Philip and Alex in bed using PowerBook (photo: Rob Silvers)

The Bedroom

part of materialism by Philip Greenspun

Site Home : Materialism : One Article

The Mattress

"My back hurts," I told the doctors at my HMO. "You have a rheumatic disease. Take some painkillers," they responded. I went to Italy for five weeks and slept on some expensive innerspring mattress/boxspring combinations. My back didn't hurt anymore. I looked at my old platform bed/foam mattress and thought that maybe 200 million Americans weren't wrong so I trundled downtown to Jordan Marsh, a glorious old Boston department store now depressingly subsumed into the Macy's empire. I told my story to Jack Shaughnessy, who has been selling beds for 30 years.

"What you want is a Stearns and Foster. It's the Cadillac of beds. Belgian damask cover, brass air vents, upholstered handles. When you tell people you have a Stearns and Foster, they know you have enough money to afford the best." I replied immediately "I'll take one! I only have one problem." Jack asked what that could be. "In 32 years, nobody has ever asked me what kind of bed I have."

Though the mattress wouldn't be delivered for a couple of weeks, I decided to test Jack's theory that very night. I was dropping my old friend Sari off at her house. "I've just bought a Stearns and Foster mattress. Will you sleep with me?" She replied, "I might if I thought you were serious." I guess she just didn't believe that I'd actually bought one...

Practical tips: It was cheaper to buy my Stearns & Foster at Jordan Marsh than at "Mattress Discounters", $1500 versus $1800 (queen size). It was especially cheap because Jack got me to apply for a Jordan Marsh charge card which knocked 10% off my first day's purchases. Then came delivery day. The box spring would not go up my stairs. If you plan to live in a place like New England where we like to live in decaying old houses, spend an extra $200 on a split box spring.

Final Notes: To this day I don't think I've ever gotten a woman to sleep with me because of my luxury mattress. I did send some email to my friend Christina. She's a stripper. She said "Oooh! Stearns & Foster. I know it well. One of the few times I actually enjoy being on the bottom."

Custom Closets

"When you have your closets built out, that's when you've reached the limit," said Kathy. "You've become a complete JAP."

I pointed out the big pile of clothes on the floor and the big holes in the closet back wall. The previous owner, "John", was a master at finding the low bidders for any job. Unfortunately, whoever had built out these closets for John was too busy saving him money to bother finding any studs. The 7' long pole and shelf above were secured with three shelf brackets to the lath and plaster, not to studs. John was a little guy. I'm 6' tall. As soon as I put all of my heavy clothes on the pole, the whole thing ripped out of the back of the closet, taking most of the wall with it.

Rick Young put the wall back together within a few hours, but then I decided that a regular closet wasn't good enough for me anymore. So I called California Closets, the market leader. Cloe showed up the next day. She arrived in a pink suit looking so perfectly put together that I wondered how she could relax. Young people really dressed for work always make me wonder if they don't constantly worry that a seam will pop and the whole outfit fall apart.

California Closets is a big franchise so Cloe came well-prepared with brochures, photos, and little bits of plastic visualization aids. Depressingly for the nerd, the company doesn't have a laptop computer-based configuration system. The brochures, though, are beautiful. Before: a woman in a business suit hunts through clutter. After: the same woman reads a magazine in front of a beautifully organized multilevel closet with drawers, shoe cubbies, and a laundry basket. Better yet: she's shed the suit and is clad only in a silk shirt. Even more amazing: she's acquired a noble Bernese Mountain Dog. Where do I sign up?

The price for a 7' of open shelves, a laundry basket, and double hanging? $728, 25% extra if you need shelves deeper than 14 inches (Feb. 1997). They couldn't do the job for more than a month, though.

So I called Closet Solutions at (617) 628-2410. They were really busy for the next two weeks. What? Your closet fell apart? OK, we'll be over in an hour (they are in Somerville, ten minutes from my Harvard Square condo and they work in the Boston area plus I guess eastern Massachusetts).

