Buying bedding used to be boring. But necessary.

It's still necessary. But not necessarily boring.With all of the options available, there are lots of decisions to be made.

Will it be a bedspread or a polyester-filled comforter-dust ruffle-pillow sham combination? Or maybe a down comforter covered by a duvet (sort of a removable slipcover). A feather bed might be nice (duvet also suggested). And lots of pillows.

There are stripes, plaids, geometrics, paisleys, patchworks, faux furs and, of course, florals. They come in pastels, neutrals, jewel tones and sol-ids. Your look can be ruffled or tailored.

The key to all this is coordination. The sheets go with the bed covering, which goes with the pillows, which may match the window treatments, which probably accent the bathroom accessories.

When it's all done and paid for, the bedroom can resemble a work of art, a retreat worthy of dreams. Comfort and style blend to beckon you to the room that once got short shrift in terms of decor.

But no more.

"The bedroom has become a major focal point in the home," said George Edwards, a senior merchandise manager at J.C. Penney.

It is said Americans are responding to a "nesting instinct," a desire to stay home rather than go out or travel. Edwards said he believes that is true.

"We spend a lot of time at home, and we want it to look right. As people come back to the home, they're putting more money into it.

"The biggest thing in bedding is down. It's nature's heat resource," Edwards said. With down comforters, pillows and feather beds, people not only get the elegant look they want, but good value, too, he said.

Down provides natural comfort and warmth, and that appeals to energy-conscious consumers, Edwards said. And down "breathes," allowing air to circulate. "It's a much more comfortable way to sleep."

Edwards suggests purchasing a duvet to protect the down comforter or feather bed. As the popularity of down items has increased, so has the variety of duvets.

Feather beds certainly are not a new concept, but they've only recently returned to the popular marketplace. Goose feathers enclosed in a cotton shell serve as a mattress topper for softer, affordable slumber.

Although the initial outlay of cash for down items may seem high (often ranging from just under $100 to $500 or more), their usefulness and wearability are high. Whereas many people don't use their decorator comforters as cover (usually folding them down to the bottom of the bed or removing them completely at night), down comforters are meant to be used.

"People need to look at the overall value, the energy savings and the amount of time that product will last. If you divide the cost into the number of years you'll use it, you'll see it's a very good value," Edwards said.

The price of a down comforter depends on the amount and quality of down filling and the baffling system used.

The same is true for bed sheets, says Karen Clendenen, a department store domestics buyer. "More and more (customers are) looking for higher thread counts. And people are asking about how well they'll wear."

Thread count refers to the number of threads per inch of fabric. A thread count of 160 used to be typical, but today's consumers want counts of 180 to 200.

Thread count affects wearability, Clendenen says, adding that a higher thread count also results in a softer feel.

Clendenen says one reason people are concerned about wearability is initial cost. The rising use of cotton for comfort has contributed to higher prices. A qood-quality set of king-size sheets can cost more than $100.

As an alternative, cotton flannel sheets also are available, often replacing satin. "Satin is still a wanted commodity, but not anything like it was 10 years ago," Edwards said. "Satin sheets had their heyday when water beds first came out."

The look people are after varies greatly. Pastels in floral patterns consistently sell well. Jewel tones (emerald green, ruby red, etc.) have sold well for two years, but the new look tends toward lighter colors to help give bedrooms an airy look.

The Southwestern look is fading with its earth tones. And so are solids.

Finally, there is a renewed interest in decorating with pillows. And not just a few - heaps of them.

Shams go on the bed first, followed by the sleeping pillows. Atop that go decorator pillows in all shapes and sizes - round, square, rectangular and even heart-shaped.

The bed isn't "made" in the old sense of the word. Now it's "arranged," with the comforter folded back to expose the coordinating sheets and pillows.