Style your bed for a five-star sleep
From ply to pillows, thread softly to add that touch of luxury to your dreams - or your guest room, writes Caroline Foran
If there's one thing sure to stand out as a highlight on any luxurious getaway, it's always the hotel bed. For starters it's usually big enough for three people. Then there's the soft, silky sheets, the duvet you strongly consider smuggling home in your suitcase, the pillows as light and bouncy as a fresh loaf of bread, and finally, the immaculate styling (complete with a complimentary chocolate, if you're lucky). But what do the experts know that we don't? What are we missing? And why does our bed look sadder than the last pancake on Pancake Tuesday? Here we look at five essential elements for creating the ultimate five-star bed set-up at home.
A well-made bed has three sheets, traditionally speaking. First, there's the sheet you sleep on. In a fancy hotel you're unlikely to find a fitted sheet - they prefer the traditional flat sheets applied with 'hospital corners' or a box pleat. But given that the sheet under the duvet is almost never seen, and so few of us have that kind of time or patience, why bother? A breathable Egyptian-cotton fitted sheet is best and keeps you cool. Be mindful, however, of the size of the sheet as many contemporary mattresses are much deeper. Martin O'Keefe, Arnotts' chief buyer for linens says "good cotton will help you get that perfect night's sleep. Linen is also a good choice as both linen and cotton are natural fabrics and will enhance your rest, unlike synthetic fabrics."
For a divan-style bed (this is one with a base and a mattress as opposed to a bed frame with a headboard/footboard), don't forget the valance sheet that covers the often ugly base. Again, this is purely for aesthetics so the quality isn't as much a priority here. The third sheet is the top sheet which many people forgo if you don't like the idea of being cocooned while you sleep. If you really want that sink-in hotel feeling, treat yourself to a luxury mattress topper (go for Francis Brennan's duck and down feather topper in Dunnes Stores, dunnestores.com), under the fitted sheet.
Thread count truths
For all sheets excluding the valance sheet, and for the luxury you crave, aim for a 300-400 thread count - you don't need anything more - with 100pc organic cotton. O'Keefe says this thread count will have a light feel and a soft touch. Thread count merely refers to the amount of threads (horizontal and vertical) per square inch, and according to Francis Brennan, who has collaborated with Dunnes Stores on a bed linen range (pictured main), there's a common assumption that the higher the thread count, the higher the quality. Not entirely true.
You may be buying sheets that boast a 600 thread count, but this could be poor quality cotton or double or triple ply. In almost all cases, the 300 thread count will be a higher quality purchase than the 600 or 1,000 thread count. To get that high thread count, some brands split the threads and pack them in, and in doing so, dilute the quality. They will feel heavy at first - which we mistake for luxury - but they won't be anywhere near as durable or as luxurious over time as their 300-400 thread count counterparts.
Less is more
Instead of looking at the thread count alone, look at the quality ply of the threads. Francis Brennan reminds buyers that "bed linen is in contact with your skin for eight hours a day, if not more," so quality here is key. Ply means the number of yarns in each thread and is often a more reliable indicator of quality than thread count. Single ply is best, multi-ply is not. For example, a 600 thread-count sheet could actually just be a 200 thread count with triple ply. When reading the sheet description, ask yourself (or a sales rep in store): "Is it 300 with single ply?"
Also look at the quality of the cotton by looking at the yarns. All sheets are given a number to indicate the thickness of the yarn. The higher the number, the finer the yarn and the finer the yarn, the better. Luxury US bedding brand Boll & Branch (boll andbranch.com) suggests 60-80 yarns as the ideal scenario.
Nights in white cotton
Once you've got the basics and the quality sorted, it's time to think about colour and styling. If it's the hotel look you're after, invest in glorious white (and stock up on some speciality cleaners while you're at it). If you crave a little more detail, keep the colour palette light and cool - hotel beds are almost never dark - or add a delicate 'hotel' stripe or subtle pattern. Your base sheet can be a darker shade as this provides contrast, and the sheet you sleep on top of will get more wear and tear.
For the ultimate hotel bed setup, opt for a larger duvet than is required for the bed. This allows you to double the duvet back on itself up at the pillows - giving you volume and luxury - and have enough duvet to fall to either side and the end of the bed. Go the extra mile by fitting the duvet in under the mattress at the sides, or leave it loose for a more laid-back aesthetic.
The final step lies in the pillows - the purchase of which should be done in person where you can give them a good squeeze test. It's not just the quality of the pillows that's important but the stacking of them that gives you the hotel aesthetic. Get yourself two oversized square bed cushions (Meadows & Byrne has great options, meadowsandbyrne.com) sometimes referred to as 'shams' if they're smaller or 'Euro cushions', according to Francis Brennan. Dress them in cases that are slightly different colour from the rest of your sheets so that you have depth. Stand them up at the headboard, following with your two regular 'boudoir' pillows with 'housewife' pillowcases. Choosing larger padding pillows like this will be more practical than having a whole collection of scatter cushions that wind up on the floor. The pillows should go on after the duvet to avoid flattening.
When it comes to your pillow choice, duck and down filling are preferable for comfort and luxury, but if it's neck support you're after, a foam or memory foam contour pillow may be the best option. For a contemporary and classy look, keep the scatter cushions to a minimum, and save on the inevitable arguments surrounding their very purpose.