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Tips offered for making a beautiful, comfy bed

SHARE Tips offered for making a beautiful, comfy bed

The term "to make a bed" originated in the Middle Ages, when it was customary for nomadic people to stuff a rough cloth sack with straw at night for a makeshift mattress. They would empty it out each morning before moving on.

Beds have evolved dramatically since then. Today, a bed should be comfortable and supportive to help you get a good night's sleep. As the focal point of the bedroom, it should look beautiful and inviting. And above all, your bed should feel like a refuge: a peaceful place to begin and end every day.Here are some practical ideas for creating the bed of your dreams.

Underneath the sheets

Every good bed starts with a good mattress. It is a big investment and should serve you well for many years. There are a few steps you can take to keep the mattress in its best condition:

- Once a month, flip the mattress over to distribute the wear and tear evenly. Alternate flipping it from top to toe and side to side.

- Avoid sitting on the edge of a mattress, as it causes the sides to slope.

- Don't let your children jump on a mattress. The impact can pop the buttons, tear the stitching and damage the filling.

- When you go on vacation or away for the weekend, strip the bed to give the mattress a chance to air out.

- Always use a mattress pad. Many people overlook this layer, but it is truly indispensable: It protects the mattress and makes it much more comfortable.

There are many varieties available. I like thick mattress pads in cotton flannel, cotton chenille and fluffy wool. Look for them in linen shops or order from The Garnet Hill catalog (800-622-6216), which offers a good selection. The ultimate in luxury is a wool pad with a thin layer of copper-wire mesh inside. (It has long been said that copper soothes aching joints and limbs.) It is available from Touch of Europe (291 Post Road East, Westport, Conn. 06880; 203-227-3355), which carries other pads as well.

Selecting sheets and pillows

Pure linen sheets are a delight to sleep on, but they're very expensive. Cotton is an excellent alternative. It is comfortable, durable, resistant to wear and easy to clean.

Most sheets are made with a plain weave, in which the warp (lengthwise) and weft (widthwise) threads are crossed over and under each other. The number of threads per square inch is called the thread count - and the higher the number, the better the sheets.

The firmness and material you choose for pillows is a matter of personal preference. Whatever you like, make sure you cover them with pillow protectors, which are like simple, zippered pillowcases, to be used beneath your regular pillowcase or sham. This additional layer can really extend the life of a pillow. Look for them at linen stores, or order from Garnet Hill (phone number above).

Making the bed

You might be surprised to learn that it is perfectly proper to make a bed with just a bottom sheet and a duvet (another term for a comforter cover) with a summer- or winter-weight comforter inside. Simple and elegant, this bed couldn't be easier to make: Just fluff and arrange your pillows, and give the comforter a good shake from the bottom edge to restore its loft and distribute it evenly over the bed. But with so many wonderful blankets, quilts and coverlets available, how can you resist composing a more elaborate bed?

Vintage and antique pieces can be especially charming. On a cool night, there's nothing better than curling up in an old wool blanket, like those made by Pendleton and Hudson Bay.

In the summer, a crisp coverlet can replace a comforter, and I often improvise: An exquisite piece of antique linen, such as an embroidered sheet or even a damask tablecloth, makes a bed cool and refreshing.

Chenille is another favorite. Whimsical bedspreads made of this fabric, with fuzzy raised patterns, were ubiquitous earlier this century but fell out of favor in the '60s. Today collectors snap them up at flea markets and in antiques shops. I like white-on-white patterns best, but colorful floral motifs, peacocks and cowboys are great fun, and they're perfect for children's rooms and guest rooms.

Collect linens you love, so your bed can suit the season and your mood. You might want a cheerful mix of colors and patterns one week, and a serene, all-white bed the next. A well-stocked linen closet is a wonderful thing. If it seems extravagant, remember that good cotton sheets actually improve as they age, becoming softer with washing and use.