For those cold, damp nights, tuck yourself into luxurious, natural loungewear and bedding.
I don’t remember anyone teaching me how to make my bed, but from an early age I took great care in the task. Standing in the middle of my mattress, on top of my sheets and blankets, I’d loft my favorite flowered bedspread high over my head, shaking it down in just the right way so it would settle smoothly. The shaking was an important step, not only for tidy bed-making, but for clean sheets, as my cat liked to climb up underneath the bedspread and sleep on my top sheet, his furry body making a warm lump next to my pillow and his tiny, tickling hairs scattering all over my linens.
The phrase “making the bed” dates from Saxon times, when rich and poor made beds out of sacks filled with hay and slept side by side in a hallway or by the fire to keep warm. Modern beds have been refined well beyond hay and burlap, and it’s no wonder a bed’s appearance is important: We spend a third of our lives there. A beautiful, cozy, tidy bed evokes our earliest childhood pleasures, provides a haven from the workaday world, becomes a sacred space for lovers, and cradles us as we age. As Guy de Maupassant wrote in his 1882 short story Le Lit, “The bed, my friend, is our whole life. It is there we are born, it is there that we love, it is there that we die.”
Historically, beds haven’t always been used for sleeping or love-making. According to Alecia Beldegreen in her book, The Bed, the Greeks used their beds at banquets. French king Louis XIV owned four hundred beds and often held court from one of them. Matisse used to lie in bed and doodle on his walls with a piece of charcoal attached to his cane. Winston Churchill worked from his bed during World War II. And in 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their famous honeymoon “bed-in for peace” in the presidential suite at the Amsterdam Hilton. As Groucho Marx once said, “Anything that can’t be done in a bed isn’t worth doing at all.”
If the bed is so important, how can we go about creating the most comfortable and pleasing one in which to live all this life? East Bay bedding experts have a few good ideas.
It’s Not Just the Thread Count That Counts
Around the world, bedding has long been handmade, most often by a community of women for bridal trousseaux. The trousseau included bed linens, towels, blankets, and pillowcases, and was meant to last the woman’s whole married life. The fineness of the linens signaled the woman’s status, or, in some cultures, the status of her husband’s family, which provided the raw material to make the bedding. Poor girls might go to the marriage bed with one sheet and one pillow, while their richer counterparts might bring more than a dozen sets.
We may not make our own bed linens anymore, but bedding that lasts beautifully can be treasured just as much as those handmade, lace-edged pillowcases. Many of us believe that the best way to gauge the quality of linens, particularly sheeting, is by thread count: the higher the count, the higher the quality and luxury of the sheets. But thread count is not the critical component with cotton sheeting, says Jim Kennedy, co-owner with Louis Toth of High Cotton Living, a luxury bedding, bath, and home furnishings boutique on Solano Avenue. Kennedy brings 20 years of linens sales and expertise to the business. The key, he says, is to follow the cotton, not the count.
“More important,” Kennedy says, “is where the cotton comes from, where it’s woven, and where it’s finished.”
The quality of cotton is determined by the length of its fiber, or staple, because weavers spin finer-textured thread from longer fibers, which in turn makes softer fabric. Cotton from Egypt boasts the longest staple, at over two inches. Sea Island cotton, grown in the West Indies, the islands of the Carolinas, and along the Georgia coast, has an average staple of two inches. Pima cotton, the American version of Egyptian cotton, was originally cultivated in Arizona by the Pima Indians. Its staple averages about one-and-a-half inches.
Once the cotton has been spun into thread, it must be woven into fabric, and then cut into sheeting. With hundreds of years of experience, the Italians and the Portuguese are generally thought to produce the highest quality fabric in the industry, Kennedy says. In fact, expert weavers may not know the thread count they’ll end up with. They just start with the highest-grade cotton and apply their expertise, says Kennedy.
“What’s confusing for the average consumer is that a 200-thread count, 100 percent Egyptian cotton, Italian-woven, percale sheet set–five-star hotel stuff–is of higher quality than 600-count sheets made from inferior cotton and woven with less expertise,” he explains.
The type of weave also contributes to a sheeting fabric’s character. Percale, often associated with easy-care, cotton-poly fabric, is a classic, tight weave that can be used with 100 percent cotton, creating a long-lasting material. Other weaves include sateen, which gives mercerized cotton a smooth, lustrous finish; jacquard, which is a type of loom as well as fabric weave, produces tapestries, brocades, and damask; damask, an alternating satin and matte-textured pattern is reversible; and matelassé, a triple-woven fabric with a raised pattern that ages well, no matter what kind of use it gets.
