Bigger and better beds are taking center stage in today's boudoirs


If you go shopping for a bed these days -- a real bed, that is, one with a headboard and footboard -- you'll likely be surprised by two things.

One is that the selection has never been better. The other is that beds have never been bigger.

When queen- and king-size mattresses came along, beds with headboards and footboards all but disappeared. Also, during the minimalist design era of the late '70s, consumers weren't much interested in conventional beds anyway, relying instead on under-the-bed steel frames.

In the '80s, the focus was on bed linens. Sheets went from white to every color under the rainbow and every pattern imaginable. Ralph Lauren, Laura Ashley, Bill Blass, Yves St. Laurent and other fashion designers entered the market, and the bed itself became little more than a platform for exhibiting strikingly beautiful linens and, often, mountains of superfluous pillows.

Now, though, furniture manufacturers have caught up. Beds with headboards and footboards that can accommodate queen- and king-size mattresses and box springs are readily available in styles to suit every taste. And, once again, the bed is reclaiming its rightful place as the centerpiece of the bedroom.

Of course, a queen- or king-size mattress is no small object all by itself. Add a headboard and a footboard, often in the form of a four-poster bed, and you're looking at one enormous piece of furniture.

And length and width aren't the only dimensions. There's also height. Some of the posts on new four-posters can soar to 7 feet 5 inches. That's just 7 inches shy of the standard 8-foot ceiling.

Many of the new beds also elevate the mattress to new heights -- as much as 30 inches from the floor. If you want to get an idea of how it feels sleeping at that altitude, grab your pillow and stretch out on the dining room table. Chances are, you'll find it surprisingly pleasant. There's something elegant, stately and somehow reassuring about resting on a surface that is far from the floor. Besides, it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "climbing into bed."

In most cases, your bedroom can accommodate these new leviathans.

While a four-poster, pencil post and canopy bed have much more presence than a mattress and box spring alone, they actually take up more visual space than physical space. But then, it's OK to let the bed command more than its fair share of a bedroom's volume. It is after all the principal piece of furniture in the room, and it should be prominent.

In newer homes with large master-suite bedrooms, the new beds are an easy match for the spacious dimensions of the rooms themselves. A large-scale bed can help tame the sometimes-too-generous proportions of large bedrooms. By comparison, a mattress and box spring alone can sometimes look like little more than a bump in the carpet, far too puny for the space available.

Indeed, if you have a bedroom with a cathedral ceiling, then by all means consider buying a four-poster, pencil post or canopy bed. Posts and canopies have the effect of turning a bed into a room within a room, giving you a kind of nest within the larger space that can make you feel safe and secure.

Don't automatically rule out a big bed even if you have a medium or small bedroom. A bedroom that's a little on the crowded side can seem more comfy-cozy, intimate and romantic than one that has a surplus of space.

Another thing worth remembering is that beds with headboards don't necessarily have to be anchored to a wall. "Floating" the bed away from the wall can provide some visual breathing room around a substantial piece of furniture. Or, positioning a bed on the diagonal can provide more open space in the opposing corners of the room.

If space is really at a premium, consider buying just a headboard. It will provide an attractive backdrop for the bed without overwhelming the bedroom.

Still another alternative is to make more room for an overscaled bed by dispensing with other furnishings. Moving a dresser or chest of drawers into a walk-in closet can free additional space in the bedroom.

And, while we're on the subject of other furnishings, remember you need not feel compelled to buy a dresser, chest of drawers or night stands to match a new bed -- despite the urging of manufacturers and retailers. While we've pretty much overcome the matched-set syndrome in our living rooms and family rooms, there is still a tendency among consumers to buy entire "suites" of bedroom furniture. Resist the impulse if you can. The bed deserves to be a prominent and distinctive fixture with a character all its own. In fact, that applies to each piece of furniture in the bedroom. If you buy what you love individually, chances are all the pieces will work collectively. Besides, mixing styles, periods and finishes can give you a one-of-a-kind bedroom that reflects your personal tastes and preferences far better than a prematched set of furniture can.

And don't rule out an antique bed. The revival of interest in ornate beds not only has generated a steady stream of reproductions, but has caused vintage beds to begin to surface at antique shops and auctions. Victorian-era beds in wood, wrought iron and brass are turning up with increasing frequency at prices that may be even slightly less than the repros.

One factor that will likely keep antique bed prices in check is that many are too small to fit modern mattresses, especially queen-size mattresses, which are most popular among consumers. Some vintage beds are too small for conventional full-size mattresses. Be sure to check the bed's length as well; some are shorter than the standard 72-inch-long mattress.

In any case, if you're shopping the antique market, take a tape measure and be sure to have the dimensions of your mattress and box springs with you.

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