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September 22, 2009

If Beds Could Talk

By Sarah

Pray for my soul: I've been shopping for a new mattress and in so doing have accidentally entered a fresh retail hell.
It started with a renovation - no lectures please. Yes, for all my talk about penny pinching this year, 


Charlie and I gave in and had the wall in our bedroom straightened out last week. As with any renovation like this, you just can't let it be. Oh, no. You have to fix the ceiling, too, and the walk-in closet that the bedroom abuts. Of course, new paint EVERYWHERE! (That we're doing ourselves.) And lights. Fresh carpet goes without saying. While we're at it, with this big new room let's finally get a king-sized bed. 
And so a $2,000 job turned into a....well, I don't want to think about it. Especially since we've also got a freshman in college.
In our defense, we've been putting off correcting the closet/bedroom/hallway mistake since Charlie built the addition himself back in the late 1990s. He realized immediately that the architect got way too angle happy with the seven-sided bedroom she designed. Too bad we didn't recognize this before the place was framed.
 We've been living with drywall and plywood floors in the closet and  hallway since 1999. But that's


 okay. Drywall and plywood floors are pretty standard stuff in Vermont. It was fine - until we reached our late 40s and early 50s and the permanent impermanence began to wear thin. Also, our queen bed was suddenly too small. (Amazing how those mattresses can shrink.) And so we closed our eyes and did it.
Okay. I expected to shell out some bucks to Hutch, our very reasonable contractor who built our other addition last year. I did not expect the new bed and the new mattress to cost MORE than a week of his hard work and materials.
Since when did mattresses become space-age engineered monstrosities? The last mattress we bought (13 years ago) cost $600 for the entire set and has been just fine. (Though Charlie disagrees.) I imagined I would walk into a mattress store, pay maybe $800 for a king set and walk out. Oh, how naive I was.
If you haven't shopped for a mattress lately, here's a heads up. 
a) Buying a new mattress is exactly like buying a new car. Bullshit Abounds. "Individually wrapped coils" are to mattresses what "undercoating" is to Fords. "You can walk out of here with a new mattress right now" is akin to "what do I have to do to get you in this car today?" I even had one salesman talk to "his boss" about the price of a $4375 "Sleep to Live" by Kingsdown after I mentioned that I was looking at a mattress more than half that price. He returned with a "one-time" offer of $1919. His boss was feeling generous.


b) The names are ridiculous, just like cars. Consider the Stearns and Foster "LeMans Ultra Plush Euro Pillow Top" for those who equate a solid night's sleep with French racing. But wait, it gets better. One store might sell brand A as "Super Deluxe Plus Grand Prix" and a store down the street might sell the exact same mattress as "Euro Plush Spoiled Tush". So you can't comparison shop! Isn't that brilliant?
c) Everything is on sale. Everything. It is not uncommon to find a 100 to 200% markup drastically reduced. In the end, Charlie and I bought a mattress from a local store. It wasn't on sale and, yet, it was far less expensive than equivalents - no comparison shopping, remember? - in Burlington. His argument was that they didn't play the markup game and I believe him. Also, the store's been in business 40 years. If I've got a problem, they know word of mouth will spread.

d) Wood. Springs. Felt. Padding. These words, once the essence of mattresses and box springs, 

Down pillow

no longer count. Now it's latex and inner core and Visco foam (whatever that is). They have managed to take a relatively simple complex, once a bag stuffed with straw or down, and completely messed with it. I give up.

e) Finally, they're expensive. Crazy expensive. And the line every salesman uses? You got it - "You spend eight to ten hours of your day in bed. Isn't that time worth a good investment?" Fine. Except, you're not plugging savings into a mutual fund. You're investing in foam that will with time (sooner than you expect) sink, collapse and harden until your back is stiff and you're back to the beginning - shopping for a mattress and listening to spiels about eight to ten hours a day investments.
Which mattress did we buy? Chances are, it's the one you either didn't buy or you did buy and now hate. Because that, too, is the rule of mattress shopping - no one loves his or her mattress. Unless they shelled out for a Tempurapedic, then they rave. I wish I could, but I can't. To me, those mattresses are hard in the winter (when we leave the windows open and bundle in blankets) and hot in the summer. Give me springs.
We'll get our mattress and bed next week. In the meantime, our stuff is spread all over the house and 


Charlie and I are basically sleeping in separate bedrooms. (That was another reason for delaying the renovation - for when Anna was in college and we had more space.) There's irony there, but I'll let it pass. All I know is that the $250 twin no name mattress in my office feels divine, possibly because the bed is at least eighty years old and has real springs instead of box "foundations."
But they don't sell those anymore. Of course.

