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Bed bases explained: Everything you need to know

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A variety of bed bases are available, including traditional divans or ottomans with storage and stylish bed frames. The bed base you choose can affect how your mattress feels and performs. It’s essential to ensure the two are compatible so that the mattress is properly supported.

There’s a lot to consider when buying a new bed. Shoppers invest most of their time comparing mattresses but often underestimate the importance of choosing a suitable bed base for the mattress to rest on. Of course, the mattress provides comfort, but the base provides underlying support, and the two must work together.

pink upholstered bed frame with slatted base without mattress

The bed base you choose can affect how your mattress feels and performs. If you’re visiting your local store, make sure to try the mattresses on a similar type of base to the one you will be using. You also need to ensure that the two are suitable for use together, especially if you’re buying both separately.

There are several reasons for using a bed base:

  • To provide underlying support for the mattress.
  • To raise the overall height of the mattress so that you can get in and out of bed comfortably.
  • To ward off drafts, insects, and rodents.
  • To promote good air circulation preventing moisture from accumulating.

There is a wide selection of bed bases, ranging from traditional divans or ottomans with storage to stylish and elegant bed frames. Some beds are even adjustable, allowing sleepers to raise or lower the bed to a comfortable position.

Divans

A divan is essentially an upholstered wooden box that provides an even sleeping surface for the mattress. Divans are made with a sprung or solid top base.

A sprung divan has an open coil, or pocket spring unit mounted to the top of the frame to cushion the mattress. Sprung bases are often synonymous with higher-quality beds. A sprung divan can improve the bed’s overall level of comfort and support. It can also help prolong the life of the mattress by absorbing some of the strain from the sleeper’s weight.

Some sprung bases have a collapsing sprung edge around the perimeter, which can sometimes make you feel like you’re falling out of bed. A firm edge divan reinforces the bed’s perimeter, providing edge-to-edge support.

A solid top or platform top base is usually made from hardboard and doesn’t contain any springs in the base. This makes the bed feel slightly firmer than a sprung divan. There is no cushioning from the divan, leaving the mattress to do all the work.   

Most divans can be covered in various materials and can sometimes be paired with a matching headboard for a striking look. Some manufacturers even offer a bespoke service where they can upholster the base in your own personal choice of material.

divan bed with matching headboard dark brown
Divan bed with matching headboard

Deep divans are often fitted with castors for mobility, while a shallow divan comes with legs exposing the space underneath the bed. Divans are ideal for smaller rooms as the base is usually the same size as the mattress it is paired with.

If you need extra storage space, divans can include drawers in various configurations.

The continental drawer option features two small and two large drawers to enable easier access to your items without interference from the bedsides. Alternatively, you can have four standard drawers to maximise storage. Some beds are available with two drawers or even an end drawer.

beige upholstered divan base with continental drawers
Divan base with continental drawers

The base comes in two sections to allow easier access to the room. Some manufacturers can provide a divan in four sections to negotiate narrow or curved staircases.

Learn more about divans

Bed frames

Bed frames or bedsteads come in many beautiful styles and finishes to complement traditional and contemporary bedroom designs. So, whether you prefer a wooden, metal, or upholstered bed frame, there are plenty of options to consider.

Most people choose a bed frame for its aesthetic appeal, but other factors such as mattress support, bed height, and build quality should also be considered. Also, be mindful that bed frames usually take up more space than a divan as the mattress often sits inside a frame. So, you will need to consider how much space is available once the bed frame is in place.

On the other hand, bed frames are raised on legs providing access underneath the bed for storage and cleaning. The exposed legs can also make a room feel bigger.

light wooden bed frame with matching bedside cabinets
Light wooden bed frame

Most bed frames come with a slatted bed base to support the mattress, though some may come with a metal grid or a divan base that sits inside the frame.

The gap between the slats is important when pairing a mattress with a slatted base. Mattress manufacturers often provide guidance on slat spacing. But generally, the gap between the slats should be no more than 7.5 cm apart. It also helps to protect the mattress from indentations and splinters by placing it on a mattress pad or a breathable blanket rather than directly on the slats.

Bed frames are a good option for properties with access restrictions as the frame often comes flat-packed for easier manoeuvring to the room. However, this means that frames require assembling. Some retailers offer an assembly service, usually for a small additional charge if you have concerns.

Learn more about bed frames

Ottoman beds

Ottoman beds are perfect if you’re looking for a clutter-free, organised bedroom space. The base lifts up from either the end or the side, revealing a large hidden area underneath for storage.

