The History of The Bed

The History of the Bed by “The Old Man”

A bed is a large piece of furniture (or a location) used as a place to sleep, and as a primary place for relaxation and sexual activity. In many cultures it is considered the most important piece of furniture in the home.

The earliest known beds, almost 38,000 years old were recently discovered in a cave, once used by Neanderthals, in southern Europe.  The cave people dug a shallow pit and lined it with pine boughs.

Today’s beds usually consist of a mattress placed on top of a box spring or a wood platform. The box spring is a large mattress-sized upholstered box containing wood and springs or non flexible steel rods that provide additional support and suspension for the mattress. Very low end mattresses come with a foundation that resembles a box spring but contains no steel supports or springs.

The box spring will often be supported by a steel bed frame or on wooden bed slats when used with a headboard and footboard.

A “headboard”, “side rails”, and “footboard” or “front rail” will complete the bed.

“Headboard only” beds often incorporate a dust ruffle, bed skirt, or valance sheet to hide the bed frame.

For greater head support, most people use a pillow, placed at the top of a mattress. Also used is some form of covering blanket to insulate the sleeper, often bed sheets, a quilt, or a duvet.

Also, some people prefer to dispense with the box spring and bed frame, and replace it with a platform bed.  Platform beds have a flat surface the same size or larger than the mattress for support. Some platform beds have flexible or padded surfaces under the mattress.

See www. for examples.

Beds in the Ancient World

Early beds (8000 BC) were little more than piles of straw or some other natural material (e.g. a heap of palm leaves). An important change was raising them off the ground, to avoid draughts, dirt, and pests. Such furniture was introduced in 3400 BC. Given the increased cost though, it was only available to the wealthy. The Egyptians had high bedsteads which were ascended by steps, with bolsters or pillows, and curtains to hang round. The elite of Egyptian society such as its pharaohs and queens even had beds made of wood, sometimes gilded. Often there was a head-rest as well, semi-cylindrical and made of stone, wood or metal. Ancient Assyrians, Medes and Persians had beds of a similar kind, and frequently decorated their furniture with inlays or appliqués of metal, mother-of-pearl and ivory.

The Bible says that King Og had a very large bed (13.5 ft x 6 ft). “For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of giants; behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; is it not in Rabbath of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man.” — Deuteronomy 3:11

The oldest account of a bed is probably that of Odysseus: a charpoy woven of rope, plays a role in the Odyssey. A similar bed can be seen at the St Fagans National History Museum in Wales. Odysseus also gives an account of how he crafted the nuptial bed for himself and Penelope, out of an ancient, huge olive tree trunk that used to grow on the spot before the bridal chamber was built. His detailed description finally persuades the doubting Penelope that the shipwrecked, aged man is indeed her long-lost husband. Homer also mentions the inlaying of the woodwork of beds with gold, silver and ivory. The Greek bed had a wooden frame, with a board at the head and bands of hide laced across, upon which skins were placed. At a later period the bedstead was often veneered with expensive woods; sometimes it was of solid ivory veneered with tortoise-shell and with silver feet; often it was of bronze. The pillows and coverings also became more costly and beautiful; the most celebrated places for their manufacture were Miletus, Corinth and Carthage. Folding beds, too, appear in the vase paintings.

The Roman mattresses were stuffed with reeds, hay, wool or feathers; the last was used towards the end of the Republic, when custom demanded luxury. Small cushions were placed at the head and sometimes at the back. The bedsteads were high and could only be ascended by the help of steps. They were often arranged for two persons, and had a board or railing at the back as well as the raised portion at the head. The counterpanes were sometimes very costly, generally purple embroidered with figures in gold; and rich hangings fell to the ground masking the front. The bedsteads themselves were often of bronze inlaid with silver, and Elagabalus had one of solid silver.

