Designer 101: How to Choose the Right Bed

Designer 101: How to Choose the Right Bed

Designer Kenneth Wingard explains how to choose the right bed and mattress for your space.

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By: Kenneth Wingard
Choosing a bed is the most personal decision you’re going to make when designing your home. It’s where you retreat every night and where you spring up every morning. Having a bed that not only works with your design style, but also with the space and the way you sleep is incredibly important.

People will ask, “Do I find my perfect bed and then design the room around it… or the other way around?” When deciding what kind of bed to get, start with the room’s overall design and dimensions and then choose a size and style of bed that works within that.

That being said, if you inherited your great grandparents’ beautiful bed, you can certainly find a way to work with it!

The Basics
Let’s start with what you’re actually sleeping on.

Mattress: Okay, this one’s easy. I don’t say this very often, but buy the best one you can afford — a good night’s sleep is worth it, plus you won’t have to replace it in a few years. I won’t go into all of the choices and options here, but when you’re ready to buy, visit a few mattress stores with knowledgeable staff to make sure you get one that will work best for you.

Box Spring: A box spring is a box the same size as the mattress. It is fitted with coils meant to support the mattress, adding to its lifespan and comfort. These used to be standard but are becoming more and more rare, often only being offered with high-end mattresses. They’re not as necessary with the new breed of mattresses. If you decide you don’t need one, you’ll still need something to raise your bed to the proper height.

Foundation: The same dimensions as a box spring, but with no coils. These new foundations give your mattress the support it needs and raise your bed to the proper height without the expense and weight of a box spring. Note that a platform bed has neither a box spring nor a foundation, but for a standard bed you’re going to need one or the other.

Sizing: With the streamlining of manufacturing over the past 100 years, mattresses have become very standard. Dimensions are always given for the mattress itself, not the bed into which it will fit. When measuring, add at least 6 inches to the width and length (to account for the frame) to make sure the entire bed will work in your space.

People often want the largest size bed that will fit into a room — I would caution against this. Really think about how you sleep (if you’re a still sleeper or an active sleeper), how often the kids and pets climb in bed and the space for other things you’ll be sacrificing for the larger bed before you make a decision. Here’s a rundown on the sizes that are currently standard in the United States —

Twin or Single (39-by-75 inches ): This has become the standard for beds meant to accommodate a single child or adult. You can also find twin mattresses in an extra long format, which is 80-inches long. Unless you’re raising the next NBA star, try to stick to the standard length and save yourself the headache. I feel the only reason to have a twin bed in a child’s room is to create more space for play. If you can fit it, you’re going to get more versatility from a full-sized bed — even in a kid’s room.

Double or Full (54-by-75 inches): People often think these are two different sizes, but they aren’t. These are meant to accommodate two adults, but unless you’re both small, it’s a pretty tight fit. I feel these are better suited to children to grow into (if their rooms allow) or for small guestrooms. Also, note that it’s the same length as a twin, so if you’re nearing six foot, your feet are definitely going to be hanging off the end. If there’s room and the budget allows, try to go up one size to a queen.

Little-known fact: photo stylists and home stagers often put full size beds in rooms to make the rooms look bigger. Don’t be fooled!

Queen (60-by-80 inches): Made for two people or one person who likes to stretch out. Even if you have the space for a larger bed, you may want to consider a queen; it’s a good compromise between bed space and room space. Also, being so popular, there are often good bargains to be found on queen bed linens.


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King (76-by-80 inches): The same length as a queen but much wider. I actually find them a little too wide — it seems like I need to take a taxi to the other side of the bed. When considering this size, remember that all of your bed linens are also going to cost considerably more. If you’ve got multiple beds in the house and only one is king size, keeping sheet sets organized and divided may also become a challenge.

California King (72-by-84 inches): Not many people realize that this bed is actually narrower than a king, but longer. It is appropriate in a large room or if you’re extra tall. Keep in mind the same cost and organizational challenges that come into play with a king. You will also have drastically fewer choices when it comes to linens.

Tip: Find all of Kenneth Wingard’s tips and project instructions here.

7 Bed Styles
Bed styles aren’t quite as clear-cut as mattress sizes, but you can still divide them into seven basic categories, each with their own traits and stylistic leanings.

1. Platform Bed
Where the mattress rests directly onto a — you guessed it — platform, without the use of a box spring. Although the oldest type of bed, it has more recently become associated with modern or contemporary design. They come with or without headboards, but rarely with footboards. They are a good choice for a streamlined or Asian-inspired room, can be found with extra storage built in underneath and work well where space is an issue.

2. Panel Bed
A standard metal or wood bed frame with a headboard and sometimes footboard attached. The styles are limitless. For rooms with space or sightline challenges, choose one without a footboard. For avid DIY-ers, the old-school basic metal bed frame lets you create your own panel bed by attaching head and footboards.

3. Four-Poster Bed
A conventionally framed bed with a vertical post on each corner. The posts can vary from ornate and carved to streamlined and modern. This works best in rooms with high ceilings and when your bed will be placed on a solid (not windowed) wall. Great for people who like to feel more cocooned while sleeping.

4. Canopy Bed
The same as above, but where horizontal crosspieces, originally used to hold fabric that maintained warmth and privacy, connect the four posts. These require even more visual space than a four-poster bed. Certain styles have crosspieces that are removable, which is a good compromise if you’re not sure you’re ready for the canopy-now-and-forever commitment.

5. Sleigh Bed
Of French origin, the sleigh bed looks like an old fashioned sleigh. A large curved headboard and footboard create a visual statement without the height limitations of a poster bed. These beds are usually wooden and visually heavy so are best used in larger bedrooms.

6. Daybed
A single-size bed that doubles as seating during the day. The head and footboards resemble seating arms and there may or may not be a side railing that serves as the back of the daybed. A great choice for a room that serves double duty as a guestroom.

7. Trundle Bed
A single bed that has a second mattress that slides underneath the bed. The second mattress may even be fitted with a system to raise it to standard height, turning the bed into a full size bed. They are great for small guest rooms and make kids’ rooms sleepover-friendly.

When making decisions about which bed style to choose, remember to keep it in the same realm as the rest of your home. Common themes and consistencies between rooms make a house flow well and create an overall sense of being well designed. That being said, the bedroom is your private sanctuary and if you want to feel like a princess every time you climb into bed — go for it!

Kenneth Wingard attended Princeton University’s School of Architecture and has studied art, sculpture and architecture in Europe, Asia and Africa. It was during these travels he developed an appreciation for the skill of the local craftsmen and began to think about how to combine those talents with his own design sense. He’s worked for Williams-Sonoma and was the Divisional Director of Pottery Barn. His products have been spotted at the New York and San Francisco MOMA, LACMA and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Get to know Kenneth here.

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