Design: How to get a bed in life

The great debate about what you sleep on is whether to choose style over comfort – but you can have both, saysKate Watson-Smyth
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The Independent Online

There's no doubt that beds can be shockingly expensive – even if we do spend a third of our lives in them. We know you should spend as much as you can afford on the mattress, but you also need to consider the base on which it sits. If your expensive mattress isn't properly supported, then nor is your back, so the whole thing is a waste of money.

Let's put it another way – you can expect to spend about 25 years of your life in bed, so a £2,000 bed used for 10 years works out at 55p a night. This is a formula that women have been using for years to justify the amount of money they spend on shoes, so you might as well put it to good use at home.

The next question is what sort of bed you should buy. There is a lot of easily accessible information on the different types of mattress, none of which has anything to do with the design of your home, so we shall be looking solely at bases here.


Divans are the most popular choice of bed in this country, though they do suffer from an image problem. They are often popular because they usually have large storage boxes hidden in the base, though as one retailer said cuttingly: "There comes a point when you value comfort above style." Which probably tells you what you need to know in the great debate about divans versus slats.

The Sleep Council divides them into four main types:

Sprung edge consists of a spring inside a frame. This supports the mattress evenly all over and acts like a giant shock absorber which will prolong the life of the mattress.

Solid or platform top has a rigid top panel often made from hardboard which will be cheaper and firmer than a sprung edge base.

Firm edge has a smaller number of larger springs within a wooden frame.

Flexible slatted divans use soft woods in a frame to allow a small amount of springiness. You can adjust the tension of some of the slats to suit personal requirements.

Jessica Alexander of The Sleep Council says: "The manufacturers would argue that if you have a pocket-sprung mattress, then the divan offers the best support for that and the mattress will last longer."

Tina Mahony, of Go Modern, an online business specialising in bedroom furniture, says simply: "Divans are so restrictive in terms of style. The Italians are the leaders in bedroom furniture and you won't find them making a divan – it's all about style for them and with a divan your only choice is to alter the headboard."

Some manufacturers have woken up to this – hence the rash of leather and upholstered headboards now available.


Bedsteads are growing in popularity, due mainly to the fact that they come in so many styles, including wood, iron, upholstered leather – you name it. They now make up more than 40 per cent of the market, according to The Sleep Council.

Bedsteads support the mattress on wooden slats. The gap between the slats should be no more than 3in, as the greater the gap, the less the support – and the greater the wear and tear that will result on the mattress.

The slats can be either rigid or you can buy adjustable ones. The rigid ones will make the bed feel significantly firmer, but work against the mattress, as it has to do all the work of adjusting to a person's movements and weight. Sprung slats work with the mattress, thus prolonging its life.

Jessica Alexander says: "If you don't want a divan, then sprung slats are the next best thing, as you can change the tension in places to suit you. The more slats there are, the firmer the support, although the gaps do provide ventilation."

Bed-buying tips

*The term "orthopaedic" just means an extra-firm bed. It is not based on any medical standard.

*Narrow your choice to two or three, and spend a minimum of 10 minutes lying in each in your normal sleeping positions. If you are buying a base without a mattress, ask the retailer to move a mattress the same as yours on to the base, so you can tell if it is comfortable.

*One way to check if the mattress is too hard or soft is by lying on your back, with your hand in the small of your back, and trying to wiggle your fingers. If it moves too easily the bed may be too hard. If it's difficult to move your hand, it's probably too soft.

Best beds

Orla Kiely Lambay Bed, £1,495

The redoubtable Ms Kiely has moved into furniture; her collection is only at Heals. The retro-style frame is made from American black walnut and the headboard incorporates floating shelves on either side.

0870 024 0780;

Barcelona white lacquer bed, £549

Not only is this half the price of the Italian bed, but it was designed and made in the UK. Perfect for the contemporary bedroom, the range includes a simple cuboid bedside table, as well as a dressing table and wardrobe, though that might all be a bit matchy-matchy for some tastes.

0845 652 0332;

Bonaldo Bloom, £1,260

Designed by Peter Ross, this simple bed is fully covered in either leather or fabric. All the covers are fully removable for washing and you can buy extra covers if you fancy changing the look between summer and winter. It can also be bought with a storage base underneath – echoing the useful part of the divan.

0845 652 0332;

Mega Butterfly, £8,750

Made in hide, with built-in lighting, this bed just hints at what a bed could be in a huge room – with a budget to match. Chaplins has hundreds of other "statement" beds, at a range of prices.

020-8421 1779;

Versailles upholstered, from £2,750

Doesn't everyone want to hide under the bedclothes when the real world gets tough? This bed responds to that desire by using silver leaf and crackled gold glaze to impart a sense of drama. The company, And So To Bed, also includes the Bonaparte, Churchill, Juliet and Josephine in this particular line.

0808 144 4343;

Evia, from £745

Warren Evans use only FSC-certified wood, and everything is made by hand. If you want a plain, well-made wooden bedframe, this is the place to come, but this upholstered bed is also a simple design that comes with the option of matching underbed storage.

020-7693 8988;