What Is the Right Price for a Bed?

A Year in Bed

Royal Bed at Versailles

Last week I gave Sara and myself a little on-the-spot quiz. It went like this: Quick! How much do you expect to pay for a "good" mattress and box spring (or the equivalent)? I found that the answer is very revealing and one of the central issues in the bedding industry. My own price was stuck around $450, with an upper end of $1,000 for a splurge. Both of these prices were the last and second to last price I'd paid in my life for a mattress. (I have never bought a box spring.) Sara said $2,000.

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Were you at the low end of the spectrum? The high end? What does that say about you? About us?

In thinking about all this, I'm developing some "Bed Buying Theories" that I hope to test this year.

To begin, my guess is that the bulk of us fall in the middle to low end of the spectrum, and that all of our choices are somewhat predictable.

Here's why (or rather, here are my only lightly tested hypotheses so far).

First of all, a "good" bed is an extremely relative term, and you can get one for almost any price. I remember the first time I graduated beyond a futon and paid over $300 and it felt like I was buying the Taj Mahal. It was soooooo comfortable (relative to my futon on the floor!). So "good" probably changes depending on who we are — particularly as we grow older.

Theory 1 — Older People Spend More On Beds

As we get older we not only tend to earn more, but we also get more sensitive about what we sleep on and the how well we're sleeping. This means that we'll tend to shop harder and most of us will spend more on "sleep technology" later in our life.

If this is true, then you may have partially answered the quiz above based on your age.

To me, this means that the high end of the bedding industry and all their ads for plushness and comfort are aimed at older folks, baby boomers, etc, who have become sensitive sleepers AND have the money to pay for it. So, unless you're a rock star, you probably won't see lots of young people trawling around fancy bed stores. And while high end mattress companies advertise scantily clad young things on their beds, their clientele is most likely NOT them, and probably not most of the readers of Apartment Therapy (which tends to skew younger).

BUT you are in the mattress companies' future, and they know it.

Theory 2 — Women Spend More On Beds

To make a gross generalization, I would also bet that women — in general — are

a. better at pricing what they'd actually spend on a bed than men and
b. that they'd be more interested in spending a little more.

While I'm coming to appreciate the differences between beds, I'm less conscious of it than Sara and VERY resistant to spending a lot on a bed. Don't know why. I just don't think it's necessary. As an interior designer, I've also noticed that, in my experience, while couples split their input into what they want in their home, women usually control the bedroom.

And the only big public bed buying moment I can imagine for younger people is as a wedding purchase, and most of this also seems aimed at women (see Vera Wang).

If this is true, then you may have answered the quiz above based on your gender.

Theory 3 — Most Beds Are Simply Not "Good"

This is the most controversial theory and one that will require a lot more research, but I'm going to put it out there anyway.

Despite everything I've already said, I think many people would rather spend their good money on a more noticeable purchase than what lies under the sheets, and that many more people don't have much choice. Everyone needs a bed to sleep on, but even at a few hundred dollars, a bed is a big ticket item and a lot of money for most people.

Therefore, to make another gross generalization, I would also bet that most people will seek to underspend and buy a cheaper mattress/boxspring, so they can spend or save more elsewhere.

Which could be the reason that, while there may exist a thriving high-end mattress business, it is SMALL. Meanwhile, there's a HUGE low end mattress business, AND there's a perverse incentive for most bed makers to give you the illusion of quality while keeping things as cheap as possible.

Which means that most beds are made out of inexpensive, non-natural foams and fabrics (poly, poly, poly), coated in flame retardant and sold with lovely names. These beds are totally non-recyclable and non-renewable and going straight to landfill. Which is crazy, when you think about it.

But, to make a "good" bed is simply too expensive. Even when I've talked to some of the natural bed companies, they all have to offer hybrid products (natural + unnatural) beds to reach the lower price points that most people are willing to pay.

Which means it's a tough business to be "good" and "green" in, but a very interesting one.

I'll have more later on, and I'll be researching and testing my theories to see if they hold up. In the meantime, what do you think?
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About The Year In Bed

Preview: The Hastens Excelsior II

Some Things I've Learned So Far

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Top Image: Royal Bed at Versaille by Flickr member Jason Tinder used under Creative Commons license

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Maxwell left teaching in 2001 to start Apartment Therapy as a design business helping people to make their homes more beautiful, organized AND healthy. The website started up in 2004 with the help of his brother, Oliver.