How a Designer Makes a Bed, in Five Easy Steps

Choosing a good bed frame and mattress is important, but there’s something else that matters nearly as much: The way you dress your bed.

Your sheets, pillows and other bedding — and the way they’re arranged — can have a big effect on how appealing your bed is and how good it feels to climb in at the end of the day.

“You want a bed that gives you a sense of comfort and security,” said Peter Dunham, an interior and textile designer in Los Angeles. “A great bed improves your quality of life.”

So what’s the best way to make a bed?

There are many ways to approach this task, but over the years Mr. Dunham, 62, has refined an approach that results in a fresh, tailored look. “I like it tight and crisp,” he said. “The look is quite military, not like a great, big paper-bag soufflé.”

Mr. Dunham typically begins by adding a mattress pad for a little extra softness. He prefers a thin, quilted cotton pad rather than a thick memory-foam topper, because it can be easily washed in a machine.

Then he adds an appropriately sized fitted sheet and an upsized flat sheet. “I’ll do a king-size sheet on a queen-size bed,” he said, “because I like a good amount of tuck.”

Usually, he chooses plain, high-quality cotton sheets in white, pale blue or pale pink, often from Deborah Sharpe Linens. “I don’t like muddy colored sheets or dark sheets,” he said. “They absorb a lot of dye, which makes the sheet heavier.”

He likes linen sheets, too — but only if someone else is going to iron them. For a client who wants something more decorative, he might choose a top sheet with an embroidered detail along the edge.

Much like the ongoing debate about whether it’s really necessary to have a top sheet, there’s a divergence of opinion when it comes to duvets and blankets. While some people prefer the former, others — like Mr. Dunham — are firmly in the latter camp.

“I like a blanket,” he said. “And I like to change it depending on the season.”

In warmer months, he prefers a textured, white-cotton blanket with a waffle weave, cable knit or other pattern. “There are many options to choose from, including on Amazon,” he said.

When it gets cooler, he switches to a cashmere blanket in off-white or a pale color, from a company like Matouk.

With either type of blanket, Mr. Dunham folds the top sheet down over the front edge of the blanket by about a foot and tucks both tightly under the mattress at the sides and bottom, using tidy hospital folds.

Pillow choice is a deeply personal thing, and usually involves some trial and error. For his part, Mr. Dunham prefers a curved, ergonomic neck pillow.

If you don’t have a favorite, or are making a bed for guests, Mr. Dunham suggests using four pillows on a queen- or king-size bed. “Two firm and two less firm,” he said.

Stack them in two piles, he added, “or whatever you like to sleep with.” And match the pillowcases to the sheets.

Mr. Dunham covers all the functional bedding with a decorative bedcover or bedspread.

“The bedcover can be almost anything,” he said, as long as it’s large enough to cover the entire surface of the bed, with the pillows tucked inside. “I’ve used flat-weave rugs as bedcovers; I’ve used suzani embroideries.” (And when he couldn’t find what he was looking for, Mr. Dunham designed his own bedcovers with weavers in Peru and India.)

The edges of the bedcover can be tucked under the mattress or left hanging, but they should stop short of the floor.

Regardless of the material, the bedcover should be removed from the bed when you turn in for the night. “Part of the bedcover’s role is to be a dust cover,” he said. “So I take it off.”

You’re nearly there: Now add a few throw pillows to amp up the color and pattern.

“It’s a great place to make a statement,” Mr. Dunham said, adding that colors and patterns should be chosen to complement the bedcover and other elements in the room.

Sometimes, he uses a single, long throw pillow, measuring about 16 by 40 inches, as a decorative accent at the head of the bed. Other times, he may use two large, matching square pillows, putting one or two smaller ones with a contrasting pattern in front.

“That’s my upper limit,” he said. “Definitely not more than four.”

If you want more flexibility for cooler nights, consider draping a folded duvet, light blanket or throw at the foot of the bed.

And for the ultimate in pampering, he suggested, spritz a favorite fragrance over the completed bed.

“You get a little whiff when you climb in,” said Mr. Dunham, who uses Dans Ton Lit linen spray from Frédéric Malle. “It just makes you think, ‘Oh, yes.’”

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