Advice for wide-awake bed-shopping

Go for a sturdy classic: Overly large, flimsy metal or ornate frames will go out of style.

Posted: June 29, 2007

You spend a third of your life in bed, so it's important to find the sturdiest frame you can. But strength, or the lack thereof, is far from the only complaint furniture manufacturers receive about beds.

A frequent grievance is about how massive they've become. A bed that looks fine in a giant furniture showroom can be downright overbearing in your much-smaller bedroom.

Consumers also commonly complain that finishes on new wood bed frames look too distressed. The marks are often scratches resulting from the long trip from Asia, where most bedroom furniture is made. And the different climate in the United States can cause splits in the wood.

Then again, once in a while, the distressing is something else - beetles. Cherie Reese, vice president of the Better Business Bureau of Greater Kansas City, advises buyers to get in writing who is responsible if new furniture is infested shortly after it's delivered.

If you shop smart, it's easy to avoid other potential problems, such as these:

Whims of style. A classic wooden sleigh bed or a solid wrought-metal bed are good choices, says interior designer Caroline McCallister. Overly large beds, flimsy metal beds, or ornately detailed bed frames will go out of style.

Upholstered beds fall in and out of favor, though they're hot right now. But you might not want to choose a heavily patterned fabric or fancy details. For example, ruched-fabric headboard edges scream 1980s. A neutral fabric can go with more types of bedding and is less likely to look dated.

As for children's beds, you can save money by skipping child-sized furniture in favor of classic wooden or metal beds. Look for styles that will work in both a 3-year-old's bedroom and an 18-year-old's.

If you're not ready to commit to a bed frame that includes a headboard and footboard, you can always get by with a basic metal frame for your mattress set. It looks plain, but it can be comfortable and sturdy.

Poor construction. Don't be afraid of getting on the floor to look underneath beds to evaluate their construction, says Jim Santilli, owner of Kansas City Upholstery. It's good if the horizontal cross-support slats are thick and made of high-quality wood, not particleboard. The center-support legs under the bed should look and feel sturdy - they prevent the mattress from caving in the center.

Don't assume that just because a bed has a big price tag it's sturdy. Occasionally, you'll see center-support legs that have broken off, even on designer beds that cost more than $1,500.

And don't be shy about shaking the bed at the footboard and headboard, says furniture designer Albert de Leon. You want as little motion as possible, because any motion wears out joints, taking years off a bed's lifetime. A well-made bed will feel as if all the parts are locked together in a single piece.

Incompatibility. When you shop for a bed, take these along:

Pictures of furniture styles you like.

Your life partner. You share a bed, so both of you need to feel comfortable.

Bedroom measurements, including ceiling height.

A tape measure. You want to measure the width of the headboard to make sure it will fit in the room. Headboards often are inches wider than the mattress.

Fabrics you want to use in the room. Some look better with metal, others with wood. Maybe you want to coordinate with an upholstered headboard.

Patience. Visit lots of showrooms and look at lots of beds before you make up your mind.

Legal entanglements. Get the store's policies in writing. Ask about returns and what happens if you cancel an order. Most stores won't let you return custom furniture.

If something goes wrong with your purchase, first try to resolve the problem with the store (or delivery company for delivery issues).

Ask about your rights and recourse for furniture you've purchased if the store goes out of business.

When you order custom pieces, never pay the full amount up front. Half is enough.

Use a credit card instead of cash or check. It makes canceling a purchase or returning furniture easier.

Keep your sales receipt, any construction specifications or drawings, and warranty information. These will be your allies if you have a problem.

Care for the furniture as recommended. The warranty could be voided if you don't.

How much can you expect to pay? For well-made furniture, at least $1,200 for a queen-size wood or metal bed; $1,400 for a king; $50 for a queen-size basic metal frame; $60 for a king.

Obviously, there are less expensive beds available, but they may not be made of solid wood or durable metal. How long you expect the furniture to last will affect your decision on how much you want to pay.

Good-quality secondhand pieces are available from antiques, consignment and thrift stores. Just remember this: Used beds, yes; used mattresses, never.

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