In the walls of some of the houses at Pompeii bed niches are found which were probably closed by curtains or sliding partitions. Ancient Romans had various kinds of beds for repose. These included:

  • lectus cubicularis, or chamber bed, for normal sleeping;
  • lectus genialis, the marriage bed, it was much decorated, and was placed in the atrium opposite the door.
  • lectus discubitorius, or table bed, on which they ate—for they ate while lying on their left side—there being usually three people to one bed, with the middle place accounted the most honorable position;
  • lectus lucubratorius, for studying;
  • and a lectus funebris, or emortualis, on which the dead were carried to the pyre.

Medieval Europe

The ancient Germans lay on the floor on beds of leaves covered with skins, or in a kind of shallow chest filled with leaves and moss. In the early Middle Ages they laid carpets on the floor or on a bench against the wall, placed upon them mattresses stuffed with feathers, wool or hair, and used skins as a covering. They appear to have generally lain naked in bed, wrapping themselves in the large linen sheets which were stretched over the cushions. In the 13th century luxury increased, and bedsteads were made of wood much decorated with inlaid, carved and painted ornament. They also used folding beds, which served as couches by day and had cushions covered with silk laid upon leather. At night a linen sheet was spread and pillows placed, while silk-covered skins served as coverlets. Curtains were hung from the ceiling or from an iron arm projecting from the wall. The Carolingian manuscripts show metal bedsteads much higher at the head than at the feet, and this shape continued in use until the 13th century in France, many cushions being added to raise the body to a sloping position. In the 12th-century manuscripts the bedsteads appear much richer, with inlays, carving and painting, and with embroidered coverlets and mattresses in harmony. Curtains were hung above the bed, and a small hanging lamp is often shown. In the 14th century the woodwork became of less importance, being generally entirely covered by hangings of rich materials. Silk, velvet and even cloth of gold were much used. Inventories from the beginning of the 14th century give details of these hangings lined with fur and richly embroidered. Then it was that the tester bed made its first appearance, the tester being slung from the ceiling or fastened to the walls, a form which developed later into a room within a room, shut in by double curtains, sometimes even so as to exclude all drafts. The space between bed and wall was called the ruelle, and very intimate friends were received there.

In the 15th century beds became very large, reaching to 7 or 8 feet by 6 or 7 feet. The mattresses were often filled with pea-shucks, straw or feathers. At this time great personages were in the habit of carrying most of their property about with them, including beds and bed-hangings, and for this reason the bedsteads were for the most part mere frameworks to be covered up; but about the beginning of the 16th century bedsteads were made lighter and more decorative, since the lords remained in the same place for longer periods.

Renaissance and Modern Europe

In the 17th century, which has been called “the century of magnificent beds,” the style a la duchesse, with tester and curtains only at the head, replaced the more enclosed beds in France, though they lasted much longer in England. Louis XIV had an enormous number of sumptuous beds, as many as 413 being described in the inventories of his palaces. Some of them had embroideries enriched with pearls, and figures on a silver or golden ground. The great bed at Versailles had crimson velvet curtains on which “The Triumph of Venus” was embroidered. So much gold was used that the velvet scarcely showed.

In the 18th century feather pillows were first used as coverings in Germany, which in the fashions of the bed and the curious etiquette connected with the bedchamber followed France for the most part. The beds were a la duchesse, but in France itself there was great variety both of name and shape. The custom of the “bed of justice” upon which the king of France reclined when he was present in parliament, the princes being seated, the great officials standing, and the lesser officials kneeling, was held to denote the royal power even more than the throne. Louis XI is credited with its first use, and the custom lasted till the end of the monarchy. In the chambre de parade, where the ceremonial bed was placed, certain persons, such as ambassadors or great lords, whom it was desired to honor, were received in a more intimate fashion than the crowd of courtiers. At Versailles women received their friends in their beds, both before and after childbirth, during periods of mourning, and even directly after marriage – in fact in any circumstances which were thought deserving of congratulation or condolence. During the 17th century this curious custom became general, perhaps to avoid the tiresome details of etiquette. Portable beds were used in high society in France till the end of the Ancien Régime. The earliest of which mention has been found belonged to Charles the Bold. They had curtains over a light framework, and were in their way as fine as the stationary beds.

