Making the Bed

…a guy’s playbook to the bedding deptartment.

Every so often someone contacts us with a question that we think is worth noting, if only because we know, as guys, that there are a lot of guys who have the same question but don’t want to risk asking it.

What’s the risk? Just ask!

Anyway, here’s the question:

Hey Man Sphere,

I was out shopping with my mom the other day. I just graduated college and she was helping me pick out stuff for my new “grownup” apartment. Anyway, so she said I needed a grownup bed, and that my pillows and sheets just weren’t going to cut it for a man’s room.

As soon as we hit the bedding section, I felt like I was buried in household stuff I’ve never even heard of before. Shams? Duvets? Duvet covers? 200, 400, 1200 tread counts??? I’ve always had a set of sheets, two pillows in pillow cases, and a blanket…maybe a comforter in the winter. What the hell is with the rest of this stuff? Can you maybe do an article on bedding to help average guys like me who don’t know what a bed skirt is for? Thx

Robert C., Maryland

Yeah Robert, we know exactly how you feel. There’s always that awkward moment when you realize, “Crap…I need four pillows, even though I only sleep on one?!”

As it turns out, the system isn’t all that confusing. Most of the stuff you described is decorative. The idea is similar to your dining room table. You don’t need salad forks and dinner forks, but every cutlery set comes with them (like you need 24 forks in your drawer!). You don’t need cloth napkins that coordinate with your placemats, but there’s a higher standard of class when you use them.

We know that for 99% of your meals you use a paper towel. Don’t sweat it.

Transferring the same logic to the bedroom, imagine this: You’re a new professional, just out of college. You’ve worked hard, got a great job, and you land a few dates with the perfect girl. She suggests you go back to your place for a nightcap, and things get interesting from there. You make it to the bedroom, and there, between the hockey poster, high school trophies, and model cars you made in grade eight, sits your single bed. Oh, it might be neatly made, but somehow the single pancake of a pillow and coordinating X-Men sheets worn so thin you could hang them as mosquito netting just doesn’t describe the serious, committed professional she hoped you’d be.

Hmmm…might be time to up the stakes a little there, Sport.

Even though you’re not likely to use everything on your bed, it has to be styled like an adult bed. That means, yes, decorative pillows and sheets that reflect your new status. But that doesn’t mean it has to be all florals and lace either. It’s a balance: you know you need a practical sleeping space, but at the same time you need to show that you’ve moved to a stage of life where you can furnish your surroundings on purely aesthetic grounds. The idea is to give the impression that you’re a man who values comfort and luxury, and who can make a bed that deserves to be un-made.

Here’s what you need to know:

Bed:

Image: US Polo Resort Ambiance Microfiber Comforter Set In Tan And Brown. Courtesy of Beyond the Rack. Note the euro shams, standard shams, and accent pillow. Also note the comforter roll at the head of the bed.

The absolute minimum you should own as an adult is a double bed. California King size is the absolute outside end of the scale. A lot of people settle in the middle with a queen size bed, as it’s a good compromise between space and intimacy…if there are two people in that bed, you don’t want to be squashed together, but you also don’t want to have to reach very far to touch each other.

As far as mattresses go, for the time being this is your choice, since (in Robert’s case at least) you’re still single and it’s your space. You can work this out with a permanent partner later if you need to. Firm or soft, memory foam, latex, or a traditional spring matress. If you get a traditional spring mattress, make sure you flip it every so often so it doesn’t sag constantly in one place.

TIP: Follow this sequence when you change your sheets: 1. Strip the bed. 2. Run a vacuum cleaner over the mattress to reduce dust mites. 3. Febreze the top of the mattress. 4. Flip the mattress. 5. Make the bed. This will keep the mattress fresh and reduce any allergens that might build up over time.

Pillows:

If you’ve got the double bed or bigger, two pillows side by side are your absolute minimum. Choose pillows that you find comfortable for sleeping as your main tools. More expensive pillows aren’t necessarily better, but they’re more likely to hold their shape better over time. These are the pillows you’ll put in ordinary pillow cases for sleeping on.

You should keep a couple of older, not-so-comfortable pillows as well. To do the bedroom up right, you MUST have two pillows in shams (more on these in a minute). Your actual bed arrangement will have four pillows on it, so you might as well get some good fresh pillows for sleeping and keep the pancake ones for decoration.

If you get a comforter set with decorative pillows, you’ll start to feel that throw cushion headache come on (you know…the one guys get when they realize every stick of furniture they own is supposed to have a stupid little matching pillow on it?). That’s OK. Toss this cushion on a chair in your room, or leave it on the made bed in front of the pillows. It’s about a look, not practicality. Get practical out of your head.

What goes on a bed?

