How to Dress a Bed

If your budget were unlimited, you could change your bed linen to suit your mood, the way we change our clothes. What a luxury to slide between luxurious silk sheets one night and crisp white cotton the next, followed by country florals, fleecy tartans, faded stripes and fresh, bright ginghams on each succeeding day. However, practicality rules, and generally we dress our beds to match the room decor and can sometimes end up with the same designs for years on end.
Layering many different prints and textures is a style of bed dressing that is popular and it is both sophisticated and relaxed. The different fabrics can be combined successfully despite, or perhaps because of, their diversity. Frilled prairie prints can be teamed with cotton lace. Cosy tartans and faded patchworks create an attractive and comfortable style.
Use bed linen to set a mood or create an atmosphere. If you want the room to look light and airy, go for white cotton sheets, pillow cases and duvet covers. Dress up the look with hand-crocheted lace borders and cushion covers, mixing old and new together. Or, for a touch of country freshness, add a gingham or floral bedcover or a patchwork quilt, or for something more Victorian, use a satin eiderdown. A mixture of plain sheets, duvet cover and pillow cases in different colours creates a modernist style that looks stunning with a black-framed bed.
You can also choose from the huge array of imported textiles now on the market. Layer and drape hot-coloured silks, batiks, ikats and hand-blocked prints to re-create the atmosphere of another continent. Cover pillows with silk scarves and drape saris from a four-poster, then dye your sheets strong earthy yellows, red and browns for a rich layered look.
It is important to consider the feel of fabrics as well as the look. There is nothing to compare with the luxury of Egyptian cotton sheeting, especially after years of laundering, so never say no to hand-me-down pure cottons —even though they need ironing, unlike mixed poly-cotton sheets.
Woollen blankets are wonderfully warm, but very itchy against the skin, so turn back a wide border of top sheet to cover the blanket.
Velvet bed throws feel very luxurious and can be made from old velvet curtains. Edge and join panels with a rich-coloured velvet braid for a medieval look.
If you have a four-poster bed, drape it with anything from chintz curtains to strings of heads, or perhaps floaty layers of net and muslin. But, you don’t need a four-poster to have drapes, and there are all sorts of ways in which fabric can be gathered or hung to give a variety of different effects.
This stylish Japanese-inspired bed uses wooden pallets for the bed base and a cream decorator’s dustsheet for the cotton bedcover wooden box that is wall-mounted the bed, with the fabric hung from the inside in two sections, to drape on either side of the bed. The effect can be solid and grand, or light and romantic, depending on the fabrics used. Alternatively, fit a simple semi-circular shelf to the wall the bed from which to drape a length of muslin. A staple gun is the ideal tool for this type of draping because it allows you to pleat the fabric as you attach it to the shelf. Another advantage is that it is very quick — you can drape a bed in this way in just an hour or two.
A mosquito net is a ready-made bed drape that simply needs a ceiling hook for installation. For a fun look, evoke the African savannah by adding a few potted palms and fake animal-print rugs, or create an air of mystery with a deep colour on the walls to highlight the light drifts of net.
The most important thing to remember when draping a bed is that you will always need more fabric than you imagine. The success of the draped effect relies upon a generous amount of fabric to spill out on to the floor around the bed to add to the sense of luxurious splendour.

Basic tools

The three most invaluable tools for dressing beds are a cordless (hand-held) electric drill; a glue gun and a staple gun. Staples are used for most upholstery work these days and a medium-sized staple gun is ideal for drapes, pleats and upholstery. A cordless drill allows you the freedom of dashing up and down ladders and drilling in awkward places where there is no plug socket available. If you have never used a glue gun before, you will be delighted — they can be used for gluing almost any two surfaces together and provide an instant bond that makes life a lot easier.


Beds without headboards create a very utilitarian and temporary impression. A headboard can make the simplest of beds into an item of furniture with definite style, and the possibilities really are endless.
Revamp existing headboards to give a totally different character using paint, rope, upholstery, drapes or fabric wraps. An old padded headboard, for instance, may be very comfortable but quite unpleasant to look at. All you need is a length of fabric and a staple gun to give it a completely new appearance, such as the padded headboard made from chintz curtains; leopard-skin-printed velvet; a rich chocolate-brocaded stain; a woven Mexican striped blanket or a black and white hounds-tooth check all have strong designs to give instant attitude to a padded headboard.
You may prefer something a little more subtle. Rub down a new turned-pine bedhead with sandpaper, and then paint it with two coats of matt paint. The first should be a bright colour and the second a lot darker. When the paint has dried, rub it back with fine-grade sandpaper or wire (steel) wool to reveal flashes of the brighter colour beneath. Paint initials or a marriage date along the top rail to transform a mass-produced bed into a family heirloom.