Build a Bed for Cheap (and Look Good Doing It)
Without a doubt, there are some components to today's beds that are just unnecessary. I see things like elaborate canopies or ornate sleigh beds and think, "Cool, but not me." Perhaps it is the price tag they bear (or the fact that in any given 3-month period a toddler will vomit in it) that keeps me from considering anything beyond my immediate needs. I think that most can agree on the core parts of a functioning bed. (See also: Build Your Own Furniture: 9 Helpful Tips for Non-Carpenters)
While you can get a little creative with the makeup of your mattress, for budget's sake, it's not always prudent. Today's mattresses have really come a long way, and offer everything from organic, memory foam, pillow-top, extra-firm, and air-filled models. A great way to save money, space, and delivery hassle is to invest in an all-in-one mattress (one that requires no additional box-spring, and uses slats in the bed frame to keep everything supported.) You can pick the mattress size that suits your lifestyle, but remember that bigger is always more expensive (and this includes an increase in frame, sheets, and covering costs, as well). If you can get away with a double or queen, it can save you a lot in the long run over the cost of that coveted California King (which wouldn't even fit in most doorways of my home.)
Eco-friendly options are hitting the markets by the gaggle, offering everything from recycled components and organic coverings to their consumers. A recent trip to Keetsa in San Francisco turned out to be a very enlightening stop for me. The mattress (while not claiming to totally eliminate the petroleum problem of memory foam) did make use of recycled materials and tea leaf extracts to counter some of the waste and toxicity. The best perks of the product was that it was uber-comfortable, and had a unique form of odor control (all-natural, of course). While not the cheapest on the market, they were reasonable, and with free shipping to your door, I could see myself as a customer. (And don't even get me started on their ingenious method of vacuum-compressing the mattresses into a box that you can carry home on the public transit systems.) Check Yelp for a look at over 50 reviews on this very shoppable store.
Unless you plan on convincing your friends that minimalist is best, putting your mattress on a frame is a must. (I won't even go into all the problems that can occur from allowing your mattress to rest directly on the floor — bugs are enough of a mention for me.) Frames don't have to be fancy, and some of the most functional and attractive models have come from the collection at IKEA. You can build a frame yourself (check out super-easy instructions for a platform or a simple wooden frame ), but if you can part with $200-250, you can get one ready-made to match any décor.
Simple box-like frames with clean lines will cost you the least, and they will allow for you to get a little creative with your headboard choices. (They also take up much less room than sleigh beds or elaborate frames with storage systems.) Keetsa (mentioned above) also offers a bed frame that folds in half for easy storage and transportation (and it's made from recycled metals). You may find a daybed frame or super-sturdy futon frame can also meet your needs.
The Head and Footboards
I never had headboards on my beds. Space almost never allowed it, and I found them to be more trouble and expense than they were worth. Since doing my recent bed-shopping experience, however, I've been convinced that there may be a headboard out there for me (although I'm still convinced that a nice cedar chest or ottoman makes the best foot furnishings).
If you decide to go with a headboard, simple will cost you less. Try to avoid anything covered in cloth (unless you are a very, very neat person). With three drooling toddlers and a proclivity towards bed rest with each pregnancy, I find that the less porous surfaces are better. Easy cleaning and maintenance leave them looking better, longer.
Very clever individuals can avoid commercial headboards altogether, using creative juices to mount most any solid, attractive, or personal object directly to the wall (just behind where the bed will be). I've seen surfboards, vehicle grills, and canvas paintings used at the "head" of various beds — all giving off a sense of style that just can't be manufactured in an offshore furniture assembly plant.
Blankets, sheets, duvets (and duvet-covers), shams, comforters, quilts, and the like can really make a bed the place to come home to. Buying new isn't always necessary (I love picking up handmade quilts at auctions and flea markets), but layering is helpful to regulate temperatures in areas where hot vs. cold is an hourly battle. Styles can change as often as you wash your bedding, so go bold and pick something that says, "This is your room!"
Do you have a bed that screams who you are? Or do you prefer to crash anywhere (including your best friend's couch?) Let us know what you've done, where you shop, and how you've kept it under budget. I'd love to hear from you!
(And thank you, Roger, for sharing 6 hours of bed-shopping fun with me in San Francisco — next time, let's shop online.)