Iron beds appear in the 18th century; the advertisements recommend them as free from the insects which sometimes infested wooden bedsteads. One of the earliest makers of metal beds in the USA is Charles P. Rogers beds established in 1855 and still forging ahead: still hand making the same antique patterns and the most contemporary designs available.  Elsewhere, there was also the closed bed with sliding or folding shutters, and in England – where beds were commonly quite simple in form – the four poster was the usual citizen’s bed until the middle of the 19th century.

Types of beds

There are many varieties of beds:

  • A  brass plated bed  is a cheap bed of iron, a false brass bed, with a thin covering of brass, which with time peels off and the iron is exposed
  • An adjustable bed is a bed that can be adjusted to a number of different positions
  • An air bed uses an air-inflated mattress(es), sometimes connected to an electric air pump and having variable, firmness controls. The portable version of an air bed can also be rolled up and packed, so is meant for travel or temporary guest use.
  • A bassinet is a bed specifically for newborn infants.
  • A box-bed is a bed having the form of a large box with wooden roof, sides, and ends, opening in front with two sliding panels or shutters; often used in cottages in Scotland: sometimes also applied to a bed arranged so as to fold up into a box.
  • A brass bed, constructed from brass
  • A bunk bed is two or more beds one atop the other.
  • A captain’s bed (also known as a chest bed or cabin bed) is a platform bed with drawers and storage compartments built in underneath.
  • A camp bed (also cot) is a simple, temporary, portable bed used by armies and large organizations in times of crisis. Many hotels offer folding cots for extra guests.
  • A canopy bed is similar to a four poster bed, but the posts usually extend higher and are adorned or draped with cloth, sometimes completely enclosing the bed.
  • A curtained bed is a luxury bed with curtains.
  • A daybed is a couch that is used as a seat by day and as a bed by night.
  • A futon is a traditional style of Japanese bed that is also available in a larger Western style.
  • A four poster bed is a bed with four posts, one in each corner.
  • A hospital bed is specifically designed to facilitate convalescence, traditionally in a hospital or nursing facility, but increasingly in other settings, such as a private residence. Modern hospital beds commonly have wheels to assist in moderate relocation, but they are larger and generally more permanently placed than a gurney. The hospital bed is also a common unit of measurement for the capacity of any type of inpatient medical facility, though it is just as common to shorten the term to bed in that usage.
  • An infant bed (also crib or cot) is a small bed specifically for babies and infants.
  • An iron bed, developed in the 1850s, is constructed of iron and steel.
  • A kang bed-stove is a Chinese ceramic room heater used as the platform for a bed.
  • A Manjaa is a traditional Punjabi bed made of tied ropes bordered by a wooden frame.
  • A Murphy bed or wall bed is a bed that can hinge into a wall or cabinet to save space.
  • A pallet is a thin, lightweight mattress.
  • A platform bed is a mattress resting on a solid, flat raised surface, either free-standing or part of the structure of the room.
  • A roll-away bed (or cot) is a bed whose frame folds in half and rolls in order to be more easily stored and moved.
  • A rope bed is a pre-modern bed whose wooden frame includes crossing rope to support the typically down-filled single mattress.
  • A sofa bed is a bed that is stored inside a sofa.
  • A state bed developed in Early Modern Europe from a hieratic canopy of state.
  • A toddler bed is a small bed for young children.
  • A trundle bed or truckle bed is a bed usually stored beneath a twin bed also sometimes referred to as a sleepover bed.
  • A vibrating bed is typically a coin-operated novelty found in a vintage motel. For a fee, the mattress vibrates for a duration of time. Alternatively it is a modern bed which vibrates by use of an off-centre motor. It is controlled by electronics for varying time and amplitude settings and is used therapeutically to ease back pains.
  • A waterbed is a bed/mattress combination where the mattress is filled with water.

Bed frames

Bed frames, also called bed steads, are made of wood or metal. The frame is made up of head, foot, and side rails. For heavy duty or larger frames (such as for queen- and king-sized beds), the bed frame also includes a center support rail. These rails are assembled to create a box for the mattress or mattress/box spring to sit on.

