Earl Carter
This guest room at Martha Stewart's home in Maine is furnished with an English four-poster with a scrolled valance and bed skirt.

No one ever said that making a bed was easy. And I am not talking about the daily straightening and rearranging of the sheets and fluffing of the pillows or the frequent task of changing the sheets and pillow slips. Really "making" a bed into a comfortable, gorgeous place to lie down takes careful design and craftsmanship, some excellent fabrics, beautiful linens and common sense.

First, start with the bed. If it's a platform bed or a simple legged frame with no headboard or footboard, all one needs is a bed skirt, linens, possibly a coverlet, and lots of pillows. If it's a water bed, much of this won't apply because special mattress and box spring covers, canopies and bed skirts aren't necessary for the typical water bed — or army cot or hammock, for that matter.

When I bought Skylands, my house in Maine, 10 years ago, every bedroom was furnished with twin beds. It was odd that the former owners had never upgraded to the queen- or king-size beds that are commonly used today. The twin beds were dwarfed by the large, graciously proportioned rooms.

I replaced them with six special four-poster queen-size bedsteads I found in North Carolina, and then ordered my favorite firm mattresses and box springs from Charles H. Beckley, based in New York. I stretched white cotton voile across the top frames of the beds and installed taffeta bed skirts on some of them, vowing to dress the beds properly in the near future.

All the linens had been left in the house when it was transferred to me, but unfortunately the sheets, like the beds, were all twin-size. So I ordered white linen fitted and flat sheets and white linen duvet covers, which I filled with light down comforters made of two existing twin duvets sewn together — a show of frugality and ingenuity. Each bed also had two down-filled king pillows and two regular pillows, all of which came with the house. I added Japanese neck pillows filled with buckwheat: They are great for supporting bedtime reading.

The beds stayed like that until last year, when I was finally motivated to finish dressing the beds. We had to find fabrics that coordinated with the ones we had used to reupholster the furniture in each of the rooms. Fortunately, decorating editor Kevin Sharkey kept good records and swatches.

We removed the bed skirts and the voile canopy stretcher covers. The waffle-patterned box spring covers from Martha by Mail were laundered, pressed and reinstalled. Velcro strips were affixed to the undersides of the bed and canopy stretchers, ready for new skirts and valances. I even bought a larger mangle — a laundry-pressing machine — so that each new sheet could be pressed in about 60 seconds, a great time-saver.

Marcia Uranovsky, a talented seamstress in New York City, cut and sewed the valances and bed skirts, working from patterns that crafts editor Nicholas Andersen had made from my rough sketches. The varied shapes, which can also be adapted for window dressings, are interpretations of the kind of classic valances one can find in pattern books, historic houses and wonderfully decorated homes.

The duvet comforters were sized precisely to fit just the very top of the mattresses. Their covers are reversible, with tops and bottoms made of different but complementary fabrics.

Once the big beds were done, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. I was happy with the roomy, lovely sleeping places that resulted, since rest and comfort are two goals for any stay at Skylands.

And although I can't say for certain that the new bed dressings are responsible, I have never received more comments about the comfort of my beds; everyone says without hesitation that they had "the best sleep ever." No hostess or homemaker could dream of a better compliment.


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