So, now I've ordered a king set but am having second thoughts. If you've got a great bed, please don't keep it a secret. After all, I'll spend eight to ten hours of my life in this bed and...



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when we needed new beds, we went to a bed surplus store. paid less than $400 for each bed. got just what we wanted.

Brother-in-law and his wife have Sleep Number beds at both their homes, and they love them. But they cost two arms and two legs apiece.

I like whatever they have at the nicer Sheratons and Marriotts--they call them the Sweet Slumber beds, and they're so comfy. It could also be the lovely sheets they use, along with lofty warm comforters, all of which adds up to a cozy night.

Which brings up another topic: Have you priced sheets for the king-sized bed yet, Sarah? Hold on to your wigs and keys, as Letterman says. Especially if you want high thread count, which is the only way to go, as far as I'm concerned.

Trivia: Do you know what the term "thread count" means? It's the number of threads in a one-inch square of the weave of the fabric. When I was in college and took Fingerprinting, we used linen counters, which are powerful magnifying glasses held one inch above a one-inch square, to count the whorls, loops and arches. When shopping for sheets, look for the terms "two-ply", "percale", "pima" and "Egyptian cotton" as a sign of high-quality, and unless you prefer very limp sheets, avoid any that say "one-ply", or "sateen". Sateen weave has "floats" of threads. These make the fabric look shiny, but it's a much weaker weave than a plain percale weave, which is the stronger of the two. Percale sheets last a lot longer.

Here's a site with a lot of info:


PS Macy's often has their wonderful 800-thread count sheets on sale. I've pretty much replaced all our old ones with these, and have given them as gifts, as well.

I'm still trying to figure out what memory foam is (sez I, sleeping on a mattress that's, ulp, 22 years old). But I did see a TV crime show the other night in which the detective looked at the mattress, saw the outline of a body next to the corpse, and said "there was someone else here." What does that say about the mattress?

Limp sheets. Good one.

Did you build a platform for the bed, like I told you? Because if you didn't. I don't want to hear any bitching about your damn knees.

Just Saying.

Me, Margie

Forgot to add: Sateen sheets with a thread count of 400 are actually equivalent to 200 thread count sheets of pima or Egyptian cotton in a plain weave, like percale. Beware of phony high thread counts. The site I linked above gets a few things wrong, and they don't point this out, by the way.

Here's a link to the Macy's sheets, which are on sale right now:


We'll be mattress shopping in the next few years . . . guess I should start socking money away in a special account now, huh? Oh, and I recently picked up some "bamboo" sheets from Target. I love them. Real soft and comfy.

My God, for those prices the mattresses should be curing cancer and fixing chronic back pain.

Would any store let you actually sleep on one the whole night? Because I've slept in hotel beds thinking "Oh, this is so lovely and comfy" and then, 6 hours later awaken with a back in spasms. And is there a Lemon Law for mattresses?

a) I wish we had Target here - we don't.
b) Karen, to possess so much sheet knowledge is a gift. Yes, I am prepared for the king sheet blast. But the way I look at it, having sunk in all this money, the sheets are gonna be the least of it.

I just amended the original post to ask what kind of bed people have because I think I'm gonna cancel my order. I'm losing sleep over my sleep!

The lemon law is interesting. In Vermont, you can return - and resell - a used mattress, a very dangerous proposition considering the bed bug infestation.

That's why I'm staying away from surplus stores and seconds. Lots of times, those mattresses are store returns rewrapped in plastic. Okay, the original owners might have slept on them once or twice, but that's enough. I need new.

Well, no wonder bedbugs are so darn hard to get rid of! Sheesh.

When we bought our mattress the guy told me that if we took the plastic cover off we couldn't return it, per Ohio laws. But who is going to sleep on a mattress with a plastic bag over it, especially in mid-summer?

We bought two new queen-sized sets, since we needed to take our old bed and a double down to the farm last year. The new mattress is a pillowtop, which can only be rotated top to bottom, which I did not realize. Still not sure how I feel about that. I like the mattress, although my husband does not, and he complains about it all the time. But he complains about all mattresses, period, and ends up sleeping on the floor about half the time. One of the girls even gave him a yoga mat just for that purpose.

If someone could solve this problem of mattress choice and good sleep they would deserve a Nobel Prize, in my opinion.

Soooo....my full bed was my grandmothers and my sheets are my favorite color, leopard.

I believe you can order from Target online. Or go the next time you visit your daughter - there are plenty around here. :) Or tell me what you want, and I'll go to the one right near my office and send it to you.

