Please explain beds to me.
October 4, 2015 11:31 AM   Subscribe

I am so confused. Please tell me what kind of bed (& mattress) I should buy.

Setup: my partner and I moved across the country. We own zero furniture. Among other things, we will need a bed to sleep on 3 weeks from now when we move from our temporary furnished digs into our empty box of an apartment. I am completely bewildered by the options and need someone to tell me what to buy.

My previous bed experiences have been as follows:

- old captains' bed + ??? mattress (at my parents' place)
- murphy bed + ikea mattress (but not for more than a couple of weeks at a time)
- hand me down twin bed + ikea mattress (fine? I slept on this for ~4 years)
- partner's craigslist futon (quite firm, but comfortable enough. Got the job done)
- at the current temporary place, a memory foam mattress on top of a box spring (super weird, but comfy)

We are not picky about what we sleep on. I sleep like the dead on pretty much anything flat and relatively squishy and my partner sleeps well sometimes and mediocrely other times irrespective of what he's sleeping on.

My questions:

1. Explain boxsprings to me. I understand that you need either a boxspring or a bed frame, or possibly a boxspring in a bed frame if you're being fancy, but what are the pros/cons of buying each option? Is it just that a bed looks better than a boxspring sitting on the floor?

2. What kind of mattress should we buy? I'm tempted by Tuft and Needle because they seem to be well-liked and there's no choices to make. Or we could just get one from ikea? I would prefer minimal talking to people trying to sell me things and also will need to have it delivered unless it comes in a box that we can fit in a zipcar.

3. What kind of under-the-mattress furniture should we buy? I am sensitive to how it will look. The apartment is in an old house with lots of architectural details--picture rails, built ins, etc. (Here's a photo) So super modern isn't going to work well. Maybe a metal frame bed? This also appeals to me, but I'm not sure how to accomplish it. Boxspring + bed skirt? Other parameters:

- The apartment has way more storage than our old place, and we have way less stuff (for now). So under-bed storage isn't critical.
- A tall headboard (or any headboard at all) isn't required. We don't sit up in bed, and we have large wool tapestry that hung nicely above the bed (the aforementioned Craigslist Futon) in our old place and will probably do that again.

4. How much money "should" we be spending? Is $1000 for bed-related things enough? We have a bunch of money set aside for stuff for the new place. But we also have to get a lot of things since we moved with very little. Also, we will be moving again in a few (3+/-) years, and I have no idea if we'll be taking stuff with us. Totally open to buying a bed on Craigslist, too (but not a mattress!)
posted by quaking fajita to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I really like my Tuft and Needle. Free delivery from Amazon. Easy, just unroll it. Put it on slats, floor, whatever.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:35 AM on October 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Yep, Tuft and Needle is great and very easy to have delivered. Because it's a foam mattress, you wouldn't use a box spring. IKEA has plenty of options for frames with slats.
posted by three_red_balloons at 12:00 PM on October 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A boxspring is going to give you a bit more give in your bed. A platform bed, just on a plywood board or whatever, when you leap into bed or have any other movement (especially of the intimate kind), you're going to feel like you're on a soft piece of concrete. However, if you have back problems that require that solidity, then you may want to go for a platform bed.
posted by xingcat at 12:01 PM on October 4, 2015

Best answer: Just as an aside, columbus day is coming up which is a big mattress sale day so you can get way more for that $1,000 than you are expecting.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:08 PM on October 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

There are cheaper alternatives to Tuft and Needle and Casper and the like. There was a thread on buying beds on Amazon here a few years ago. Also check out the site Sleep Like the Dead. It is a little overwhelming but has a ton of information.
posted by k8t at 12:10 PM on October 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

start here.
posted by andrewcooke at 12:16 PM on October 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

My 2cents:

I had major, major back issues for a while (like, waking up at 3am crying because my back hurt too bad to sleep) and a platform bed (from, but any would do) plus a Tuft and Needle mattress has been life-changing.