Types of bed frames include:

  • platform – typically used without a box spring
  • captain – has drawers beneath the frame to make use of the space between the floor and the bed frame
  • waterbed – a heavy-duty frame built specifically to support the weight of the water in the mattress (Mainly used on larger models)

Though not truly parts of a bed frame, headboards, footboards, and bed rails can be included in the definition. Headboards and footboards can be wood or metal. They can be stained, painted, or covered in fabric or leather.

Bed rails are made of wood or metal and are attached to a headboard and footboard. Wooden slats are placed perpendicular to the bed rails to support the mattress/mattress box spring.

Bed rails and frames are often attached to the bed post using knock-down fittings. A knock-down fitting enables the bed to be easily dismantled for removal. Primary knock-down fittings for bed rails are as follows:

  • Pin-and-hook fastener. A mortise or slot is cut vertically in the bedpost. Pins are inserted horizontally in the bed post so that the pins perpendicularly intersect the mortise. For example, if one looked in the mortise, one might see part of one horizontal pin at the bottom of the mortise and a part of a second pin toward the top of the mortise. Hooks are installed at the end of the rail. Usually these hooks are part of a plate that is attached to the rail. The hooks then are inserted into the bed post mortise and hook over the pins.
  • Plate-and-hook fastener. Instead of pins inserted horizontally into the bedpost, an eye plate (post plate) is installed on the bedpost. The hooks are installed on the rail, either as surface mount or recessed. Depending on the hardware, the bedpost may require a mortise in order to allow the hooks to fasten to the plate. This is also referred to as a keyhole fastener, especially if the connector is more of a “plug” than a “hook”.
  • Bed bolts (“through-bolts”) are a different means of a knock-down connection. A hole is typically drilled through the bedpost. The bolt head is inset and covered with a plug. In the rail, a dowel nut or other type of nut receives the bolt.

New bed styles appear every day, but all beds are a basic flat surface designed to keep the occupants comfortable for many hours.


  • Marshall Coyle says:

    Dear Erika,
    The Pins are simply called “pins” and can be bought at any large hardware store or department. If you can extract one from an unbroken rail to take with you, you can get an exact match. Your other solution, a much more costly one, is to buy a “double ended” bed frame to replace both rails and make the bed stronger but not prettier. You should be able to find one at any good furniture or sleep shop in your town, or from Amazon on the web. This frame has plates at both ends and you hang the footboard as well as the headboard. The bed then can move around and last “forever”.
    Marshall Coyle

  • JP. Sligh says:

    I am making a 1″ scale miniature brass bed for a 1915 room setting. I like the construction of the bed so much I do not want to cover it with all the bedding and want the mattress and support exposed. Trying to make it as real and accurate as possible. Would a bed of this era have a metal coil box spring supporting the mattress. If so, were the coil box springs exposed or were they covered in fabric. Also, did the coil boxsprings use wood boards as support or did the boxspring simply sit on the metal rails?
    Thanks so much for your help

    • Marshall Coyle says:

      Dear JP Sligh
      The bed springs varied considerably but the most common was an exposed coil product. It would have reversed angle iron on the bottom so as to be able to rest on the top of a flat metal rail. When the metal rails on the bed were reversed so as to be able to accommodate wood slats to support the bedspring, you might find a flat spring. A spring with iron tubes underneath going north south and very heavy east west iron castings on top and bottom. In between are steel cables and maybe some flat metal straps. These cables and straps attach to the ends with helical springs. When completed, the tension on the combined springs was considerable. These “cable springs” were never standardized in size but the option of using slats worked well when the angle iron rails were too wide. Covered coil boxsprings with 8way hand tied springs, exactly as occasionally to be found new today, were exceedingly rare because of fear of bedbugs. Most city dwellers opted for brass or iron beds in those days.