I think I posted to your comment on Facebook that our mattress is a double pillow-top - so it can be both flipped and rotated. And we have found that it needs to be - the pillow top mushes down after a while. We bought ours in a local department store (Boscov's - love them), and we love it. Don't remember the brand right now. We've stuck with Queen, partly because it seems big enough, even with 3 (small) dogs that like to join us, and partly because our master bedroom is pretty small.

Beds are tough. And it seems like they are opening Sleepys stores on every corner. How many mattresses can people be buying? It's not like you buy them even once a year.

We have a Queen pillow top . . . I like it fine. Our problem is that I can't find a mattress pad that doesn't pop loose in the corners, which then means the sheets slip off too . . .

I'd love a king. Steve is 6'4" and an active sleeper. He is so active that he pulls the fitted sheet off the mattress most nights. Jersey sheets have been the answer as they withstand the movement better. Karen you are so right about the sateen sheets, we (he) wore through a set in a year. The Jerseys are cheaper still, but easy to replace.
My dream is real linen.
The cats refuse to share the bed because we move around too much during the night.

I had a lovely foam mattress for years and it was still many years from needing to be replaced when the other side of this twin home was gutted by fire and we had smoke damage.

The first thing the insurance adjuster told us was we had to replace our mattress because of the smoke. Went to buy another foam mattress and, at the time, NO ONE HAD ANY in stock, we'd have to wait 6 weeks! We needed one immediately so we settled for a double pillow top innerspring and it wasn't a cheap one. (I have to tell you, I'm like the princess and the pea.) The first year wasn't too bad but I swear I can feel the springs. I want my foam mattress back. Now everyone has them but we don't have the spare $$$$ to replace the (fairly new) but uncomfortable one. {Sigh}

Holly, how funny you should mention linen sheets. I was just thinking this morning as I was making the bed about how I'd love to have some. Years ago I went to an estate sale and chatted with the daughter of the deceased woman about the linens they were selling. She said that her mother had had real linen sheets, but she wasn't selling them--she was keeping them for herself!

I have looked online for linen sheets. They are not easy to find, and they are ridiculously pricey, like over $1,000 for a set. But they last forever, and would be a dream to sleep on. Especially if you had someone to iron them for you. :-P A friend used to have Porthault sheets that she sent to the dry cleaners to be laundered and pressed, alternating two sets. She knows how to live.

Karen, these aren't fine linen, but they are linen:

I've seen them under a thousand and still better quality than these. I'd take these anyway.

I bought a medium grade mattress from a local manufacturer here in Pittsburgh 3 years ago and i love it! The owner does the commericals and professes to sell direct to the consumer without all the hype. (I think he used to be a VP at one of those big-time mattress manufacturers, and went out on his own.) Anyway, it was the best experience, a very good price, and best mattress I've had (and I am really fussy about what I sleep on).

It is impossible to comparison shop! The mattress company will put a different fabric cover on the same mattress for different stores. grrrrr
My hubby was a cover hog too. To solve the problem I bought the next biggest size top sheet & comforter, then I would make the bed with it hanging to the floor on my side. He could steal 2 ft of covers during the night & I would still be covered in the morning.
My brother-in-law had back problems and they were always trying to find a mattress that would help. He finally realized that when they stayed at a certain hotel, his back felt better. They called the hotel & bought a mattress from them (new) and he was a happy camper.

I bought a pillow top queen sized bed 4 years ago, loved it for a year, hate it now, too cheap to replace what still seems to me to be a 'new' bed.

Judy - look for a mattress pad that is 100% cotton with full sides like a fitted sheet - stays on the bed, helps hold the bottom sheet on.

I have an upholstered day bed in the living room, love love love it. When my queen bed bugs me to much I go sleep on the couch. Can't say if anyone else likes or doesn't like the mattress I have, um, I am the only one who has ever slept on it.

I remember looking at sheets one time and being amazed at how soft and wonderful they were, until I found out they were $840. Really, sheets for $840, that store is long since closed.

karen - Uhmm, $200 for one sheet. That's too rich to me, though I bet it feels wonderful.

Sarah, that's why I linked the sheets at Macy's. They're wonderful, and an incredible bargain, at $80 for a queen set.

I've had a waterbed since my first apartment. They have really evolved over the years - ours is now a King with dual wells (so we can each control the temperature) but the top is pillowed so there is no gap in the middle.

They build them inside regular-sized mattress frames now too, so you can use regular sheets. Left to my own devices, I'd still have a full motion one, but this one is waveless - Unless you stand up and jump on it, it feels like a regular mattress.

They come in pieces, so there is no problem with stairways or doorways. As long as you take care of them (you need to add chemicals periodically) and don't tear them (doesn't happen with the waveless like it used to with the old ones) they will last for years.

Have any of you heard of sleep to live mattresses? I tried one last week and...OMG!

what's a 'live' mattress?
do 4 cats on the bed count?

