Is this a bedroom?

The majority of my clients are in the Portland Metro area and many of them have older homes. I’m typically working with them to add on, convert or maximize. In a few recent projects, we have had some deeper conversations about what makes a bedroom. One such project was a basement-to-ADU conversion. The homeowner wants a full-time rentable unit and in order to maximize the space, we ended up with a nicely sized primary bedroom with a full closet and then a secondary room that was really quite tiny. It is so tiny that putting in a closet would not only make the leftover space way too cramped, but the closet would have been so small that functionally it would have been terrible. So, after much discussion…we left it out. The question: does this small room without a closet count as a bedroom? What is a bedroom?

Local Codes & Minimum Dimensions

When thinking about bedrooms, you need to have a good idea of what local code requires of bedrooms and then what you want and need from the space in order to function. When I’m designing a new bedroom, I first try to fit it with a minimum dimension of 10’x10′ to start. For some homes, this might seem small. For others, this seems quite generous! For a primary bedroom with a king size bed? Too small. For a secondary room with a queen or double bed? Absolutely do-able and standard. For a kids bedroom, nursery or guest room? It’s a great size. But what does the code require?

Portland has a few size requirements for sleeping rooms and habitable rooms. 1 – Parallel walls need to be a minimum of 7′-0″ from each other. Seem narrow? It is! However, for a single person or child with a twin bed or a nursery with a crib or a room used for an office and only occasionally as a sleeping space – it can work. 2 – The floor area needs to be a minimum of 70 square feet. So, 7’x10′? Yep, that could be a bedroom!


What about those closets? Is it a bedroom without a closet? There’s definitely a philosophical question in there but in terms of code and in terms of tax assessment a closet is not required to make a bedroom and in terms of tax, the presence or lack of a closet does not make or unmake a bedroom. Weird, right? As always, if you are concerned about how a remodel or addition will affect your taxes, you can contact your local tax authority and request an assessment of your project ahead of time.

Egress & Exiting from Sleeping Spaces

One last thing, any sleeping space must have an acceptable method of egress (exit) in case of fire or emergency. This can be a door or a window but it must meet the minimum requirements for egress as defined by code. When we are working in basements (below grade) or attics (sloped ceilings) this can sometimes be a challenge due to the size requirements for egress. Can’t fit egress? Better to use that space as an office, craft space, media room or storage.

Hooks & Trunks

Back to that tiny room in the Basement ADU project. Here’s the floorplan with a twin bed and minimal furniture arrangement shown:

It doesn’t have a closet, it’s an odd shape but it meets the minimum requirements for sleeping spaces in width and total floor area and it does have an egress window. So, before we commit to this as a bedroom we need to think about who is going to rent this unit and how will they use this space? Will it be a person who needs two full-size bedrooms? The total size of the ADU is about 750 square feet. It has a large primary bedroom with a 9′ wide closet (amazing). It has an open kitchen/dining/living area that is sizable but has a studio feel to it. It has a full bathroom and a storage room. Odds are, this is going to be shared by a couple or used by a single person. It could also be a single parent and child. The secondary space is just as likely to function as an office, a studio, a workout room, a guest space, or storage, as it is to function as a true, full-use secondary bedroom. For every use of that space other than as a bedroom, a closet is not necessarily a needed or welcome amenity. And for a small child, a dresser and some bins and you’re good to go.

• • •

These are just a few things to think about if you are evaluating a tricky space and trying to determine whether it is or ought to be a bedroom. If a built-in closet makes the space awkward to use, consider if you need one. If you aren’t sure how the space will be used over time, consider that you or a future owner can always put in a wardrobe (flexibility, can go where it’s needed depending on other furniture) or an open closet using a mix-and-match closet system (Container Store, IKEA, Home Depot & Lowes all have versions). Wondering why your 1910 home has no closets? They had fewer clothes, to be sure, but they also used hooks and trunks. If the room is only occasionally used as a bedroom, consider borrowing a tip from history and installing a gorgeous set of wall hooks and a lovely dresser.

For more inspiration, check out my Small Bedroom Spaces Pinterest board for some cozy bedrooms and open storage solutions.