      Marshall Coyle

  • Richard says:

    I am making a Headboard for a rope bed I purchased at an auction and the Headboard was missing. The curious thing about this bed is that the two post for the head of the bed were not mortised for the Headboard. There are four posts all equal in length, about six feet, they were all longer but apparently cut shorter to lower the mattress. However, two of the posts have two each forged steel eye bolts ( one above the other about 18″ apart ) on one side of each post. I assume there was a large headboard that had two hooks above each other on either end of the headboard that rested in these eye hooks making the headboard very easy to lift up and remove. I examine rope beds when I come across them but have never seen another one like this. Any thoughts ?

    • Marshall Coyle says:

      Dear Richard,

      I can not get my head around your description no matter how hard you must be trying. You bed is obviously not from a factory and is probably a one of a kind. It would be very helpful if you could take a few pictures and send them to me. They may jar my memory if I have ever seen a similar bed.

      Marshall Coyle

  • Susan says:

    I have a question. I have always loved the antique or metal bed, and found one a few years ago at a garage sale in a rural area. I would like to get some information on the era it came from and approximate age. It is the typical full size with full metal piece in the middle going all the way down, a few spindles and then a see through metal area that goes from top to bottom with little holes that you can see through. The other interesting thing is that the footboard wraps around the foot of the bed. I have not seen any of the metal beds that do that. This bed came with the original metal springs and I feel it was a steal at $40. Could you give me any information on this bed? If you need me to send you a picture please email me where I can attach one. Thanking you in advance.

    • Marshall Coyle says:

      Dear Susan, yes the only way I can help you is with some clear pictures. Reply to this email address and simply attach the pictures. Please be patient waiting for an answer as I am forced to use dictation software with my current inability to work around the arthritis in my hands. Marshall Coyle

  • Jennifer says:

    I recently inherited my great-grandmother’s bed, which I have always loved for both it’s simplistic beauty and extraordinary sleeping comfort. When I removed the mattress (there is no boxspring) I saw that it is a “Way Sagless” (zig-zag spring) 4-poster bedstead.

    There are plenty of old advertisements on the web for Way Sagless but I cannot locate a history of the company. I would love to know when the bed was made.

    Secondly, although it is a double bed, the family always referred to it as a 3/4 poster bed. The posts are just over 5′ high and the finials are removable, but there is no canopy. I don’t know what to call it, but I know it’s been slept on since the late 1800’s and it is truly” sagless”.


    • Marshall Coyle says:

      Dear Jennifer,
      Thank you for jogging my memory. When I Googled the name, I came across this site with old signs painted on buildings with a Brooklyn location, but following it further, the factory, or “a” factory using the name advertises itself in Minneapolis with other references. One was the “Burton Dixie” company that used the names and sold a spring with the name, but not the feature that I remember that distinguished what furniture dealers called “sagless”. I realize that this has addresses, but not the truth as I remember it. The word, “sagless” as used in metal springs seemed to be generic although a further search of trademarks might reveal otherwise. I do not have the time or energy to dig in further, but have clear recollections of what the name “sagless” implied in the fifties, sixties, maybe the seventies because I sold products with “Sagless” brand springs. In the nineteenth century, and still today, fine upholstery had eight way hand tied springs in the base. These were the progenitors of the box spring as made in 1855 by the Charles P. Rogers company in upholstered furniture that they made in those days along with fine mattresses.

      Nevertheless, in the 1880’s and continuing until maybe 1980, many small companies made bed springs of twisted wire usually called cable springs and called the sagless, but not “Sagless” as the name apparently belonged to the Burton Dixie company. I traded with Burton Dixie in the 1950’s as they had become mattress makers as well as metal spring, and metal bed makers. Your bed may or may not be a Burton Dixie. The zig zag spring back in “my good old days” had migrated to upholstery bases, usually on low end, but not exclusively, as they permitted much more design flexibility than did the tall coils in the hand tied. I remember buying a lipstick red mid-century chair for our home. The chair had no cushion, as the sole springing were zig zags that were sold in large rolls by “somebody” generic as upholstery supplies, and the zig zag in bed springs seemed to have disappeared or become irrelevant.