Kathy, I loved my old waterbed! I've slept on two to-die-for hotel mattresses over the last year, and didn't even want to know what they cost :) We did indulge in a Tempurpedic (sp??) when we upgraded to a king-size bed, but only because we had inheritance money to help pay for it. And I still got sticker shock after buying the sheets. Which I want to replace for better ones.

Oh -- and don't forget the pillows! Sigh.

I'm afraid I don't get the attraction of linen sheets -- maybe because, in my own princess-and-pea twist, I'm so sensitive that the tiniest bit of linen in a garment makes me itch unbearably.

We had a sleep factory tv commercial that wss running this month touting the "what evil lurks in your mattress if it's more than eight years old". It gave me such a paranoid feeling that I was ready to kick my mattress to the curb. But then I told myself that my mattress still had a few years left without worrying and I went to sleep peacefully in the first time in a month. Now I need to tap into my dividends soon and search for the all perfect mattress and if I don't find it before my mattress turns on me I'm in big trouble.

It never occurred to me that real linen sheets have gotten so rare/expensive . . . I have tended just to look for affordable cotton, reasonable thread count . . . but now I know why I have always cherished the one linen sheet I have that was once my grandmother's--it is the BEST. Since I have lived by the rule of flipping the mattress top for bottom and head for heels regularly, I appreciate the mention of how a pillow-top makes this difficult.

Good luck, Sarah! I've been moving slowly towards getting a new mattress for several years, but the sheer repellant factor of all the different names, foams, etc., has meant that I've gone slowly (and still want to save for an organic cotton one, at the end of the day). Sleep Number appeals, but not at the cost of having a magnetic-field-generating machine (to maintain firmness levels) always under my bed!

There are two places in town that custom make mattresses for less than you can find them in the department stores...and they do special sizing, which was great when we discovered the floor to ceiling bookcase in our daughter's bedroom was bigger than a twin and less than a queen...and not exactly a full either. They measured and we got exactly what was needed. As for sheets, we just buy the Queen size and tuck them in. The bed in the master bedroom is from the same place. We're happy...but we know that one will need replacing at some point in the near future. Good luck with yours :o)

Verlo made a mattress to fit my supersingle waterbed frame when my P.T. made me give up the waterbed. It's memory foam, and I'm grateful to you for pointing out the heat factor in that foam (I thought it was just me).
Somewhere I saw a his&hers quilt set to thwart cover thieves . . . it seems a logical solution, but you'd have to have double sheets, too, to make it work . . .
Good luck and happy sleeping. (I'm thinking zero gravity would be the real answer, just sleep in space . . . ;-)

Mary, Verlo is also the favorite of antique collectors and (former) waterbed owners. Some of the antique beds were '3/4'. Just take the measurements to them & they make the mattress to fit.
My friend raves about her foam mattress, but they make me sweat.

I can't remember when we bought our king size bed but I do remember that all the stores has "special names" for the mattresses, which prevented any shopping around.

I heard the Temperpedic beds are hot. Not for me.

And I live with a cover hog. We have separate covers. He has his and I have mine. It's easier that way.

I have had one set of 1000 ct sheet. INCREDIBLE. I cried when I wore them out (kept washing and putting them on the bed!) Have set of bamboo sheets. Very nice. Very soft.

what is a LIVE bed?

Thanks for the post and thanks to everyone who posted comments. We need to replace our poor, years-old sets but didn't know what to invest (truly an investment) in. All the comments led me on a online search. Here are a few things I found.

For Wamsutta sheets and sheet sets try amazon.com. I was surprised by the prices.

In the comments on amazon, I found a link to a customer's recommended site: hotelstoyou.com. OMG, 50 percent off sheet sets - quality sets. You can find bamboo, easy care Wamsutta, and organic sheet sets.
I am going to investigate this site for sure.

There is also a link from the official Wamsutta site to the Disney Resort bedding collection. I've never been, but have heard raves about those. Moderately expensive.

Keeping fitted sheets on the bed - My local Target and WalMart sometimes sell these gadgets to keep fitted sheets and mattress covers on the beds. Basically, they are pieces of elastic about 8 to 9 inches long and about 3/4 to 1 wide. Each end has a garter type fastener gizmo sewn on each end. These gizmos are like the fasteners that used to come on girdles and garter belts to hold up stockings. I’m sure there is an official name for the fastener thingie – but I can’t think of it right now. You need four of these sheet fasteners. The elastic parts go underneath the corner edge of the mattress and fasten to the sheet on each side of the corner. I hope this makes sense.

I have used these for years and they have helped tremendously in keeping sheets on the bed. These could easily be made at home with elastic and the fastener thingies.

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