Of course, what good are gorgeous sheets and fabulous pillows if you don’t have a top-of-the-line mattress? Very few manufacturers still make mattresses entirely by hand, but it is worth your time to seek them out, as the difference in quality is unmistakable. Shifman, a small 100-year-old family-owned company in New Jersey, is one of them. “Few people are crazy enough to spend the time and money to make a mattress the way we do,” explains owner Michael Hammer. “Most manufacturers can make a mattress in forty minutes. It takes us eight to twelve hours.” Other purveyors of top-tier, handmade mattresses include DUX, Hästens, Verlo, and Vi-Spring. Thomasville also makes some of its mattresses by hand.
When shopping for a mattress, don’t be misled by price; a lot of seemingly high-end companies cut corners on quality.
Most mattresses today are made of polyurethane foam. Although they may feel enticingly lofty and very plush in the store, over time the foam will dry out and start to flake like an old seat cushion, which is why they need to be replaced every eight to ten years. Natural materials are superior and last much longer. DUX, Hästens, and Vi-Spring blend fibers such as cotton, wool, cashmere, mohair, flax, and horsehair. Shifman insists that only cotton felt will do. “It draws moisture and heat away from your body,” says Hammer. “And it is much more durable than foam.” Premium mattresses, which can last 20 or 30 years, are often upholstered on the surface with more luxurious materials. Shifman’s Belize mattresses combine cashmere, cotton, wool, and angora (exclusively sold at Bloomingdale’s; $6,000 for a king set); Thomasville’s British Gentry pillow-tops use a cashmere blend ($5,200 for a king set).
The easiest, most common way to bind a mattress together is to quilt the outside layers of upholstery by machine, then wrap them around the inner springs like a casing. Problem is, since there is nothing holding the insides firmly in place, the mattress may start to shift and compress in certain areas, eventually causing sagging. A better choice is a mattress with tufted inner layers, such as one from Thomasville. Best of all is hand-tufting, where a 14-inch-long needle is threaded through each layer of the mattress from top to bottom, locking everything in place at each of the many surface dimples. All Hästens, Vi-Spring, and Shifman mattresses are hand-tufted. “It’s much more laborious,” says Hammer, “but it greatly reduces bunching.” For superlative coddling, Vi-Spring’s Magnificence has top-of-the-line everything: five rows of hand side-stitching (to keep the edges firm), 3,900 individually pocketed coils, and silk-cashmere surface upholstery ($10,000-$20,000 for a king set).
HAND-TIED BOX SPRINGS
The purpose of the box spring is to serve as a kind of shock absorber. The best ones have hourglass coils with enough strength to be supportive but enough give to conform to your body contours and distribute weight evenly. Unfortunately, as a cost-cutting measure, the box spring is being slowly phased out of the bedding industry in favor of what’s known as a “foundation,” which uses an austere grid of bent steel in place of the traditional coils or springs. Stay away! Experts compare this to putting your mattress directly on the floor. Both Shifman and Thomasville make their box springs just like fine living-room furniture, tacking upholstery coils to a Canadian spruce frame, then tying them eight different ways by hand. “When coils are hand-tied to each other, they work in harmony,” explains Thomasville spokesman Ryan Tessau. “They respond to your every move.”
The best advice is to think of buying a perfect bed not as an indulgence, but as a crucial investment in your own well-being. “We believe the home is the most significant place in your life,” says Di Bari. “And as Mrs. Pratesi liked to say, you spend a third of your life in bed. That’s when you grow, when important things happen to your body.” Important things like simply getting a great night’s sleep. In our overtaxed lives, it’s not too much to ask.