“People want fabrics that can take abuse from the dog, the cat, and the kids,” Kennedy says.
Beds Au Naturel
Natural or organic bedding has grown in popularity in recent years, since studies show that PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers (poisonous chemicals used as flame retardant in textiles) have increased in Americans’ bloodstreams since the 1970s. Heather Gahan, the buyer for Earthsake in Berkeley, says you can make your bed healthier by using bedding made from PureGrow wool and organic cotton, as well as “green” cotton, which is unbleached and undyed, but not necessarily organic. Earthsake offers sheets, comforters, and comforter covers in these earth-friendly fabrics, as well as mattresses and pillows. Organic bedding helps sleepers avoid toxic chemicals and allergens such as dust mites.
“Organic bedding is gaining ground,” Gahan says. “Especially with the reports about toxic chemicals in mattresses. Wool in particular is a good choice, since it’s a natural fire-retardant, it’s more breathable than down, and it resists dust mites.”
Another natural fabric trend is fabrics made from the cellulose of an easily renewable wood fiber such as beech or bamboo grown expressly for this purpose: a key environmental advantage, since regular cotton is second only to corn as the crop requiring the highest amount of pesticides and fertilizers. The wood fiber fabric’s appeal is its breathability, silky texture, wrinkle-resistance, and yes, high thread count. Some of these fabrics are definitely luxury items: A queen-size sheet set made of Lyocell fabric (made from beech wood) can cost from $600 to $800. But as Gahan points out, bedding decisions may be about more than just the bottom line.
“What is value? Is it a great price, or is it a quality product that lasts?” she says. “Sure, there’s up-front expense, but you may decide it’s worth it.”
To Bed, to Wit, With Style
Compared to other parts of the country, California style tends more toward simplicity, in both colors and design styles for bedding. Kennedy of High Cotton Living associates this with a renaissance in homemaking that deepened after the terrorist attacks of September 2001.
“It’s not conscious,” he says, “but there’s a sense that we’re safe at home. People are investing in their homes, spending more time there, and that translates to more attention paid to the bedroom’s comfort and style.”
Duvets, whether filled with down, feathers, or wool, have successfully migrated from Scandinavian and mid-European countries to the American bed, although Americans more often use them with full sheet sets, rather than just a fitted sheet as Europeans do. Duvets and comforters cover the whole bed, drop about 15 inches over the edge at the foot and sides, and are used with bed skirts and shams. Bedspreads cover the whole bed, from pillows to floor. Coverlets are smaller versions of bedspreads: they don’t cover the pillows, and their drop-over is the same as a duvet.
The simple, straightforward look has gotten a boost from the introduction of the platform bed, which allows both sheets and duvets to be tucked in tightly, creating a streamlined silhouette. Both Kennedy and Gahan notice that shoppers prefer a muted palette–beige, cream, taupe, or gray–accented by richer colors like terra cotta, deep brown, and teal. One popular style is a layered bed, with a comforter, a coverlet, shams, and perhaps a blanket throw. The interest comes from the play of weave textures and subtle print patterns in the shams and coverlet. “Our clients want bedding that feels good, and are less concerned with accessories,” Gahan says. “Instead, they’re mixing and matching combinations and colors to create the look they want.”
What about the kids? Quilts, once considered the poor family’s bedspread, are now considered works of art. Quilting began when women started to stitch old coverlets together in an effort to make them last longer, and the pieced-together look has been part of their charm for both adults’ and kids’ beds. Now a punchy cotton quilt, with colorful panels depicting boats, trains, butterflies, planets, or fire trucks, makes an updated reference to a nostalgic era of childhood. Parents are pairing the quilts with complementary prints, according to Lauretta Davis, owner of Berkeley Kids Room in Oakland, which carries children’s bedroom furniture and accessories. “The trend used to be toward very plain sheets, but now more and more parents are combining sheets with a fun print with the quilts,” she says.
Remember Goldilocks? Her story is instructive. Wandering the forest, she comes upon the three bears’ house, and, being a girl of defined tastes, samples their porridge, their chairs, and finally their beds, not resting until she finds the one most comfortable for her. However we make our beds, at the end of the day they beckon to us, as that final little bed beckoned to Goldilocks, inviting us into a private haven where we can rejuvenate physically, emotionally, and spiritually before the rigors of tomorrow’s public life begin again.
“Our beds offer us intimate space after a crazy, hectic day,” Gahan says. “We want those eight hours to be the best they can be.” l
Kate Madden Yee is an East Bay freelance writer. She still loves to make the bed.
