December 12, 2016 - Marshall Coyle
Which Is Best : More About Choices: Platform Bed, Box Spring, or Foundation?
Which Is Best: Platform Bed, Box Spring, or Foundation?
The simple answer is, “all of the above”, but there are rules and differences for what goes best under and into each mattress.
Follow the rules and you will find happiness in bed.
The accurate answer depends on the type of mattress that will go on top. If you follow these simple rules you will get the best possible sleep and the longest useful life for your new mattress and platform, foundation, or box spring.
A genuine coil box spring is a relic from the nineteenth century. It is an upholstered box with approximately 50-100 coil springs. The springs are much larger and heavier than any found in a mattress and are tied to each other by either four our eight pieces of natural twine. No space-age materials. They were so well designed and made early on that they survived unchanged until the end of the twentieth century. The success of never flip innerspring mattresses made them made them obsolete. Never-flip mattresses provide the most comfort and last longest when used on a solid deck, non-yielding platform bed, or foundation. New hand-tied box springs are a very costly fringe item needed only under almost equally archaic two sided innerspring or solid latex mattresses. Box springs were created long before there were any successful mattresses with internal innersprings.
From earliest recorded knowledge all cultures have sought out a way to soften whatever they are sleeping on. Technology has moved from soft leafy boughs or twigs found in a South African cave dated to use about 165,000 years ago, to stuffed-with-something mattresses in the past few hundred years. Mattresses in the Western world in the last four or five centuries have advanced from of a bag of anything on hand that was soft and/or resilient into high-tech innersprings and designer foams.
All mattresses were home made in America, up until 1855 when an upholster in NYC started offering factory-made horsehair mattresses in the British style. We were a society where few lived in cities and almost everyone lived on or next to a farm. Mattress fillings were often animal hair shaved or sheared from most any domestic animal. Horse and cattle hair and sheep’s wool were the most common. In the Deep South cotton was very commonly used to stuff mattresses for farmers and plantation owners. Slaves and poor farmers had to make do with straw and hay and weeds that had no commercial value as did cotton. Poor city dwellers often filled their mattresses with straw or hay purchased for pennies from a local horse stable. Even parts of other reeds growing in shallow water were popular in small communities as was a fluffy water reed called kapok. Horse mane and tail hair was reserved mainly for the wealthy. When Charles P. Rogers started the mattress factory in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood in 1855, a first for this young country, a growing merchant class was happy to buy ready-made horsehair mattresses. The messy job didn’t have to be done by household servants and the mattresses were much higher quality.
These early professionally made mattresses were used on existing rope beds, a bed with tightly stretched heavy rope underneath a mattress. Box springs soon appeared for the well-to-do. A brand new box spring from Shifman in New Jersey is virtually identical to one made almost 150 years ago by Charles P. Rogers. These retro box spring have a flexible top and edge. The ‘box spring’ feels sort of “springy” when you sit on the edge. Look inside and you will see between about 63 to 180 sturdy heavy gauge wire coils tied to each other by twine/cord. The best have 8 cords tied and knotted on to each coil. This construction actually started some years earlier in buggy and stage coach seating. You can often see the outline of the coils through the cloth top of the box spring.
Coil Box springs are only suited for use under a two-sided old-fashioned (retro) reversible innerspring mattress, or a solid or layered latex foam mattress without internal springs. If you put a one-sided, no flip innerspring mattress on an old-fashioned coil box spring, the mattress will wear out very prematurely and never support you properly. And you will lose much of the comfort that the mattress could have delivered if used on a foundation.
