A bed chosen with care can provide years of comfort and become an enticing focal point in any bedroom. Find out how to choose a bed for a good night’s sleep, without compromising style.
How to choose a bed:
Throughout history, beds have been a feature of everyday life. As you might expect, the wealthy citizens of ancient Egypt and Rome possessed some grand examples, but it was not only the rich who were afforded the privilege of a bed. Examples found in a preserved village in northern Scotland, which were raised boxes made of stone – hopefully topped with comfortable fillers – were dated between 3,200 and 2,200 BCE.
Today, with constantly developing technology and our understanding of the importance of sleep deepening, consumers face greater choice when it comes to the vital task of choosing the right bed base and mattress. It is not just a case of comfort either – the look of the bed, size, storage capabilities and, of course, cost also play a role. Frequency of use is another issue – will it be a refuge at the end of each day or just for occasional guests, each could influence your decision.
Often referred to as the most vital part of a bed, the mattress is ultimately responsible for comfort, supporting the body and regulating temperature. Early mattresses consisted of readily available materials such as wool, straw, feathers or horsehair often enclosed in sacking or rough cotton sleeve but, thanks to developing technology and mass production, the 1900s saw the emergence of the first sprung design. Most mattress structures are either sprung or made from materials such as latex, viscoelastic or polyurethane foams. There are various sprung systems available each offering their own benefits.
Open-coil or box-spring mattresses are the most commonly found and the most economic option. Consisting of a grid of springs, all linked together, they spread body weight evenly across the surface with a reinforcing border rod or wire edging and machine-stitched sides.
Pocket-sprung designs emerged in the 1930s with smaller springs housed in a series of individual fabric pockets. These enable the mattress to mould around the body more effectively – making it ideal if there is a marked size difference between sleeping partners as it reduces the possibility of rolling into each other. Most manufacturers offer a variety of tensions created by using different combinations of fibres and by increasing the number and concentration of springs; the higher the number of springs, the greater the support. Look out for a design with hand-stitched sides for ultimate strength, craftsmanship and quality. Viscoelastic, also known as ‘memory foam’, is an increasingly popular choice. The material was developed in the 1960s for NASA to improve the safety of aircraft cushions. This innovative material responds to body heat and accurately moulds and re-moulds to contours providing maximum support. It is recognised to relieve stress on joints and muscles and encourage circulation. Its hypoallergenic properties also help deter microbes (unlike natural fillers) making it perfect for asthma suffers or children.
The quality of the materials in which the springs are wrapped in is another crucial consideration. Materials frequently used include horsehair, cotton, flax, bamboo and wool, and each has its benefits, as James Newall, showroom manager of Hästens in Fitzrovia, London highlights: “Natural materials absorb moisture, allow ventilation, keep perspiration at bay and can regulate the body temperature throughout the night. A natural Hästens bed provides its owner with an ideal sleeping environment that results in a deep and comfortable sleep for many years to come.”
The finishing of a mattress is a good indication of the quality of filling and the support it will provide. Quilted top mattresses tend to be machine sewn with the stitching penetrating only into the top layer of filling. Buttoned mattresses are often worked by hand with the thread running through the entire depth of the filling, and springs pulling the construction together, thereby increasing tension and life expectancy.
Add an extra layer
A mattress topper will bring extra support, warmth and a feeling of luxury to your bed, but this is not a cheap alternative to an underperforming mattress. Toppers are available in a selection of materials including goose feather and down, quilted cotton, wool and hollow fibre polyester. As well as adding comfort, they will protect and extend the life of your mattress, and can often be machine washed.
Size is all important when it comes to a good night’s sleep. Generally, the more room available to move, the greater one’s chances of having a good quality, uninterrupted night’s sleep. As a guide, bed specialist Feather & Black recommends that the mattress should be at least 10cm longer than your height, and wide enough to contain elbows when lying on your back with your arms resting alongside your body. Jessica Alexander of The Sleep Council – the UK’s leading authority on the nation’s sleeping habits – also adds: “The fact is that standard-size double beds are probably better suited to people sleeping alone than they are for couples. The average-sized double bed is only 135cm wide, which gives each person just the same amount of room as a baby in a cot.”
