special Needs Beds

©2007 by Charles A. Plesums, Austin, Texas, USA

What happens when a child or adult with disabilities grows too large for a traditional special needs bed? When you find them tangled in the safety rails, or hanging over the edge? No different than with any other person - you get a bigger bed. In these pictures, provided by his parents, Joel tests his new queen size bed.

This bed has some neat features suggested by his parents... it has a bookcase for a headboard (with the lower shelf about 6 inches above the mattress so it is accessible from inside the bed), side rails on both sides, and a bookcase as a footboard. There is 18 inches clear height under the bed, so the existing trundle bed could be stored there, bringing the mattress to about 30 inches above the floor. The primary wood is solid red oak and red oak furniture grade plywood.

Joel enjoys his new queen size bed 28
The sides can be lowered on the bed 31

When up, the rails are inside the head and foot of the bed for support. The rails are designed to stay up by themselves, or a safety pin can be inserted to "lock" the rails up (see the picture above, at the foot of the bed). To lower the rails, the upper rail is pushed towards the head, and they pivot down below the mattress level, and into the bookcase at the head. Rails are provided on both sides of the bed, and operate independently... here one set is down, and the far side is still up.

The foot board consists of this bookcase with adjustable shelves, but the back and center divider of the bookcase are designed to take the load of the bed. The "foundation" of the bed is a high strength "torsion box" that supports the mattress directly, without a separate box spring set.

As shown, with head and foot bookcases, in Red Oak, $2,300 plus delivery
With simple foot and smaller head bookcase, in Red Oak, $1,900 plus delivery

Warning: This bed is heavy, and the queen size bed is very large. The bed foundation (the box that holds the mattress and side rails) did not fit on an elevator at a Galveston condo, and did not fit up the condo staircase. It had to be lifted by ropes, up the outside of the building. It can be delivered locally in a full size pick up truck, but I do not recommend long distance moving without a commercial mover.

After using the first bed since 2007, the family came back for another similar bed in 2012 - the one with a smaller footboard instead of a foot bookcase, and with a smaller headboard, for use in their condo. This picture was taken on our back deck where the final finishing and assembly was done, before it was delivered by rope, up the outside of their high rise condo.

Construction details.

This design can be adapted for any size bed, including custom sizes. In this case a queen size mattress was used, 60 inches wide and 80 inches long. The 3 inch thick foundation has sides that provide a "box" to hold the mattress, about 62 by 82 inches, giving room to tuck sheets and blankets under the edge of the mattress. (The 3 rail supports on each side take part of this space). The width of the two rails (3 inches each in this case) plus the height of the sides, above the foundation, should be just less than the thickness of the mattress, so that the rails are just below the surface of the mattress when lowered. This bed is designed for a mattress about 12 inches thick, a common thickness, but some of the new mattresses are dramatically thicker, and would require some adjustments to the design. The side rails of the mattress box extend beyond the head of the mattress, to fit in supports inside the headboard/bookcase. Thus the mattress box is a total of 8 feet long.

The bookcase at the head has special slots to receive the rails as they are lowered, which requires that the bookcase be at least 15 inches deep. The height of the lower shelf can be determined by the needs of the user - taller if desired to lean against with a pillow, or shorter so the user can reach the contents of the shelf when lying flat in bed, but in any case, must be above the rails when up. That lower shelf supports the "headboard" and the sides of the slot where the rails move when lowered. Think of it as a box hung from the bottom of the lower shelf.

The top of the bookcase provides stability to the sides. The second shelf, in addition to the top of the head-end bookcase is optional - in this case the head unit is about 56 inches tall. The very long shelves at the head are not adjustable because of the support required. The back of the bookcase is attached to the shelf to provide support.

The bookcase at the foot is about 37 inches high and 14 inches deep - only an inch or two above the rails when up, but not so high that it blocks the view from the bed. If no bookcase is required at the foot, sides must still be provided (perhaps 3 inches deep), with a plywood rectangle to provide lateral stiffness and from which the mattress box can be mounted. Those sides come ahead of the mattress box by an inch or two, to support the rails when up.

The bed could be built very close to the floor, or with the traditional 7-8 inches clearance under the bed (which would leave the top of the mattress about 22-23 inches high since a box spring is not normally required), or higher so the top of the mattress could be at the normal bed height (28 to 30 inches), or even taller. This bed was built with 15 inches clearance to allow a trundle bed to be stored under the bed; the family found this height very desirable.

Mounting the rails is a technology challenge. These rails are 3 inches wide, with three inches between the rails (and below the lower rail). The side supports are therefore 15 inches long. For each support, the first screw (with washer between the rail and support) is in the center of the middle (lower) rail and the center of the support. The second screw is towards the foot of the bed, about ¾ inch from the center of the support. The bottom screw, into the mattress box, will be the same ¾ inch distance from the center of the support but towards the head. Why? So that when the rails are up, they naturally stay up - offsetting the screws slightly makes them balance with the supports vertical. To keep the supports from sticking above the rail when down, the top and bottom screws are about ¾ inch from the end of the support and from the side of the rail.

The wood can be selected to match other furniture in the home... cherry, pecan, walnut, maple, oak, or any of the other furniture wood choices.

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©2007 by Charles A. Plesums, Austin, Texas USA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

We primarily serve Austin and the Central Texas area, but travel to the DFW area periodically and are glad to serve the Garland, Plano, Dallas, and other North Texas areas, and are willing to ship anywhere.