Down With Comforters! - The Wall Street Journal
Life & Culture January 8, 2011
Duvets are warm, sure but they turn beds into lumpy landscapes and leave rooms looking messy. Its time to neaten up and reconsider the good old-fashioned blanket
By SARA RUFFIN COSTELLO
Boyle + Gardner for The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Anne Cardenas
Hoffmann Blumen blanket, neuegalerie.org; John Robshaw quilt, abchome.com; Natural Jute Rug and White Sheets, Potterybarn.com; Side Table, mecoxgardens.com
What with the WikiLeaks intrigue and hand-wringing over Iran’s nuclear-site tours, you might not have noticed the debate that’s been heating up on the domestic front. Many aesthetes have been reconsidering the down comforter, some banishing it altogether.
Paul Costello for The Wall Street Journal
LEAN AND MEAN: A vintage Suzani coverlet hides a blanket and keeps the look puff-free.
At first glance, comforters seem wholly inoffensive—and quite cozy to boot. But detractors say comforters are the gateway to overheating and unseemly bulkiness. Architect David Mann, designer of legendary interiors including John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s New York apartment in the Dakota, said, “I never use down comforters mostly because they are too common…and hot.”
What emerged in France in the 1700s as a year-round bed cover didn’t gain popularity in the United States until the late 20th century, specifically in the flouncy, overdone 1980s, when a bed wasn’t made until it had at least 12 pillows and a mind-blowing system of sheets, blankets, quilts and fluffy comforter housed in a matching cover. By the ‘90s, Zen-inspired chic had become the rage. Down fit in with the cleaner times. It was a purist’s dream, casually amorphous yet sturdy enough to inject some ballast into those all-white beds. The comforter was so ubiquitous it came to be unnoticeable. And now, after a decades-long nap, the design world is ready to change the bed.
Down’s detractors curse the lumpy, untidy covering as not only a sweat factory, but a style error. So what’s the alternative? For Nathan Turner, interior designer and shop owner, the secret is to keep things simple. “I just did a very clean midcentury bed for clients—super-tailored with a beautiful set of pale blue sheets and a natural striped blanket from Swans Island and two pillows,” he said.
Photos by F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Anne Cardenas
From left: Dwell Pyramid Matelasse Coverlet, $175, abchome.com; vintage pieced blanket, $250, and Vintage Suzani, $2,895, jaysonhomeandgarden.com
It appears the options for putting your bedding on a diet are twofold: There’s a high-maintenance and a slightly lower-maintenance way to do it. The former consists of crisply pressed sheets, blankets and coverlet carefully folded down at the top edge and tucked in at the sides and the bottom. The latter, more laid-back approach, involves all the same bedding but instead of ironing the sheets and folding over the coverlet, simply pull it to the top of the mattress to hide the wrinkles that lie underneath. In both cases, the final result is far svelter than a mattress draped in the bedding equivalent of a ski parka.
I didn’t always realize there was more than one way to go about the sleek bedding look. Before I was married, I used to buy into the illusion of excessively maintained, ironed-daily bedding, the kind found in the fanciest of bedrooms professionally decorated by my heroes, interior designer Bunny Williams and the more rustically organic designer Vicente Wolfe. I, too, wanted to sleep in a universe where million-thread-count sheets and bleached matelasse coverlets met in unison, precisely folded and tucked on the centimeter with pillows stacked like uniformed soldiers. I actually went out and got all the equipment—sheets compliments of Frette and hand-monogrammed coverlet furnished by Leontine Linens—but I lacked the squadron of laundresses and professional ironers it takes to make it all really sing. Instead, I had a terrifically wrinkled pile of laundry pulled over my mattress trying hard to look expensive. Additionally, it occurred to me that a too-perfect bed might be transmitting negative signals to suitors—a clear signal of an owner who’s a twinge on the uptight side.
After trying and failing at the posh, preppy and unsexy look, I turned toward lo-fi and fluffy. Enter the down feather comforter which sometimes goes by the name Duvet (technically, the French word means a comforter cover). At first it was a glorious love affair—casually disheveled Duvet looks sort of cool unmade, suggesting its owner might be busy with much better things than making the bed. But after a fortnight in that wood-burning oven, I began to hate Duvet. Everything it did got on my nerves. Innocently folded at the end of the bed, it stood as high as the Great Wall of China. Freshly washed, it stank of farm animal. And putting on its cover was like trying to dress a cranky newborn in a three-piece suit. More mornings than not I’d wake up to a wicked mess of formless feathers corralled at one end of the duvet cover and an empty carcass at the other end. Totally insubordinate.
How the Pros Do It
—Windsor Smith, Los Angeles decorator
—Ruthie Sommers, Los Angeles decorator
—Lisa Fine, Paris-based designer
—Georgia Tapert Howe, New York interior designer
To compensate for all the wasted effort in the bed department, I recently turned toward one of my style gurus for answers: Carolina Irving, purveyor of chic patterned textiles. Her style is neither religiously tidy nor too unmade. It’s just right and mostly down-feather free. Her secret weapon is a fabulously bohemian coverlet that morphs with her mood—be it embroidered suzani, hand-blocked Indian tablecloth or American quilt. A revelation! A decorative something on top of wrinkled or pressed sheets that allows a bed to look sensational sans house staff.
Housekeeper or not, I shan’t be revisiting my ex, Duvet, unless I find myself in a house without heat. For now, I am thrilled with my three new best friends: Wrinkled Sheet, Coverlet and Suzani. We should all hang out sometime—you’d love them.
Sara Ruffin Costello is a design consultant and style journalist in New York.
How To: Make a Stylish Bed
Illustrations by Alan Witschonke
Lay a flat sheet over the bed evenly, and tuck it in at the bottom and top of the bed. (Flat sheets tuck more cleanly than fitted ones.) Make "hospital corners”: Lift a corner triangle of sheet up onto the bed and tuck in the part that remains below, then lower the triangle and tuck it in. Tuck in the sides.
Lay the top sheet over the bed with its top side facing the mattress. Pull the sheet up so it is even with the top of the bed. Leave the same amount of sheet hanging over the two sides. Tuck in the bottom end.
Lay a blanket (thin in summer, wool in winter) over the bottom ¾ of the bed. Tuck in the bottom.
Lay a coverlet over the blanket, its top edge meeting the top the blanket. Fold the sheet down over both. You can either let the sides drape sweetly over the sides of the bed or tuck in the sides for a more buttoned-up look.
Fluff pillows and set them on the bed, flat in a stack like pancakes with a pair of Euro shams propped in front. Add a soft throw at the base of the bed, folded in thirds, with the bottom edge of throw flush with the bottom edge of bed.