Antique and Vintage beds are one of life's beautiful things. They can add charm, romance, glamour as well as sophistication to interiors, which often is difficult to evoke with your mass-market or even designer reproductions. Particular sized vintage or antique bedframes are easier to find than one would expect and even more surprisingly, they can run at a fair price. What many of us don't know however, is that these frames often come along with "issues" that must be dealt with before they can suit a modern lifestyle. The most important issues to consider are size, support and proportion (which could also fit under size but I'm mentioning this more from a design perspective.) If you've ever looked at any of my bedrooms on the blog or from my instagram feed of my parents house, you can see that I'm an avid owner of antique and vintage bed frames. From the exterior one might think that I've had it easy and everything has worked out perfectly with every bed that I've owned. Unfortunately, that isn't true and I've been keeping a secret from you, as I'm sure other antique bed frame owners have as well. They can be a pain in the a**. . . and there have been several instances where I wish I could have just bought a new bed instead. Which finally, after years of sleeping on antiques I have recently purchased a new. But before I go into those details, I want to inform you about antique beds and if you are considering the purchase of one, what you should know before you buy.
The number one issue that I have learned about antique or vintage beds stems from their sizing. Standard American mattresses today run accordingly:
Twin - 39 in. X 75 in.
Double/Full - 54 in. X 75 in.
Queen - 60 in. X 80 in.
King - 76 in. X 80 in.
New beds are made to accommodate these widths and lengths. In other countries and in the past however, mattress sizes vary from these standards. In the past fifty years mattress sizes have changed, I'm not sure exactly when but the why I am guessing is due to the size of people. People are taller than they were in the 50s, they're also heavier. So for anyone who buys an antique bed frame, beware. To start, the twin and full sized beds of yesteryear are sometimes up to a full 6 inches narrower than today's standard frames. Surprisingly, this issue has seemed to not come up in my home but if you do perchance buy one of those sizes, Army/Navy surplus stores sell these size mattresses. Additionally, Military Supply House offers a selection of 30" and 36" width mattresses in both regular and extra long lengths.
The next size of double or full mattresses have replaced "Three Quarter" sized mattresses or as they used to be called "regular" or "standard". These typically run 47 - 48" in width which is up to six inches narrower than current full sized mattresses. Three Quarter sized mattresses can be found through some companies as custom orders from US Mattress and Antiquebedmattress.com.
Queen sized bedframes are on average a painful 4 inches shorter in length than today's standards. I say painful because lengthwise they fit a full mattress, but widthwise, a queen. That is the scenario that we ran into with our current antique bed. The only option here is to have your side rails lengthened or to live with the smaller difference (which is actually what we ended up doing.) There are some companies that specialize in lengthening and even widening antique bed frames [here]. You can see when you look at the picture of our bed how the mattress goes about 2" beyond the footboard pole. It's not totally obvious, but enough to drive me slightly crazy.
Structurally you have to consider the support system and construction of these antique and vintage frames. As one would guess, a 200 or even 50 year old bed (especially if the people sleeping on the beds have a good marriage ;) ) suffer from wear and tear. Also, in many of the vintage iron beds the supports no longer exist. That is because some of they came with that awful gridlike spring system, while others were made with ropes. The solution we found to fix this problem was to cut two pieces of plywood and rest 2 x 4's along the metal siderails. The Ikea bedframes have a similar system. Additionally, you may have to create a center support structure underneath the bed to ensure it will not cave in, which is something that we did. Last but not least, the joints may need to be restored and re-worked so that they are still in working condition.
SCALE + PROPORTION
The final issue which deals with both size, scale, and proportion is in regards to the headboards. We discovered that the headboards of today accommodate the ultra-thick mattresses and box springs of today. When I finally upholstered my headboard and we went through all the trouble of creating a new base for the frame, we discovered the mattress I purchased was not only too long, but also too thick. It was heartbreaking to see the beautiful Louis XV headboard that I sought out covered by pillows. To resolve this problem that we came across we had to search for a new mattress, one that was thinner first of all and we were hoping the length would be better as well. In the end we settled on a Simmons Beautyrest, which is the 11" depth a full 6" shallower than our ultra puffy one. It's just a comfortable and looks so much better. You can also see the same issue has arisen in my great-grandmother's bed. My mother has decided to ignore the fact that the headboard is completely covered and added a crown with drapery to pull the eye up, which also solves the issue of scale. One other, easy solution to consider, would be to only use the headboard and to mount it to the wall. However, in our case that wasn't going to work, since we have the chinoiserie screen mounted to the wall and the bed could not be mounted on to that.
After sleeping on our current vintage bed for the past 3.5 years we decided to purchase a new bed. I have been eying the Vienne Caned bed from Restoration Hardware, for what I think may be the same amount of time. It wasn't until recently that I decided to splurge on it, especially since there was an amazing sale the last week, which brought the price down from a whopping $2,000 to $1,400 (before taxes and shipping). I've decided hey, we're adults and we know we want a quality bed that will last us the next 30 - 40 years so whats the harm in spending $1500 on a bed? For your information, the details for size and finish: we purchased a queen Vienne, caned bed in weathered oak. I'm in the process of writing a follow up post specifically about foundations (box springs) next, so check in for that very soon, because after purchasing this bed we learned a few other very important details about that aspect!
In the end, I definitely still have a soft spot for antique and vintage bed frames and I no doubt will be putting my current frame into storage for when we have a guest room or (don't gasp) children... the latter is not in the plans but you never know. Hopefully, this information hasn't scared you too much and that you may still consider a vintage or antique but, please only do so if you know that's truly the look you're going for. My greatest advice would be to make the decision regarding how you would like to invest in your bed, if it is money, purchase new, or pay for a company to adjust an antique to fit a modern mattress, or you will have to invest time into making all of these adjustments yourself.
I've moved away from any color with my sheets. I've been inspired by the crisp, white hotel sheets. I have added a throw with a hint of color that I will be able to switch up on the foot of the bed, depending on my mood, but that's it. At some point I may also buy the sheets that have black edging. I'm definitely considering for my next investment and/or treat myself moment, the scalloped sheets by Crane & Canopy. I mean, the tiny bit of detailing is so chic!
Currently, the quilt, blanket and sheets are from Target & the Euro shams are by West Elm. The silk velvet pillows are from Bergdorf Goodman, Dec Home and the Leopard pillow is something I made myself.