Note, I had the Tuft and Needle on a boxspring for a while, which T&N says you can do, and there was too much give; my back still hurt. After a couple weeks on the slatted platform bed, all was better.
posted by misskaz at 12:19 PM on October 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: At this point I am already feeling overwhelmed with choices, so pointers to sites with large amounts of detailed information are probably not what I am looking for.

Important information that I totally forgot to mention:

I do have occasional back issues (most recently when I was writing up my thesis and spending too many hours stressed out and hunched over my laptop) so am inclined toward a firmer bed for that reason.

Sounds like a platform/slatted bed (is there a difference? I thought "platform bed" meant it looked like this) may be the way to go but please continue to suggest options.
posted by quaking fajita at 12:29 PM on October 4, 2015

I've always disliked 'beds' (the furniture part) and also felt like one that I would like was far out of my price range. A friend turned me on to the following:

- IKEA bed platform + screw on legs
- Any mattress (nb that a lot of IKEA mattresses come folded up in boxes that would fit in your car, a la Casper etc)

And you're done. It's cheap, it's comfortable, and it's almost invisible, so it will match anything you already have or buy to place around it.
posted by telegraph at 12:43 PM on October 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

I've found the info. at Sleepopolis helpful, including the mattress guide and the reviews. I really like the video part of the reviews especially, as you can see the person sitting and lying on the bed. Here's their Tuft and Needle one.
posted by gudrun at 12:45 PM on October 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Are you side or back sleepers? Sleep too hot? Those things matter as much as anything.
posted by TenaciousB at 12:59 PM on October 4, 2015

Best answer: A bed frame is a metal square with legs on which the mattress sits (think of a picture frame: just the outside edges). You must use this with a box spring (which has internal stability; see below) and mattress. There are higher and lower frames, which impact the height of stuff you can put under the bed and also ease of getting in/getting out. Most bed frames come with little flanges on the corner pieces so you can attach a headboard or footboard later if you want.

A bed is more decorative. It includes a metal frame that holds the mattress and feet to hold up of the ground, as well as extras like a foot/head board, underbed storage drawers, high "edges" that overlap the mattress edges, etc. Again, you use a traditional bed with a box spring and a mattress.

Mattresses need some kind of air circulation underneath them to fully dry out every day (icky, but your sweat and exhalations are going inside of it). This extends their lifespan and comfort level. Not everyone believes this, but I've slept on mattresses in both situations and only one ended up with mildew on the bottom of the mattress and floor (the one lying on the floor) so I've been a convert to the concept of airflow. You can accomplish this by lifting the mattress of the ground in a number of ways. How your mattress is constructed and what it is made of affects the best way to lift it, along with your preferences for comfort.

Box springs are frames of wooden slats covered in fabric. The fabric is breathable so as long as the box spring bottom is exposed to air (e.g on a bed or frame-- I don't recommend floor-->box spring-->mattress as this is fundamentally the same as floor-->mattress). Box springs are unwieldy as they don't disassemble to go through doors/around corners. But since they have internal stability you can lay em on an open empty metal bedframe. Some people prefer the slightly more cushioned feel of a mattress with box spring. You can go to any mattress store and lay on the mattresses/box spring combos to see how this feels. They also sell special heavy duty box springs that have internal frames. With these, you screw legs into the corners, stand it up, slap a mattress on top, and you're done.

If you buy a mattress and box spring from any bigbox mattress store (Sleep Country, Crazy Ned's BedATorium, Mattress Depot, etc.) you will get a plain metal frame for free along with free delivery and set up. For a queen sized bed, this will cost about $800-1500 depending on the exact mattress/boxspring you buy. This is how I have bought both my beds when starting out in a new place. it's simple: go to store, lay on beds, give them money, 4 days later some dudes show up and 20 minutes later you have a constructed bed.