What’s hot for winter? Wood chips–but not for your fireplace. This season, the same innovative textiles used for bedding–natural fibers such as beech, bamboo, wood pulp, or soy–are showing up in loungewear. Trade names include Tencel, Lyocell, and Modal. They spin into silky, soft, warm fabrics that wear well, wash easily, and carry more drape than solid cotton.
For real coziness, faux-shearling is still ubiquitous, used for everything from fleece robes to pajamas to slippers, according to Christina LaBone, owner of Beauty & Attitude, a lingerie and loungewear shop in Berkeley. “We’re seeing pajamas in a sherpa cotton-poly blend that have this fuzzy, teddy-bear feel,” she says.
Tiffany Stevenson, the owner of Mr. Sandman, a pajamas, nightwear, and loungewear shop in Oakland’s Rockridge district, notices a trend toward layering loungewear items made of thermal fabric. Rather than a long, bulky robe, designers are pairing a shawl-like throw with a nightgown to keep the arms covered. For women, pieces tailored with form-fitting accents and scoop necks, rather than the classic boxy pajama style, are beginning to catch on.
While there are many fun and funky patterns to choose from–including sushi-print flannel pajamas–traditionalists can rest assured that solid pink, blue, ivory, and white loungewear will always be available, says Teri Jackson, owner of Soap Sistahs, a bath boutique in Berkeley. But for a fresh take on win-ter, try something in the season’s rich chocolate-brown-and-teal combination. –K.M.Y.
2509 Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley, (510) 548-3686.
2911 College Avenue, Berkeley, (510) 845-2101.
5521 College Avenue, Oakland, (510) 547-4116; www.bodytime.com.
Ellington & French, 2942 Domingo Avenue, Berkeley, (510) 548-8188; www.ellingtonandfrench.com.
Isabelle Lingerie, 1816 Fourth Street, Berkeley, (510) 526-0350; www.4thstreetshop.com/pages/isabelle.html.
Juniper Tree, 3303 Lakeshore Avenue, Oakland, (510) 444-4650.
Mr. Sandman, 5292 College Avenue, Oakland, (510) 428-1302; www.rockridgeshop.com/pages/mrSandman.html.
Soap Sistahs, 1797 Solano Ave, Berkeley, (510) 528-0837.
Sweet Dreams, 2901 College Avenue, Berkeley, (510) 549-1211.
Baby World, 4400 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, (510) 547-7040; 6000 College Avenue, Oakland, (510) 655-2828.
Berkeley Kids Room, 6022 College Avenue, Oakland, (510) 420-0811; www.berkeleykids.com. Children’s furniture and accessories; carries sheets and quilts with planet, truck, and butterfly motifs; special order comforters and duvets.
Earthsake, 1772 Fourth Street, Berkeley, (510) 559-8440; www.earthsake.com. Natural mattresses, comforters, furniture, bed linens, body care, towels, and yoga products.
Ellington & French, 2942 Domingo Avenue, Berkeley, (510) 548-8188; www.ellingtonandfrench.com. Vintage home furnishings from Victorian to modern, including vintage bedding.
High Cotton Living, 1820 Solano Avenue, Berkeley, (510) 526-4770; www.highcottonliving.com. Luxury bedding, bath, home furnishings. Carries linens by Anichini, Sferra Brothers, SDH, Home Treasures, Area, Bagni Volpi Noemi, and Signoria; offers in-house monogramming.
Matsu, 1519 Solano Avenue, Berkeley, (510) 525-7873; 1350A Park Street, Alameda, (510) 337-9923; www.matsustore.com.
Noshi, 555 San Pablo Avenue, Albany, (510) 528-1196.
Sugi, 961-A Moraga Road, Lafayette, (925) 299-0882. Matsu, Noshi, and Sugi all offer a comprehensive selection of futons, futon covers, tatami mats, shoji screens, comforters, comforter covers, fabrics, and pillows.
Queen, 3338 Grand Avenue, Oakland, (510) 208-3000; www.queenathome.com. Custom-made decorative pillows and throws.
Textile Repair Studio, 2109 Virginia Avenue, Berkeley, (510) 548-2267; www.quiltrepair.com. Repairs old duvets, quilts, and down comforters.
Warm Things, 6011 College Avenue, Oakland, (510) 428-9329; 180 Paul Drive, San Rafael, (415) 472-2154; www.warmthingsonline.com. Bed linens, down comforters, feather beds, slippers, and robes at factory store prices.
Wataya, 1412 Solano Avenue, Albany, (510) 527-8234; www.solanowataya.com. Japanese bedding and buckwheat-hull pillows.