Ottoman beds are ideal for rooms that require extra storage. The lift-up base provides significantly more storage space than a bed with drawers, and you don’t need to allow extra room to open and close the drawers.

Available as a divan or bedstead, ottoman beds come in various designs and materials. So whether you’re looking for a low platform bed or a stylish, elegant frame, there are plenty of options.

grey ottoman bed with panels showing lift storage space underneath

Ottoman beds have a mechanism (similar to a car boot) allowing you to raise or lower the bed easily. However, it is important to check the weight capacity of the mechanism to ensure that it can support the mattress. If the mattress is too heavy, the base could drop unexpectedly, potentially causing an injury. On the other hand, if the mattress is too light, the base could lift faster than expected, and the mattress could slide if there is little or no traction.

Learn more about ottoman beds

Adjustable beds

An adjustable base allows you to raise and lower the head and foot of the bed via remote control to a position that you find comfortable. Adjustable beds often come with a dual motor to allow you to operate the headrest and footrest independently or simultaneously.

Traditionally, adjustable beds are used in hospitals and care homes to provide relief from various conditions. Because of this, there is a misconception that electric beds are for older adults or those with mobility issues only, which is not the case.

Nowadays, adjustable beds come in various styles and materials, as well as features like built-in Bluetooth and massage units to cater to any lifestyle. So, an adjustable bed is an appealing option if you like to sit up in bed to read, watch television, or enjoy breakfast in bed. But, adjustable beds tend to be more expensive than other beds because of the motor and mechanism.

Like any bed base, choosing a mattress that is compatible with an electric bed is essential. The mattress needs to conform to the shape of the base when it is operated, so it needs to be designed so that it can bend easily without damaging its components.

Most adjustable beds also require mattresses which are 6’6” (200 cm) long. Standard single and double mattresses are typically 6’3” (190 cm) long, so if you’re purchasing an adjustable bed in these sizes, you will need the mattress to be made to the same size.

Also, consider the guarantee on the motor. Most electric beds come with a standard 12-month guarantee. However, higher-quality models may feature a more powerful motor with a longer guarantee.

Learn more about adjustable beds

Bunk beds  

Bunk beds are ideal for shared bedrooms and free up valuable room space by allowing two or more beds to be stacked on top of one another. The top bed is usually accessible by a ladder. Bunk beds are typically made from wood or metal.

Some bunk beds have additional options, such as slides, under bed storage and pull-out desks.

two bunk beds in guest room

Can you pair any mattress with any base?

It isn’t necessarily the case that you can pair any mattress with any bed base. Memory foam mattresses, for example, mould and adapt to the shape of the body. Some people describe this sensation like sinking into quicksand. As a result, some may find it harder to turn over in bed. Placing a memory foam mattress on a sprung base may exacerbate the problem, as this will make the bed feel softer. For this reason, memory foam mattresses tend to perform better on solid bases or slats.

In contrast, luxurious sprung mattresses may feel more comfortable with a sprung divan. Regardless of which base you choose, it is essential to ensure it is compatible with your mattress.

Measure the space

Before deciding on a new bed, it is essential that you measure the room properly to ensure the bed fits comfortably into the space it is intended for. You also need to check access points like doorways, stairs, and corners to avoid problems with delivery. Bed bases are usually delivered in sections to allow easier bedroom access. Most divans come in two sections, and bedsteads typically come flat-packed.

If you’re concerned about access to the property, discuss this with the retailer before ordering.

Some bed bases are made-to-order

Bed bases are often available in a wide selection of beautiful designs, materials, and colourways, so you can tailor the look to suit your décor. Because of this, some beds are made-to-order. So, before you start planning to get rid of your old bed, you should factor in how long it will take for the new one to arrive.

Can you put a new mattress on an old bed base?

You should avoid placing a new mattress on an old bed base, as the base is unlikely to provide the support you need. Not only can an old base reduce the life of your mattress, but it could also invalidate its warranty or guarantee.

Do you need a bed base?

Though placing your mattress directly on the floor may seem tempting, this is generally not recommended. When you sleep closer to the floor, you are exposed to dust, pests, and cold air. It also restricts the ventilation underneath the mattress, providing the perfect conditions for mould and mildew to grow.

Final thoughts

A new mattress is only as good as the bed base it is paired with. When choosing a new bed, it helps to prioritise support over style. The base and mattress are equally as important, and the two must work together.

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About the author

About the author

Tony Brown is the founder and creator of The Bed Consultant. His career in the bed industry began in 2002. After graduating from university with a degree in Business Administration, Tony joined one of the largest independent furniture retailers in the UK as a bed consultant. Tony has helped thousands of customers find the perfect mattress.

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