      The appelation 3/4 or “four Oh” was used for beds using springs that were 48″ wide and 72-75″ long. This was a very popular size in 1950 in NYC because this city of immigrants, then and now, had a continuous supply of small sized adults, or families that raised two or three kids to a bed, making the 3/4 popular. The 4/6 denominated the “marriage bed” or cama de matrimonia. I do not know of any contemporary maker of 4/0 mattresses, but if you need one for sleeping purposes, you can go to company that cuts foam to size and also makes covers for them. Many boat or RV suppliers probably sell such products, and I half remember the name of the source where they buy, and cannot, at his minute typing while waking up on my wonderful mattress, the wholesale resource, but there is one in the midwest and sooner or later it will come to mind. If this is direct source useful for you, drop me an email instead of posting on the blog. Measure your comfortable mattress and maybe you will discover that it is way smaller than a full size 54″. There will not be springs in the all cotton or all hair mattress. There will be many pounds of sloughed off skin cells, and maybe dust mites that live on them, but although you could buy an innerspring in the era when your bed was made, they would not have survived,

      Happy sleeping,

      Marshall Coyle

  • Kathleen Zeleznock says:

    I too have an antique rope bed that the side rails and headboad and footboard rails screw in. It all comes apart and there are no nails or screws holding any of it together when assembled. May I send pictures and get your opinion about it? It came from a Great Aunt’s home in Illinois. I have had it for 40 yrs.

    • Marshall Coyle says:

      Dear Kathleen,

      It will be my pleasure to try to help you. Please state what it is about the bed that you need information about. I can not offer you any valuation but can often solve assembly problems with older beds. The more the merrier with the pictures and, I do not mean to say the obvious too obviously, but take your time taking the pictures and prop up the camera or cell phone when you can so that the pictures will be sharp. I doubt it, but if there are any labels, or writing of any kind, include them in the pictures. Most rope beds predate the Spanish American war. You have to be very careful when shopping for a mattress. Depending on all the details, my first thought is something as simple as a futon. You do not want innerspring or solid foam. Or you may want it, but it doesn’t want you. When rope beds were in vogue, mattresses were also home made and consisted of a bag full of something. The something was incredibly varied from old rags to pine needles or other off-the-ground filling. A cotton futon, or a cotton and foam futon is closest to what someone in your family used many years ago. This is exciting. So much more interesting than people complaining that their memory foam is smelly or that their four year old Sealy has collapsed. This is real history.
      Marshall Coyle.


  • Diane says:

    I have an antique rope bed that the rails screw in. It is an odd shape and short. I am trying to decide if sell or try to retro fit so is longer. What advice and value would you give?

  • Beth Motley says:

    I just bought a full size antique four poster wooden bed with wood headboard, side rails and foot board. The side rails have two large steel L shaped brackets but there are no slats and no ledge to attach a metal support. Will the steel brackets be enough support for the boxsprings and mattress? This is a guest bedroom that will not see a lot of wear.. I also noticed that there are small brass rods attached to tne outside of the side rails and foot board. I am assuming these have something to do with a bedskirt but am not finding any information about them. Can you explain their purpose?

    • Marshall Coyle says:

      Dear Beth,

      The L shaped brackets were used to support an open-coil steel spring. If you are going to use it with a foundation or box spring, you will need to install a ledge running along the bottom of each rail as most modern rails have them. Then use four bed slats to hold up your new or old foundation. 90 Seconds is a lot of wear if you just try to rely on the brackets as they now are. That is the time I estimate between a couple lying down and grousing about how narrow and short the bed feels and when the spring collapses to the floor. You can buy antique bed metal bed springs on eBay occasionally. You also may or may not have a standard size double and need to know for sure before you start buying bedding. You need 54″ between the rails and 76″ between the footboard and headboard. Anything more than 1/2 inch different is not a double (full size) bed. As far at the curtain rods on the side of the rails, it is time to take out your cell phone or camera and send me a picture.

      • Pat Kingman says:

        Hi Marshall

        First — yours is a truly GREAT website — years of practical experience distilled & recorded for others to benefit.