I'd given Closet Solutions some rough measurements over the phone and Jackie showed up with a mostly-completed design. Cloe had the killer outfit, but she wasn't able to measure my closet without assistance. Jackie, in blue jeans, pulled out one of those huge contractor's measuring tapes, bent it over on itself, and measured the whole closet by herself. Two business days later, Phil showed up with already-cut shelves, all particle board covered in white melamine. He bolted a track into the studs across the top of the closet, hung verticals from the track, and hung horizontals from pegs stuck into holes in the verticals. Then he added a whole bunch of screws from the shelving pieces into studs in subtle places. This system is not coming down any time soon. The materials used by Closet Solutions were all a bit stronger and more overengineered than the California Closets stuff. California Closets is big enough to hire an engineer to tell them "it is cheaper to use a wooden pole covered in plastic even if some of them wear out and have to be replaced under warranty." Jackie and Steve just use a steel hanging pole thick enough to support a Honda.

The price? $490. Two days from estimate to a flawless installation that took an hour. And all of this in a decrepit wooden house that doesn't have a single flat surface. At the risk of disgusting Kathy, I'm going to have them do the rest of my house...

Text and pictures copyright 1996 Philip Greenspun. Photo of Philip and Alex on bed: Rob Silvers.

Reader's Comments

I was struck by the no-nonsense web page that Closet Solutions had - it's the same kind of style that I'd imagine Greenspun (or anyone with big gaping holes in their closet) would be looking for at the time.

-- Craig Hansen, November 7, 1997
At a distance of 3000 miles (from my home in Cambridge MA, USA) it's not too conveniently located, but I highly recommend the McRoskey Airflex Mattress Company of San Francisco CA, USA, purveyors of fine bedding.

At 6'6" tall, I yearned for a bed where I could stretch out and not have my feet hanging off the end. A McRoskey bed was the solution. They'll make a mattress and box spring of any size (or shape) desired. Mine is a standard queen size plus 10" of extra length over my height (60" X 88").

The quality of this mattress is fantastic. I bought mine after sleeping on one in a Bed and Breakfast while on vacation in California (1983). The mattress I slept on that night was 60+ years old and stuffed with horse hair! McRoskey guarantees their work for 20 years and with a little care the mattress and box spring should easily last twice that long. Unless my house burns down, I hope to have my bed for life. (The complete story of how I ended up in the McRoskey showroom and bought one of their beds 3000 miles from home is an interesting one, but a long one too. In the interest of time, I'll spare you the details for now ;-)

I found one reference to McRoskey on the web (, but as a company they are not exactly on the cutting edge of information technology. Your best bet to contact them would be to call their toll free number: 800 760-9600. They ship beds world wide.

If you live near Massachusetts and you'd rather avoid a trip to California and still seek a custom made/sized bed, check out the Gardner Mattress Factory on Canal Street in Salem MA, USA. My parents have one of their beds and rave about it the same way I rave about my McRoskey!

-- Paul Wilson, December 3, 1997

We got a Duxiana mattress set three years ago.

Expensive (near $3,000 for a queen size).
But our back pain is gone gone gone.
We love it.


-- Rob Hoffman, August 19, 1999

I have had 2 mattresses during the course of the last 10 years, both being Stearns and Foster. I bought them at Bloomingdale's in New York. My CaliforniaKing cost me $6049, add another $1000 for a pillow top, and my total cost of mattress was $7,049. Yes, the price WAS steep. However, I find that the quality of sleep I revieve from that mattress is un-parallelled. I encourage anyone in the market for a new sleep system to purchace a Stearns & Foster. Handcrafted since 1848!

-- alec alex, August 21, 1999
Stearns and Foster

I bought a S&F mattress in 1982 and am still sleeping on it. I have tried two other solutions to air mattress and a $30 coleman camp bed with spring-loaded mat. They were surprisingly comfortable, but nothing beats the S&F. Like Philip, I could not get the box spring up the stairs in my 1930's house, so I just sleep on the innerspring on the floor, like an old hippie. My wife was taken aback when she saw the arrangement, but agrees it is a damn fine bed for all that. The only drawback is that the entire floor becomes a kind of utility shelf around the bed, so there are usually 30 bookmarked books, three week's worth of Sunday NY Times, and numerous notebooks and pamplets etc mixed with the bedding, shoes, etc. The Stearns and Foster is not to blame for that, of course.

-- jeff beddow, January 21, 2000

Shortly after our wedding, my wife announced that my no-name mattress--which a friend had given me--would have to be replaced with something we had "picked together". Not wanting her to be disturbed by the psychic remnants of past occupants, I grudgingly agreed.