Originating in the Middle Ages, when home-dwellers began raising their primitive mattresses on top of wooden benches, bedsteads are simply a raised frame – usually metal or wooden – with a hard base that supports a softer mattress. Designed with legs, a headboard and often a footboard, they come in a huge array of styles from intricate wrought iron to curvaceous timber sleighs and are perfect for making a decorative statement.
Be sure to consider the impact a chosen bedstead will have on the look of a room, and bear in mind there are some simple tricks that can be employed, too. A bedstead with a tall head- and footboard will always appear dominant and much larger than the same design with a lower footboard; take this into account if the room is small. Similarly, a solid timber sleigh design will be more imposing than a delicate iron bed frame, which allows light to flood through. Four-poster beds instantly add height and drama to a space and introduce a feeling of warmth, too, which is useful for larger spaces. Low-level models are handy in smaller boxy environs.
Upholstered bed frames are particularly popular at present offering an opportunity to co-ordinate the bed with room décor and create a cosy soft look. Opt for clean lines complemented by plain fabrics and simple detailing, such as piping, for a tailored hotel-smart feel, or patterned toile and tapering headboard for a softer French mood.
Just as the decorative style of each chosen bed varies, so does the base. A ‘bowed’ or ‘sprung’ slatted type will offer greater comfort and cushioning than any fixed slat or solid-base design.
Antique bed frames
Falling in love with an antique bedstead can be a great way to bring a unique focal point, rich in heritage, into the bedroom. However, careful research and consideration and the advice of a specialist are essential. A local antiques dealer or auction room can be a useful starting point. Consider what a chosen bed frame can offer in terms of comfort and support and whether these qualities can be improved without compromising on the design. It is also worth seeking advice on the weight-bearing capabilities of the chosen frame. On average we are taller and heavier today than in previous generations. Also, take into account the weight of the mattress. Modern standard mattresses are rarely a perfect fit so consider opting for a bespoke product, such as that offered by Cocketts Mattresses. Finally, ornate bed frames can often require skilled restoration, especially if there is intricate gilding, upholstery or carving involved. To see bespoke beds worthy of heirloom status, created by Beaudesert, click here.
Comprising a solid base and top, a divan sits on castors directly on the floor and raises the mattress up to a convenient height. There are four different types of top available offering varying degrees of comfort. Solid platform-top designs have a rigid top panel often made from inexpensive hardboard and offer little ‘give’. Firm edge divans have a small number of robust springs contained within a rigid wooden frame, whilst sprung-edge versions have an open-coil or pocket-sprung unit, similar to a mattress, mounted on a frame for ultimate comfort. Slatted base divans are another option, made from layers of laminate they offer some springiness and flexibility.
Although boxy in design, divans offer valuable storage opportunities; often vital in smaller homes or guest rooms. Choose from designs with single or double built-in drawers or with a hinge at one end to reveal a large space beneath. Some divans even fit a secondary truckle-style bed below that slides out on to the floor, or lifts up onto legs to become the same height as the original bed.
Usually, divans are upholstered in plain, pale fabrics and have traditionally been disguised with separate valances that slip over the top. Hypnos now offers a custom option with 25 fabrics to choose from including tweed, narrow cord and textured weaves in a range of smart neutrals. Hypnos also offers fitted valances that neatly disguise the built-in storage drawers.
Zip-and-link divans are a great solution for partners with differing support requirements or for bedrooms where access is restricted with narrow stairwells and doorways; consisting of two single divan bases that can be linked, and topped with two single mattresses that zip together, they offer endless combinations. Being single, the mattresses are also easier to lift and turn making them more suitable for older users.
Finally, a good quality folding guest bed is invaluable. Choose from designs that are so compact that they can slide into a cupboard, under a standard bedstead or tuck neatly in a utility room. Jaybe has a range of designs with sturdy frames, a sprung slatted base and adjustable legs. Mattress choices include memory foam, pocket sprung and airflow fibre. Alternatively, Spacemaker Furniture and Hideaway Beds both specialise in practical wall beds, which can be hidden behind fitted cabinets. With a simple hinge at the bedhead, or from the side, they can be lowered to the floor when needed.