Here’s the construction of a complete bed set, from the bottom up:

  • Bed skirt
  • Fitted sheet
  • Pillows in pillow cases
  • Top sheet
  • Blanket(s)
  • Comforter or duvet
  • Pillows in shams

The bed skirt goes over the box spring (or over the platform, if you have a platform bed), and hides the gap between the bed frame and the floor. Why this exists is a mystery, but when you’re cleaning make sure you vacuum this thing too. It makes a great way to disguise the stack of Playboys under your bed, and is really useful for playing hide and pounce with the cat.

Fitted sheets are the ones with the springy corners (that you can NEVER fold properly) that snap on tight to your mattress. Since this is the thing that your body lies directly on top of, it usually makes sense to have more of these than of top sheets. Fitted sheets tend to wear out much faster as a result of all that tossing and turning.

Pillow cases also wear out with the same frequency as fitted sheets, so you might want to think about doubling up on extra pillow cases as well.

A top sheet is the first layer of blanketing, and when turned down it actually becomes the top visible layer on your nicely made bed. Top sheets aren’t as likely to wear out, so buying entire sheet sets isn’t always practical. Whenever possible, see if you can buy a complete sheet set, and pick up an extra set of matching (or coordinating) pillow cases and an extra fitted sheet. This will extend the life of your bedding by miles.

Blankets are of course standard fare. Just be sure to get something stylish and comfortable. A $2,000 wool Hudson’s Bay blanket trimmed with coyote fur might be a tad on the outside of practical for most applications. However, wool, microfleece, and even polyester can get you some pretty decent blanket options. You really don’t want more than one blanket at a time, because of what goes on top.

A comforter is required equipment for all beds. Usually these come in sets that match or coordinate with a set of shams and a bed skirt, so you can always be sure your room will match. If there’s a throw pillow (or two, or a neck roll), consider it a bonus. Comforters are actually nothing more than thicker blankets, usually stuffed with poly fibre to give them more insulating value. This is your minimum “cozy bed” level of comfort. In the summer, it’s likely you’ll roll this thing off the bed and just stick with your blanket. It must, however, be replaced when you make the bed in the morning.

A duvet (pronounced doo-VAY, not DOVE-it) is just another kind of comforter. No, really…that’s the big deal. The major difference is that duvets are usually sold separately from sets, and stuffed with goose or duck down, or a down alternative. They’re usually dry clean only, so a popular decor item is the duvet cover–really just a big sack with a zipper on one end that you slip the banket into–which can be bought to match or coordinate with virtually any decor. Sadly, a duvet cover alone can cost as much as an entire comforter set, so it’s generally considered a luxury item. However, down has the unique attribute of being warm in the winter and cool in the summer (it actually just breathes well…it can’t read thermometers and stuff), so it’s a good choice if you want to get rid of the blanket and put this on top of your comforter for the winter, or right above the sheet for summer.

Brad Pitt: Do you know what a duvet is?
Edward Norton: It’s a comforter.
Brad Pitt: It’s a blanket. Nothing more. Now why do guys like you and I know what a duvet is?
Edward Norton: (in a perfect world) Because we read The Man Sphere.
~ not exactly quoted from Fight Club

By the way, there’s nothing wrong with all-white bedding, including a coverless duvet. One coloured throw pillow on top of an all-white bed makes a refreshing change for the summer months, and keeps things feeling clean and cool. If you have pets with black fur, however…not a good option.

Pillows in shams are the crowning piece for your bedding set. They often come with frilly or ruffled edges and aren’t all that comfortable for sleeping on. Shams usually close at the back instead of on the side. Why this is is actually a bit surprising: it’s meant to save money.

Wha???

Yup…instead of buying decorative pillows, shams disguise ordinary pillows as decorative ones. So, if you need to replace them, you can either replace only the sham, or only the pillow.

Euro shams are another luxury item that’s pretty optional. If they’re included with your set, you can choose to use them or not. Euro shams are 26×26 square shams that only decorate big square pillows. To fill one of these, you need at least a 26×26 pillow to create a tailored look. A 28×28 pillow will fill these as well, and create a nicely overstuffed looking pillow. If you’re not sure, take your shams pillow shopping and try them on. A good store will know exactly what you’re doing.

If you use the Euro pillows as well, this is your pattern: Lay your sleeping pillows flat on the bed, and cover them with your sheet and blanket. Cover them with your comforter/duvet as well, but then fold the comforter down so the covered pillows are exposed. Place your euro pillows upright or at a slight angle against the headboard. Place your standard shams upright against those.

Now, here’s the trick…fold the pillow end of the comforter back over, but only as far as the pillows. Don’t cover the pillows with it. The effect will be something like a roll just at the foot of those fancy decorative pillows.

TIP: If you’re using a duvet instead of a comforter, there’s probably no need to fold it back, because it will be pretty thick already. Instead, fold it over just once and pile up the shams as described above. This single fold will still give the resort look you’re going for because of the thickness of the blanket.

