Design Shopper

Sleep Tight: A Buyer’s Guide To Beds

12th September 2012
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Image by Paul Massey for Living Etc

On a trip to Naples this summer, we stayed in a fabulous hotel with, possibly, the best bed I have ever slept in. Indeed my younger son announced that “when I am a millionaire I will buy everyone in the family one of these mattresses”.

It may have been a Simmons mattress. Pocket sprung, soft yet firm, comfortable without being bouncy and, in short, heavenly. We are all keenly awaiting the advent of the nine-year-old’s first million. In the meantime, I have been investigating beds.

image from decor8blog.com

There’s no doubt that they 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 ten 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 black and white makes for a dramatic bedroom. I’m less sure about the inspirational quote

The next question is what sort of bed should you buy? There’s masses of easily accessible information on the different types of mattresses (try John Lewis  or consumereports.org), none of which has anything to do with the design of your home, so we shall be looking solely at bases here.


The most popular choice in this country although they do suffer from an image problem. Divans are often popular because they usually have large storage boxes hidden in the base, although 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 the first option.

Firm edge will have 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.”

Having said that, one trick that is increasingly being showcased in magazines is the idea of painting a headboard on the wall or making a feature behind the bedhead.

Images from L-R Living Etc, aestheticoutburst and destinationhomestaging.blogspot.co.uk


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 3ins – as the greater the gap the less the support and the greater the wear and tear on the mattress. The slats can be either rigid or you can buy adjustable ones. The rigid ones will make the bed feel 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 it 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.”

image from cultureofstyle.com


The term “orthopaedic” just means an extra firm bed. It is not based on any medical standard.

One way to check if the mattress is too hard or soft is to lie on your back, placing your hand in the small of your back and try to wiggle your fingers. If it moves too easily the bed may be too hard. If it’s hard to move your hand, it’s probably too soft. Aim to move your hand with a little bit of resistance.

Charlie Marshall, of The Sleeproom (who are changing their name to Loaf on 1 October) says removeable and washable covers are a great idea, especially on children’s mattresses.

“Do double check that the bed is a standard UK size to avoid the hassle of looking for random-sized bedlinen. This is also worth remembering when it comes to vintage beds. They are often shorter than their modern copies and can be very squeaky. If you want vintage style it might be better buying a new design in the style you like.

“Most companies should also take away and recycle your old bed (sometimes for a small fee) which is worth doing as it’s a real hassle getting rid of the old one.”

Hastens suggest taking at least half an hour choosing mattresses and say it’s a good idea to take your coat off. “You should always compare different mattress firmnesses of the same bed model before choosing. If in doubt go for the firmer one.”






The headboard is covered in natural linen/cotten fabric




This combines a headboard with storage




Standing 5ft 8ins tall, the kingsize is the smallest in the range

from £7,200

Hastens beds are made from non-allergenic natural materials



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