Driven by cheapness and a need to be different--mainly cheapness--I talked her into getting a top-of-the-line futon for $400+. Different and cheap translated to "hard and lumpy", which led us to one of those Swedish foam mattresses for $1200, it was perfect for me, but too hard for her, luckily we were able to return it for a full refund. Our next attempt was a $1,000 pillowtop Sealy Posturepedic, 18 months later we concluded that, (1) the bed was too soft, causing me to continuously toss and turn, and (2) the wire sub-structure transferred my restless energy directly to my wife--a light sleeper to begin with.

At this point I was more than a little frustrated, sleep deprivation was starting to have an effect on the quality of our marriage and I'd taken one too many early-morning elbow shots. Since going to brick and mortar stores hadn't worked, I went online, which is how I found Their site isn't one of the most confidence inspiring Id seen, but I was so ready to find a solution that I was willing to overlook the kludgy shopping cart and the sparse--compared to sites developed my professional marketers--selling copy. After 3 or 4 e-mails with Larry Camp, the owner of Sleepezy, in which he provided refreshingly candid responses, including the following excerpt from his answer to my question about which bed I should get (the same kind of question that drives Phillip nuts) ........

"Ask me something simple, please? Derek, I would go on record as saying that it is impossible to answer your question. You describe your wife's problem, and I can understand what you are telling me, but I still don't know how sensitive she is. See what I mean? So, I went to the authority, MY WIFE, and asked her. We have one Sleepezy that is a full size (double - 54" wide) and she says that if she is awake, and I turn over she can feel me when I move. It has a single air mattress inside.

{Here Larry provided several paragraphs about bed design and technical specifications, in which he recommended one of his split mattress beds}

I'm sorry, but I am not able to make that judgement. I do know this. We (my wife and I) went and tried a Select Comfort. They are made different from mine. When she was lying still and I turned over the air would go from my side into her side, raising her up. I have eliminated that problem in my design but I still am unable to give you an answer. I can promise you this, If you had a Sleepezy you would sleep better than you have ever slept before. Thanks for the inquiry and sorry that I cannot be more specific, all I can be is honest. Larry........"

The long and short is: If you are married and need a bed that gives each of you the ability to adjust the firmness of your own side and/or you need a mattress that does not transmit your movements to your spouse, then get a sleepezy. We are sleeping great and now have energy to argue about more important things.

-- Derek McDonald, January 6, 2001

Being in the process of moving into a new home in Cambridge, I decided to redo the closets in my bedroom, including a step-in that was essentially empty. I called up Closet Solutions, which has now apparently moved to Newbury Street in the Back Bay, and left a message with the receptionist, who said someone would call me back later in the day or tomorrow. A week later someone finally called back, and scheduled an appointment with a designer for the following week. The well-dressed designer showed up more or less on-time, made it clear to me that her time was extremely valuable, took one look at my closet and said that "this isn't big enough for us, there isn't anything that we can do, and it would start at about a thousand dollars."

I'd seen a similarly sized closet redone by California Closets at about that price, and in a very clever fashion. I pointed this out, she shrugged. I also mentioned that they had been suggested to me by someone who had had a small closet done. She asked when. I replied that it had been about four years. Her response: "yes, we were just getting started then."

Needless to say, I was not impressed.

-- William Crawford, June 11, 2001

I've used Closet Solutions based primarily on Philip's report of his experience and I have not been disappointed. They've done my pantry and now a built in entertainment center for the best prices around, also with timely service. I've never met or spoken to a snooty person from their company.

-- Wally Yassir, January 29, 2005
All of the comments regarding mattresses really are amusing. I have an Ikea mattress that works just fine. Guess what? I only paid $400.00 for it. By the way, check the following article out:

-- Alexander Peter, January 15, 2006

I have been sleeping on one of those sleep by number air beds with the air pumps since the turn of the century. My half is set at a different firmness than my wifes side, and instantly changeable. It is very comfortable and I would buy it again if it ever wore out, which is unlikely to happen any time soon.Spend the money and get a nice thick pillowtop whatever they call it and you will likely be very happy.Oh, and the cool thing is,you can get a king size up and around tight stairways because the bed is in manageable size pieces unlike a regular king size mattress and boxspring.Steve Nickse

-- steve nickse, November 13, 2007
Add a comment

Related Links

Add a link