A foundation looks exactly like a box spring from the outside but feels different. It is a cloth-covered box without the flexibility of springs. There are many ways of making a foundation and almost all of them with some kind of metal grid on top under the cover work very well. The most likely to fail are those made of wood sticks without a metal structure. Almost all of the good ones regardless of the mattress name are made from components supplied by Leggett and Platt. There are varying qualities from L&P, but none that are bad. They vary from good to excellent. You can feel the grid top by rubbing your open hand across it. Sometimes there is a thin padding directly under the top covering on these grid foundations. The grid is supported by heavy (very heavy) bent wire shapes that resemble springs but are mostly right angles. These “shaped wires” have virtually no springiness. Just enough to absorb shocks if someone sits down heavily or kids roughhouse. They provide perfect support for your never-flip one sided mattress and protect them from shocks. You can easily test to see if your present under-mattress object is a box spring or a foundation by sitting heavily on one exposed corner. If it depresses more than ¼–1/2” under your weight it is a box spring
Old style two-sided connected-wire (wire-tied) “Holland Maid” flippable innersprings units, the kind that let you feel every motion, and still used inside “HAND MADE” tufted Shifman innerspring mattress, and many mattresses from ES Kluft, Aireloom, ViSpring, and Sovereign are designed to work only on a flexible coil box spring. If you own a vintage ‘mint’ hand tied box spring it deserves one of these retro mattresses, but only if you don’t mind wrestling with 250# when you do the monthly flip. Bloomingdales and some other luxury retailers carry a selection of astronomically priced retro mattresses. These wire-tied relatively stiff innerspring mattresses are the only type of mattress this Old Bed Guy suggests if you are trying to get a few more years out of your old box spring. Probably poor economics whatever you choose, but “to each, his own”.
Buying a new coil box spring is nearly impossible as almost all production ceased when one-sided mattresses came out fifteen years ago. “Almost” is the key word because if you have the cash, you can find a box spring maker. Just not in your local furniture or sleep shop. The mattress world has made the switch to easier to make and less costly look-alike foundations. Foundations have replaced box springs and made the one-sided never flip mattress practical. Marshall in Toronto, McCroskey in San Francisco, Shifman, and ES Kluft still make box springs for use with their newly made retro mattresses.
Be aware that the mattress industry has recently started to call anything that goes under a mattress and covered with cloth a boxspring. This means that what was called a foundation a year ago, might be called a foundation this year. Not very likely it is not going to be a coil boxspring. Doesn’t matter whether or not it has springs, making it important for you to shop carefully if you are only buying the ‘thing’ to put under an older mattress. It is easy enough to check before buying. Few retail salespeople are well informed on this topic.
A foundation is an upholstered box with the same dimensions and appearance as a traditional box spring. Well-made foundations mimic the support and long mattress life that are normal on a well designed and crafted hardwood or plywood platform bed . “Easy to Assemble” metal springs on legs, sometimes described as “Platform Beds”, sold on the Internet by stores like Wal-Mart, Sam’s, Amazon, Overstock, Costco, with prices ranging from $39 to $249 for similar or identical products. They are almost always a disappointment when used with any halfway decent innerspring mattress. The wires, straps, or angles that the mattress rests on are too widely spaced. The individual coils in good mattresses are designed to be used only on a flat solid surface or platform beds with the slats no further apart than 2.75″.. They rub through the bottom of the mattress and literally fall out ending the useful life of the mattress on one of these cheaply made Chinese imports. These flat metal springs are less bad when used under any synthetic foam mattress.
No mattress maker, by law, can force you to buy a new foundation or box spring to get a warranty. However the warranty can require that the mattress be used either on a firm and flat strong surface. One sided, no flip, never flip, innerspring mattresses are only to be used on a firm and flat surface such as a suitable platform bed or foundation. No exceptions. (a carpeted floor IS the exception that proves the rule) If you buy a new one sided innerspring and attempt to save money by re-using an old coil box spring, your new mattress will too-soon become a denied warranty claim. The claim will be denied because every innerspring maker has that clause in his or her warranty. If your old upholstered “something” under your mattress is less than ten years old, it very well may be a foundation. If it has a heavy thick wire grid on the top surface and steel supports internally, it will have a much longer life than the mattress that came with it, and is probably still in good shape. Re-using a good foundation will not violate the terms of your warranty as long as the top is smooth and firm.