To headboard or not to headboard? Many prefer just a bed base or divan; they mean you can then search for headboard alternatives that are more in-line with your interior design direction without complicating things.
A solid wooden headboard that’s part of your bed frame or an upholstered headboard that affixes to the wall are by no means your only options when it comes to what to put behind your head.
Here we share some of our designer’s favourite unusual headboard ideas to inspire your own creations.
Image Credit: Kendall Wilkinson Design
If an upholstered headboard tempts you, but you favour something that’s not as heavy on your room’s aesthetic (perhaps you’re working with a smaller guest bedroom), then a wall hanging might be for you. It brings another textile into your bedroom, which will always add an element of softness. Even if the texture you choose is a coarser one (think richly embroidered tapestries collected from exotic travels), the effect will be the same – textiles, as the opposite of stone, tile and wood finishes, just have that effect on a room.
You can hang your tapestry from something as simple as a thin piece of curtain rail – no more than 20mm in diameter – and hang it as high as you need to for the full length of your textile to fall to the floor behind your bed or just above your pillows.
Image Credit: Anderson/Drake
Try a braided macramé wall hanging for ultimate boho, or swathes of fabric (bought by the metre) for a look that’s breezy and romantic if you use something like linen, or dramatic and decadent if velvet is your fabric of choice. Jute is good if wholesome and natural is the goal, or tribal dhurrie, Berber or Persian-style prints will channel the global chic vibe.
If you can’t quite find what you’re looking for, try a rug. Circular or rectangular work, so long as they’re the width of your bed or ever so slightly larger – remember, you’re trying to echo the proportions of a standard headboard, and any narrower will make your bed appear smaller than it really is.
Plus, on a practical note, wall hangings have no footprint on your floor space, so will take up less space too.
Image Credit: Chambers + Chambers; Photography by John Merkl
Wall art is one of the easiest ways to create a headboard alternative.
Having pictures hung from the walls is customary in our homes, so it’s not the sort of avant garde headboard idea that will shock people when they see it. But at the same time, it’s different to mainstream headboard designs so will definitely spark intrigue.
Much like with wall hangings, choose art that’s close to the width of your bed, or wider if you want to make it feel larger. Positioning wise, try to have the bottom edge of your art near to the top of your pillows. This is where you’ll need to experiment, because having a slight gap to show some of the wall makes the artwork stand out more. But you might want your art to flow seamlessly into your bedspread as a headboard normally would; In which case, it’s best not to leave a gap.
A series of wall panels spaced roughly 5cm apart always looks the part if you don’t fancy one big piece. Equally, picture walls are a fun option for multiple prints, or a picture ledge with a mixture of differently sized frames can look even more arty still. You can always hang one of your frames if you find the ledge is looking too cluttered, and then simply overlap one of the leaning frames in front. One point to note with picture ledges though – be sure to test out the perfect position as you don’t want it to be at an uncomfortable height when you’re propped up in bed. Resting the shelf at a height that’s far above your heads however won’t have the headboard-like effect and will instead look like a regular floating shelf.
Take a look at our living room wall art ideas for more inspiration that you can adapt for your bedroom.
Image Credit: Taylor Howes
This headboard alternative is a favourite amongst the interior design set and one which has a stellar design precedent. Mirrored headboards were a bold but much-loved option in the Art Deco era and have stood the test of time in various guises from classic Deco drama to more contemporary headboard ideas.
“We often do mirrored walls on bed walls,” explains Karen Howes of Taylor Howes, “They create a greater feeling of space so are really useful to use in small bedrooms and they also give that glamorous edge. We tend to do either do entire walls or just a small section of the wall, which can then be bevelled, antiqued, framed etc. The great thing is that using a mirror gives lots of options to be creative and make a statement. We often include a padded headboard in front of the mirror for comfort.”
Choose an oversized mirror to hang at either of the heights discussed in the wall art section or choose two or three slim rectangular mirrors and hang them side by side as you would with wall panels. Pared-back mirror designs look better in this case though – mirror headboards are statement-worthy in their own right, so adding too much adornment can overwhelm. The technique makes for a great headboard alternative in small spaces where the addition of mirrors will create a sense of space.
This is a good idea for those wanting to bring in high-impact colour or texture (or both) to their bedroom.
Textured wallpapers like natural grasscloth are one way of adding a layer of tactility, but pattern alone will achieve visual texture and richness to your bedroom. Pick a colour that you’ll reference elsewhere in your bedroom’s palette – in a piece of upholstery, curtains, a rug or selection of cushions – so there’s harmony without your scheme feeling too matchy-matchy.
Image Credit: Four Seasons Boston
Maybe you want a headboard design that has more substance to it. A wooden headboard doesn’t have to follow the usual approach. Wall panelling like folding screens can look really impressive when they’re spread flat against your wall and wedged behind the divan. Whether he antique room dividing sort that can be louvered and with aged paintwork reminiscent of provincial French shutters, intricately painted and lacquered designs like those in traditional Japanese interiors or more modern padded upholstered screens, the look works.
If your style is more rustic or industrial, opt for a reclaimed wood wall. Vintage barn doors or Victorian panelled doors make for a creative interpretation of wooden panelling and can look really smart behind your bed. Plus, they’re a robust and low-maintenance option if you don’t want to be concerned about marking them when you’re sitting in bed.
Floorspace might be on your side, and if it is, you can go bigger with your headboard and use a piece of freestanding furniture as an alternative headboard. Cube storage, open bookcases and shelving units, or even a chest of drawers can work well here. The same rule applies though – pick storage with proportions that make sense if you want it to act convincingly as a headboard.
Back your bed base up close to it so there’s no gap, accepting that the lowermost sections will be out of action, but the above-mattress areas are your play area for decorative accessories, scented bedtime candles and even plant-life, like succulents – real or faux.
Image Credit: Studio Ashby
Ideas for headboards aside, there is of course the lowest maintenance headboard alternatives of all – no headboard.
Choosing a bed base alone is the most minimal design path you can walk down. It can be a very Scandi statement – laidback living, informal elegance, and an element of ease that your entire bedroom will pick up on. This look is one that doesn’t call for a mountain of pillows – four main pillows work well, especially if the front two are square in shape and propped up. Accent cushions can be added for a fresh update.
Or perhaps you’re choosing to have a bed with no headboard because you want to highlight some killer interior architecture. A feature wall backdrop (think quilting, panelling, banding, etc.) is often all a bed needs to make an impact. Work with your designer, carpenter or upholsterer to create a design using materials, shapes and techniques which is uniquely you. Make the specialised wall finish extend beyond your bedside tables to create unity between the pieces.