Once all that pillow stacking and comforter folding is done, you can add any decorative or throw pillows you like (preferably ones that look good) to the front of the pile. Symmetry (that is, balance from side to side) is vitally important.

Believe it or not, equally important is whether your bed is centered in the room or not. You’re a grownup now, so it’s a good idea to move your bed to the middle of a wall instead of right in the corner. If a woman sees there’s no convenient way to get to “her side” without awkward crawling, you’re likely to lose some points for consideration. Plus, the awesomeness of your cool pillow stacking routine will be lost.

So what about thread count?

Thread count, or TC, refers to the number of threads per inch of fabric. Here’s a good rundown on sheet fabrics to guide you.

FABRIC:

Stay the hell away from satin sheets. Who are you? A 70’s porn star?

OK, honestly, satin is a shiny fabric that’s usually made from rayon, nylon, or silk. It’s smooth in texture, but depending on the fabric can actually promote a lot of static (especially if paired with a wool blanket), ruining the whole experience. Silk can be nice, but it’s expensive and cotton breathes better.

Polyester is OK for a cheap set, but it’s not the most breathable material either. Cotton/Poly blends tend to be a good balance of affordability and durability, and are also wrinkle resistant.

Cotton is the gold standard (with Egyptian cotton being the platinum level) for comfort and durability.

Combed cotton refers to a cotton that has soft, short fibers and is quite soft. Percale is a tighter weave that tends to be more durable. Flannel is nice because it’s warm, but it tends to pill quite easily due to the looser surface fibers. Jersey is like a T-shirt material. While that seems like a fantastic idea (who doesn’t like a nice comfy T-shirt?), this material actually tends to loosen with wear and slide around on your mattress. The corners stay down, but the middles stretch and drift. The very feature that makes T-shirts great to wear is what makes T-shirt sheets a serious pain in the butt.

Sateen is not satin. It refers to a cotton fabric that has a smooth surface finish. Generally the highest quality sheets will be a percale sheet in sateen made with Egyptian cotton.

DON’T worry about name brands. Everybody uses the same fabrics, whether it’s Calvin Klein or Walmart store brand.

THREAD COUNT:

Ah, the dreaded numbers game. OK, let’s clear this one up once and for all.

First of all, we don’t suggest getting hung up on thread counts for things like a duvet. Really, thread count is about wearability. Since you’re not sleeping right on the duvet, it’s not going to wear thin any time soon. For sheets, however:

  • 200-300 TC is standard, and pretty cheap.
  • 500+ is considered luxury sheets.

Does that mean higher TC is better? Not necessarily. The more threads there are per inch, the tighter the weave. This means a very high thread count is likely to be warmer…but it’s also likely to be quite stiff.

  • 600-800 TC sheets are a good mid-range for feeling like you have luxury without breaking the bank. They’ll wear extremely well.
  • 1,000+ TC sheets are quite heavy and stiff, and might not be as comfortable as you’d like. If you can stay away from sateen finishes in these, you might do well for a winter set. Sets as high as 1,600 TC are a status item, but in our opinion probably not worth the money because they feel more like a table cloth than a bed sheet.

You want the best deal? Longest wear + easiest care + most comfort =

600-800 TC sateen percale sheets in Egyptian cotton. Usually you can find these online at a shop like Beyond the Rack, or in clearance stores like Winners/Homesense. Get two sets and you’ll be good for a few years. If you shop right, you can find these “luxury” thread counts for prices comparable to the budget 200 TC sheets. Might as well level up.

COLOUR:

If you’re not sure how to coordinate, contrast, or colour match your bedroom decor, check out this awesome article by Aaron Marino. Yes, he’s talking about clothes, but the colour principles are the same.

Colour for sheets is up to you. White is fine for sheets, since the bulk of your coordination is coming from the comforter set anyway. However, if you want to go for colour, choose either a muted tone of the comforter set (i.e., if your comforter is chocolate brown, go with sheets in ivory or taupe), or a stark contrast (i.e., if your set is a lighter shade or grey tone, go with a bright red, navy, or black).

Contrast is always sexy. Take a look at your colour accents, curtains, etc., and see what you can come up with.

CARE:

Anything that isn’t a sheet should be cleaned professionally.

Sheets, especially cotton sheets, can wrinkle easily even if folded neatly in the closet. We suggest having two sets of sheets and changing them weekly, which makes this part a bit easier to handle:

  1. Strip the bed (see the instructions above about flipping your mattress).
  2. Throw last week’s sheets in the washing machine. Don’t wash this week’s sheets yet.
  3. When last week’s sheets are dry, put them on the bed immediately. Save the sheets you just took off the bed for next week’s laundry day.

Why do it this way? Well, if you wash your sheets and put them away, they’ll wrinkle. For the most part this isn’t really a big deal, but if you want to be a stickler for details this is the way to keep your bed wrinkle free.

And ready for company.
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net