        I am posting because I have encountered exactly the same situation as Ms Motley. I recently received the 1933 maple bed that was a wedding present to my parents. (How well I remember as a toddler crawling into it on a Sunday morning — also, as it was on the first floor, whenever I was sick I was put to bed in it during the day.) It did have the 4 angle brackets as described. And I do recall hearing tales of collapse. (!) I also noticed surface damage on the outside of the bedrails, apparently in punishment for collapse!

        It came to me with a Beautyrest Arlington Ridge mattress and a non-descript “foundation” which sagged a couple of inches when one sat on the center-side-edge of the bed. I had a friend remove the angle irons and add a poplar strip along the inside of the bedrails. Because I do not like a high bed, I also asked for a roll of “bed slats”, such as I have used with IKEA beds for many years, to replace the “foundation” and decrease the final height of the bed mattress by a few inches. The “slats” are also poplar, and provide support for the mattress, with approx 3/4″ spacing between the slats, from head to foot. I notice that your webside doesn’t have much if any reference to IKEA, but I have slept on IKEA beds for over 40 years & had no complaints — in fact, I’ve been sleeping on an IKEA twin bed for a few weeks while this “fix” has been underway. So I am posting for 2 reasons — first to encourage Ms. Motley to go ahead & replace the angle irons with a similar fix — ie, head-to-foot support for some kind of foundation, , and second to ask you to comment on the “slats” (as used by IKEA etc) as a foundation, compared with plywood etc. .(In order to keep the final mattress height as low as possible I I am omitting the “foundation” & plan to rely totally on the set of IKEA-style slats instead..)

        Any comments you care to make would be appreciated — and I suspect that a lot of readers who have slept on IKEA “slat beds” would welcome any comments you might offer. Although I realize that IKEA may be outside of your direct experience, I am interested as to how “slat beds” — meaning closely spaced slats from head to foot — compare with more elaborate “foundations”, .

        Again , thank you for the time & effort that you have invested in educating the rest of us….


        • Marshall Coyle says:

          Dear Pat Kingman,

          Thanks for the adding to my knowledge and helping Mrs.Motley. You will have to put me down as “ambivalent” as far as the use of Ikea slats. The ultra cheap sticks cost less than plywood and squeak through as far as close enough spacing. But historically has earned it’s reputation for being delivered “landfill” ready, the old fashioned way. CHEAP and like the cute girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead, when they are good, they are very very good. And when they are bad, you threw away your money. The flexible slat arrangements are more interesting as they have the capability of improving the comfort of any springless slab of foam they are under. These steam bent wooden slats are about 90% discounted from the original and wonderful European versions and illustrate both the strength and the weakness of Chinese manufacturing and Ikea sourcing. The slats like their rigid brethren, fail unpredictably. The plastic doohickeys that hold them in place break and somehow disappear even when not broken. Foam mattresses absent any kind of springing provide little comfort compared to the same cushioning used on top of an innerspring unit in a hybrid,or an honest-to-goodness coil box spring. The irony is that as box springs are near extinction, the foam peddlers, especially those of the memory foam stripe, hammer away with the big lie that when hardish urethane foam is layered under the memory foam, the ordinary or forgetful species of foam can replace the mechanical action of a steel coil.

          It can not and therefore does not. But the Ikea bent wood spring sort of can. I can only surmise that when you call something a “more elaborate foundation”, you are referring to the Leggett and Platt wire grid type that is delivered ready for covering to virtually every mattress maker. These L&P grid top foundations are as reliable as an anvil and are ideal for use under hybrid innerspring mattresses without qualifications. Stick built foundation’s quality varies all over the place. I am appalled to see expensive mattresses being peddled with what looks like an upside down empty box spring with a matching cover. When the word “Amish” is attached, it is often a tip off to unmitigated junk, but as ever, not always.