A platform bed is almost the same thing as a slatted bed. It means "the frame on which the mattress sits is wooden slats." A bed frame is like a picture frame: just edges. This "fills in" the empty space with slats that run from side to side. A platform bed has fancy additions to make it fancy-- underbed storage, headboard/footboard, etc. A slatted bed is just the frame & slats & legs. You can just slap a mattress on top of these and not need a box spring. They also disassemble better and are easier to move and carry through tight corners (because usually you can unscrew the slats and just have a couple of pieces of lumber to carry). They are usually much more expensive than a metal bed frame-- think $100+ for a basic platform bed versus $20-50 for metal frame. IKEA carries a lot of platform bed and slat bed frames, as do higher-end furniture stores (think ones catering to yuppies). You can go lie on those to see how they feel.

IKEA has recently confused the issue by selling these flat wooden box springs made of wooden slats attached by pieces of fabric (like an enormous Jacob's Ladder toy). These lay on the traditional metal bed frame and transform it into a platform frame. If you like the feel of a platform bed but already have a regular bed frame at your disposal this could be a good combo. You can often get free/cheap metal bed frames on Freecycle or Craigslist or buy one for like $20 from any big mattress store.

What kind of decoration you want will affect your bed frame vs. bed vs. platform bed vs. slat bed frame choice. A bed skirt is essentially a big sheet with floppy edges that trail down to the ground; that's what in the last link in Q3 in your post. It goes between your mattress & box spring or between your mattress and slat bed frame edge. Most platform beds and traditional beds have edges, footboards, and headboards, which would interfere with bed skirts.

As far as what mattresses are made of...YMMV. I am a rough sleeper and only like traditional box spring mattresses. My husband sleeps hot so latex and foam are out. I refuse to buy sleep stuff that I can't touch before committing to, so tuft & needle are out for me. There is no good answer here except "it depends." It is also likely that your stuff you slept on at your parent's house is focused on their sleep preferences, so I would highly recommend trying some new stuff out at stores before committing.
posted by holyrood at 2:04 PM on October 4, 2015 [10 favorites]

You don't mention mattress size but keep in mind that a queen sized bed is both longer and wider than a standard double. If you are both well under six feet tall, this may not concern you.
posted by TORunner at 2:17 PM on October 4, 2015

Back problems? You are really missing out. A Swedish Tempur Pedic bed is awesome. It molds to your body shape, weight and tempature that makes a huge difference in sleep quality.

This is not memory foam like others talk about, it is the real deal. You don't need a sales pitch, just read the Tempur Difference and then check reviews.

They are a small bit more than $1000 you want to spend, but these beds are built to last. We now have 3.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 2:18 PM on October 4, 2015

Nthing Tuft and Needle. Best money I've ever spent on a mattress. It helped with my back and shoulder pain and I've never slept so well on any mattress before.
posted by FireFountain at 3:10 PM on October 4, 2015

I should also have mentioned that tuft and needle allows a 100 night trial. So if you hate it you just send it back! Good luck.
posted by FireFountain at 3:36 PM on October 4, 2015

Best answer: If you're willing to pay $600 for Tuft and Needle, I urge you to check out some more eco-friendly choices in the same price range. They'll still offer you great orthopedic support and a long material life, with the added benefit of being better for your indoor air quality as they lack polyurethane and chemical flame retardants.

For $630 you can get a 6in medium-firm organic latex core; if it ends up being too hard or too soft (though latex tends to be firm), a 2in topper from the same company will net you another $200. Latex is great for back/neck pain, a renewable material, and has all the benefits of memory foam (pressure reliving, conforming) with non of the downsides (hot, smelly). You'll need a mattress cover for fire resistance, and voila: totally organic foam mattress for under $1000. Works great on a simple slatted bed. Had one of these in college and loved it.

If you're looking for a more traditional mattress, My Green Mattress makes a fantastic two sided pocket spring model (I own one of these!) for $899 (they also offer a single sided model for $630). Pocket springs work independently from one another, so they tend to hold up longer than inner springs (which sag) and since it's two sided you can flip it every 6 months to increase longevity. All the upholstery/padding is organic cotton, and the fire proofing is a layer of merino wool. Once again, get a simple slatted bed, and you're done.

