House & Garden’s Dictionary of Design and Decoration (1973) claimed the bed as “the most important piece of furniture man possesses.” The not-so-humble bed is one of those fundamental home investments (no home would be without one) and, even more than most furniture purchases, requires a lot of thought and consideration. After all, as the old adage goes, you spend a third of your life in it.
Quality is essential and style is paramount (it is undoubtedly the one piece which sets the tone for the rest of your bedroom scheme) but there are so many other considerations.
This bed buying guide will give you all the essential information you need to think about before making your choice.
Beds & Headboards
Although beds and headboard styles often overlap, the two are distinguishable by a few key features. Generally, a bed (sometimes referred to as a bedstead to clarify) is a complete piece whilst a headboard requires a divan base (an upholstered platform for your mattress).
Wooden beds are as diverse as they are prolific. Undoubtedly the oldest of bed designs, it has endured the test of time and has been reinvented time and time again. A few notable examples are: caned Louis XV designs, upholstered carved frame designs and wood panelled designs. Many other styles such as four-poster and sleigh beds were traditionally wooden designs.
Named for the elongated vertical posts at each of its corners, a four-poster bed is a grand design (and sometime status symbol) of 16th century origins. Traditional designs typically feature turned or carved posts whilst modern designs feature plain ones. Posts can be equal height or taller at the headboard and shorter at the foot of the bed.
N.B. A four-poster bed (and the closely related canopy bed) naturally require more height so keep this in mind when considering one.
From vintage wrought iron to industrial designs, metal beds offer a less spatially and visually weighty alternative to wooden beds – ideal for smaller spaces.
An upholstered bed is one which has had its frame either fully or partially padded and covered in a fabric or leather. Many bed designs can be realised in an upholstered option, including sleigh and wingback.
A canopy bed is similar to a four-poster in that its posts extend upwards beyond its frame. The addition of a horizontal bar, which connect each of the four posts to its neighbour, adds a spin on the four poster. Traditionally curtains would have been hung from the bars, creating a canopy; modern examples are typically left bare or swathed with sheer drapes.
Characterised by an outwardly scrolling head and footboard, this design typically comes in wooden or upholstered varieties. The design was originally a product of the French Empire period.
Originally designed with side hoods which blocks draughts (much like its chair counterpart), a winged bed has become a timeless classic. Its handsome character is often enhanced with button tufting.
A surviving favourite from the Modern era, a platform bed is a low-profile, usually angular bed design whose mattress is surrounded by a protruding perimeter, often giving the appearance that the bed is floating. Available in either upholstered or wooden options.
Some beds are designed with a built-in storage functionality, allowing seasonal bedding, clothing and other personal items to be stored away safely when not in use.
The two most popular types of storage bed are: drawer storage or ottoman storage. Drawer storage comes in many configurations (depending on the size and make up of the bed) but most common is either two or four drawers. Options include pull out or sliding formats. An ottoman design is an open storage space underneath the divan’s sprung base and is typically operated by a hydraulic hinge system.
Like an upholstered bed, an upholstered headboard is one which has been padded and covered in a fabric or leather. Headboards of this style can be realised in varying shapes and patterns, as well as offering the ability to reupholster for a different look in the future.
An extended headboard design is one which extends beyond the width of the divan to incorporate bedside tables – often crafted of the same material (if wooden). A staple of the Art Deco era and one which reoccurred throughout the 20th century, the look was grand and bold, requiring a lot of space. Nowadays, low profiles, clean lines and floating cabinetry shelves extended headboards thoroughly modern.
Many contemporary bedroom design schemes incorporate an oversized, fitted headboard which is typically secured to the wall. These designs are taller than regular headboard designs and might be included as part of fitted cabinetry or even cover the entire wall (usually when combined with mirrored or upholstered panels).
Neat and chic – a square headboard champions crisp lines making it a suitable choice for modern spaces. Its simple silhouette works as a great counterbalance to ultra-feminine upholstery or bedding. A timeless design. Shop now
Simply classic with a graceful attitude, a camelback silhouette is a tried and true design characterised by a soft curve which rises in the middle and tapers off at its ends. Its button-tufted rendition is a bestseller. Shop now
A scalloped design is feminine and elegant. Its gentle bracket-like curves and shapely lines simultaneously exude a feeling of grandeur and whilst presenting a perfectly transitional aesthetic. Shop now
A popular headboard shape of recent years, this design features corner cut outs which add a refined appeal to its close square cousin. Its restrained design and ability to handle a wide variety of fabrics makes for a versatile option. Shop now
Faceted, stepped motifs were a mainstay of the Art Deco period and were used in architectural details as well as interior decoration. The angular lines and jewel-like vibe of this headboard shape make it a suitable choice for contemporary spaces looking for a little old world glamour.
A stylised version of a well-known French Neoclassical design – which, traditionally, would have been rendered in engraved wood or cane – this feminine headboard shape is known by its pretty undulating form and subtly decorative sensibility. Shop now
The simplest divan style, a platform divan features a solid upholstered top. Due to its lack of padding or springs, it’s the firmest style and offers less responsiveness to the movements of the sleeper. The performance of high-quality sprung mattresses will also be affected by its inflexibility.
Sprung Edge Divan
A sprung edge divan is considered the most comfortable and luxurious of divans thanks to its combined composition of springs and memory foam. A luxurious foam layer and a shallow pocket spring or open coil unit (similar to that of a sprung mattress) offer all the support you need throughout the night.
True/Firm Edge Divan
A true/firm edge divan is similar to a sprung edge divan but, instead of the coil unit covering the entirety of the divan, to the edge, it is enclosed within a wooden-sided frame. This helps it retain its shape and gives a greater sense of security as sides don’t dip. You won’t have that failing-out-of-bed sensation with a true/firm edge divan.
The predominant choice for open-base bedsteads as well as many divans, slats are made of laminated soft woods. Flat slats should be avoided as they offer very little support to the movements of the bed. Opt for sprung/flexible slats instead – their bow will support your movements as you sleep much better. One thing to remember is that the closer slats are together, the more tailored support they will give.
Button-tufting is the classic upholstery feature which pervades all rooms and furniture pieces from stools to sofas. In the bedroom, the technique can be applied to most upholstered bed or headboard styles, including sleigh and wingback beds. Varying button depths are available as are different patterns (shallow and square is very Mid-century; deep diamond tufting is decidedly traditional.
Another traditional technique which was originally used as a method of securing upholstery, nailhead trim has transitioned seamlessly into contemporary design speak and, nowadays, is regularly used as a decorative feature. Lattice, geometric, fret, chain and arabesque patterns are some of the classic motifs used.
Simple piping smartens up any upholstery piece and a bed is no exception since it outlines a headboard’s shape beautifully. Opt for a contrasting colour for a fun look.
Usually shallow (and, thus, reminiscent of Modern design – think Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair), square quilting is a decorative technique which isn’t terribly decorative at all. Stitching is very rarely applied in a contrasting colour so the result is ever-so-subtle. A very similar diamond version has since appeared in contemporary bed designs.
The sleek simplicity of vertical or horizontal channelling is notably modern which is why the technique is used regularly for custom-made, full-height headboards.
Image Credit: LuxDeco