          Have a safe and happy holiday weekend,

          Marshall Coyle

  • Therese Janacek says:

    Thank you for all your info on mattresses. I went searching for consumer reports on mattresses and you were right; they were very bias. It depends on who is paying them. We had an old cotton mattress that was made locally in Texas, with a box spring and that was the best bed we had in the 43 years of our marriage. I am searching for a new mattress. We have a 12 year old pillow top Serta that pillow top has sagged to nothing. I put a new pillow top mattress cover on it, but it has collapsed too. What type of mattress do you recommend?

    • Marshall Coyle says:

      Dear Mrs/ Janacek,

      I earnestly recommend that you read this new essay right here on the Old Bed Guy. If this does not provide the road map you need, I know of no other way. I no longer offer the one-on-one virtual shopping that I used to do when I had more energy. If you were happy on your old cotton felt mattress, it was probably because your box spring was exceptionally good. You may want to seek out a mattress re-builder or one that makes to order. Any local mattress maker can now buy an uncovered OK coil box spring from Leggett and Platt, so no excuses that there are no more box springs being made. Ditto for felted cotton. You may want to to contact “Gold Bond” in Ct. They make all cotton futons, and actually have their own cotton processing machinery, and are very nice people to deal with. They will not sell direct, but could point you to a dealer. Just be aware, no matter what kind of cotton or box spring you may find, it will not feel like it did fifty years ago, no more than you do. The Mattress Buying Short cuts can lead you to an affordable and good modern technology mattress, far superior to the mass produced pillow top that has so disappointed you. In any case, with all the cotton you Texans have, a little more work should get you the nostalgic mattress closer to home. Think Futon shop. All an authentic futon is is the same as what you had half a century ago.

  • Jason says:

    Hi Marshall, great informative content. I just have a quick question – is it possible to find a comfy sofa bed?!
    I understand that obviously a fold away mattress needs to be fairly flexible and compact for storage reasons, but are there any you know of that offer a good level of comfort? Many I have tried just don’t do the trick. Cheers.

    • Marshall Coyle says:

      Jason, In a word, no. Foldaway innerspring mattresses have little or no support and are too thin to provide proper support. When they approach being comfortable they are too rigid and thick to work properly. Solid LATEX or a urethane foam, with or without amnesia, with a density of at least 4.o pounds per square foot, is the closest to comfort and durability the market offers.

      I note that you are in UK. Maybe something exists there, but nothing that I know of on this side of the pond.


  • J. I. Wolk says:

    I inherited a beautiful inlaid wooden bed from my grandmother that has iron bedrails that connect to the headboard and footboard. It has many wooden slats between the rails, but also has very thin metal rods that are looped into holes in each side of the bed frame, threaded on the ends and the ends meet in the middle and are connected by a tiny flat nut, presumably a coupling nut. Unfortunately, the last of the nuts has been lost in the shipping to my house and I don’t seem to be able to find a replacement that connects the two rods successfully. Is this type of connection unusual? Should I just re-create the rod/nut coupling with new material? I am afraid I will do damage to the bed and frame if I don’t get this repaired. Thank you for your time.

  • Heather Wiley says:

    I inherited a “brass” bed from my great grandparents. As I began cleaning it I found that it was not solid brass, but covered with a thin sheet of brass that is wrapped around steel. I believe it was probably manufactured around the mid to late 1800s. At that time did the manufacturers refer to these beds as “brass beds”? If I were shopping for an antique brass bed would I find that most people refer to this type of bed as a “brass bed”?

    • Marshall Coyle says:

      By all standards, your “brass bed” is a brass bed. Brass is a relatively soft and weak metal, while iron (the metal in your bed is iron) is strong and malleable. The iron armature or skeleton in your bed is the reason that it has survived so long. Modern solid brass beds do not have iron support. They rely on using thicker tubing for strength. This is a trade off. Brass is much more costly than iron, but eliminating the iron eliminates the blacksmith and the high labor costs of traditional manufacture. The real issue is shiny new Asian brass plated steel beds masquerading as solid brass. If the bed is newish, a simple test is to place a magnet on the bed. If it is attracted to the steel, the bed is not solid brass. Enjoy your historic bed.

      Marshall Coyle

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