This article originally appeared in the Toronto Star on Sept. 15, 2005
Sorry – this article has nothing to do with the Godfather, but I’m a fan and it’s nice to use the phrase. If you’re shopping at flea markets this summer and discover a gorgeous antique bed that you just have to buy – it’s such a bargain! – remember that the most expensive part is the custom mattress. If that doesn’t dissuade you, read on.
Headline: Antique beds come with a modern-day problem: Their dimensions differ drastically
Subhead: Mattresses must be custom made
Reporter/Byline: By Peggy Mackenzie Special to the Star
Date: September 15, 2005
Source: Toronto Star
If you fall in love with the look of antique beds, you may face some sleepless nights.
Since manufacturers didn’t standardize mattress sizes until the 1920s, the dimensions of vintage beds differ drastically from the ones sold today.
Christine Mitropoulos and John Kaandorp are intimately familiar with this problem. The two worked as teachers in Baffin Island for six years but knew that they would eventually settle in southern Ontario.
During their summer holidays “down south” the couple purchased four antique beds from various shows and auctions. They also bought several antiques that were farmed out to relatives and friends while the couple lived up north.
The shock came when they moved into their house five years ago. After setting up the beds they realized that all four of them needed custom-made mattresses. Any savings from their “great deals” were lost to the expense of customizing a mattress.
“You think you’re saving when you buy these antique beds, but you spend a bloody fortune when you get the mattress made. Beware when a seller says, ‘Somewhere in that pile is a bed.’ It was hard for us to resist since we’re handy people, ” says Mitropoulos.
The bed they did find in the pile is gorgeous. It’s fashioned by hand, including carved pineapples on the bedposts.
The mattress measures 53 inches wide by 71 inches long, slightly smaller than a standard double mattress at 54 by 75 inches. (All mattresses are sold in inches, not centimetres.)
“All of our tall friends have to sleep on this bed since the footboard is open. Company can put their feet between the slats. When you have a bed with a closed footboard you have to scrunch up in the available space, ” explains Mitropoulos.
Even though the couple are of average height, they are doomed to scrunching every night in their own smaller bed with a closed footboard.
“Anyone going from a king or a queen to an antique bed had better get used to being close to his or her partner, ” she says.
Theirs is a “catalogue bed” from the early part of the 20th century. At just over five feet in length, it is nine inches shorter than the pineapple bed and 13 inches shorter than a standard double. And at 5 51/2 inches in width, it is a crucial 1 1/2 inches wider than a standard double bed.
The solution is ordering a custom mattress.
The only national chain that accepts custom orders is Sleep Country. A custom job is based on the price of whatever standard mattress you choose plus 25 per cent for reconfiguring it.
“You’d be surprised by the selection you can get. You don’t have to sacrifice comfort for a custom mattress, ” says Joe Capone, sales associate at Sleep Country’s location at King and Yonge Sts. A pillow top can be customized for the mattress.
Since custom mattresses at Sleep Country are cut down from the larger standard mattresses, Mitropoulos and Kaandorp couldn’t go for the cheaper option of buying a double mattress for their own bed. While the length could be sized down, they needed that bit of extra width. They had to buy a queen- size mattress as a base for their custom job.
Expect to pay $400 to $2,000 for a custom mattress. Box springs are sold separately, so costs can be kept down if the customer uses plywood as a base.
Mitropoulos and Kaandorp chose that route for all their antique beds. One of their daughter’s beds came with the original mattress and box spring, but they had to split them between the two beds. Older daughter Wyeth has the mattress over a plywood base and her sister Anais sleeps on the box spring covered by a thick layer of foam.
Les Harowicz at Federal Mattress Co. in Toronto has been working in the custom mattress business since 1981. His father Frank started the business in 1954. Harowicz says 70 to 80 per cent of the mattresses he makes are for antique beds.
“Right now I’m constructing a mattress for a European art deco bed circa 1930 that has a rounded headboard and footboard, ” he says. “It measures 78 inches in length and 62 inches in width.”
Harowicz does all the work himself. Costs vary depending on the style and dimensions of the bed, but for a three-quarter size the range is $250 to $900 for the mattress. The foundation (posture board) for an antique bed is $130 and up.
Harowicz can customize the foundation to have a starting height of two inches whereas a normal-size box spring is seven to eight inches.
“I work alone, ” he explains. “Each one is made by me. I can make it firmer or softer, change the fabric. I can make three beds a day: cutting the fabric, sewing the fabric and building the mattress.”
Harowicz also makes memory foam mattresses for antique beds. It takes about three weeks from order to delivery of a custom mattress.
Harowicz charges a nominal fee for Toronto delivery and will even do out-of-town orders.
“I use a mover who specializes in antiques. I just had seven mattresses delivered to a cottage on Lake Joseph, ” he says.
What about more modern antiques like those round beds from the 1970s?
Harowicz says people are still buying them, but not as many are buying the full bed. Now they’re looking for replacement mattresses.