And finally, if you want a natural hybrid foam/spring mattress, Wolf has some great options that you can find on Amazon, Overstock and Wayfair with hit or miss frequency. Look for ones with a wool layer, cotton layer, and latex layer over a pocket spring core and get the best of all possible worlds for $500-$900 (depending on thickness and single/double sideness. Again, add a simple bed base and you're golden.
posted by givennamesurname at 3:56 PM on October 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

Do you have a Costco membership? I bought a queen-size memory foam mattress (comes folded up in a box) from Costco for $600, put it on an Ikea bed frame with slats (no box spring or foundation), and it's been great. Not like sleeping-on-clouds great, but supportive yet not too hard (I've slept on my fair share of ultra-firm mattresses when visiting relatives). The cushier memory foam tends to come with overheating issues, as well as not having firm edges if you ever want to sit on the side of your bed.
posted by serelliya at 4:47 PM on October 4, 2015

I just did this a couple of months ago. We ruled out latex beds, since my fiance sleeps pretty hot and those apparently trap heat. That ruled out Casper, T+N, etc. Ikea does have traditional mattresses, but we found them to be much less comfortable and more expensive than just going to a traditional mattress store. We ended up just going to the big box store, picking a mattress we found comfortable and getting the basic box spring and metal frame, all with free delivery and set-up the next day. I didn't care too much about aesthetics, but found that getting nice, attractive bedding and making the bed every day went a long way. FWIW, based on what we spent on a Cal King, $1000 should be plenty.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 5:40 PM on October 4, 2015

Best answer: If you have an Original Mattress Factory near you (mostly east coast and midwest), around $1k will get you a king-sized bed, delivered, including a heavy-duty bed frame. They don't have big show rooms or pushy staff, just their beds in each of their available firmnesses. Lay on them all and figure out which stiffness you and your partner like best, then check out.
posted by bookdragoness at 6:54 PM on October 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am not being hyperbolic when I say that the best 1800 dollars I have ever spent was on a natural latex mattress. I have back issues from time to time and the first five nights we had it I was afraid I was going to have to return it. Then, just like the mattress maker told me would happen, by the second week I was sleeping so much better than I ever did on my mostly comfortable box springs. Bonus with natural latex is you don't have to worry about all the chemical flame retardant stuff they add to other mattresses. Maybe the health aspect of those chemicals is over stated, I don't know. But it was one of the reasons I started looking into latex.
posted by teamnap at 9:20 PM on October 4, 2015

I also came to recommend a Costco memory foam. The one we have is this one. Go into a store that sells Tempur-Pedic mattresses and lay on the firmest model they have. If that is your jam, the Costco one will make you happy.
posted by almostmanda at 6:33 AM on October 5, 2015

One thing I've learned: Side-sleepers need much softer mattresses than back-sleepers. There is, in my experience, no perfect "in between" mattress.

One thing I've done is order layers of foam from That way you can mix-and-match firmness - soft on the side-sleeper's side, firm on the back-sleeper's side - and you can also easily replace the soft foam that wears out most quickly in a layered mattress.

You can also easily change your mind and swap out a layer if you find your sleeping style changing.

Get two or three layers of foam (firm on the bottom, medium or soft on top) along with one of their mattress covers, and you have a DIY version of a fancy expensive new layered foam mattress.
posted by clawsoon at 9:27 AM on October 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do you live near an ikea? They have no issues with you going and lying on all the mattresses for as long as you like. Definitely no hard sell. They have bedframes too, some very cheap, so that you can upgrade when you decide what you really want. Given that you have no other furniture, there will probably be a bunch of other things that you need that you can get at ikea (even if you don't like the ikea styles, they have a lot of practical stuff like pegs and kitchen utensils and pillows that you're probably going to have to buy from somewhere). Spend some time on the website and make a list. The one near me has vans with the local share car company. Go on a weekday, and you'll probably have it mostly to yourself.
posted by kjs4 at 4:43 PM on October 5, 2015

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