Antique beds are rarely configured to accommodate today’s queen and king-sized mattresses and box springs. The majority of people prefer standard queen or king bedding, or at the very least the old standard, a full or double size.
Before fitted sheets, the exact size of a bed and mattress wasn’t as important 100 to 150 years ago. Beds could be any size, with feather beds or home-made mattresses, and the average height was much shorter.
Manufactured bedding first appeared in the 1890s, and the standard double or full size was around 72″ x 52.” Antique dealers refer to older, smaller-than-double size beds as “three-quarter,” despite the fact that they can vary greatly in size. Complicating the issue are antique chinese beds, built to entirely different dimensions.
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The most common issue is determining how to enlarge an antique bed to a modern desirable size while preserving the proportions and appearance of the original bed.
For many years, our cabinetmakers have performed conversions. We use standard brown steel rails in full/double and queen/king lengths. We secure these rails to the headboard with bolts that go all the way through the headboard. To have a secure place to bolt the rails, we sometimes need to add a sturdy piece of wood.
We attach a tough steel plate with welded-on bolts to the footboard. (Because we couldn’t find such plates, we designed them and had them made in a machine shop.) This application is applied on the inside of the footboard, so nothing is visible from the outside. This allows the steel rails to be attached securely while leaving nothing visible on the outside of the antique footboard. The bed can then be assembled and disassembled repeatedly by simply unscrewing the nuts and bolts at each corner.
If it is ever decided to return these “converted” beds to their original sizes with the original wooden rails, the steel fittings can be removed without causing visible damage to the bed itself.
The thickness of springs and mattresses is another consideration when using antique bed frames with modern standard bedding. Most bedding stores love to sell very thick or “pillow-top” mattresses, which can be too tall and cover up a lot of the beautiful old headboards. Thinner mattresses and springs should be ordered from the bedding store if more of the headboard should be visible. Before ordering a new mattress, measure from the steel rails up to the desired top of the mattress to determine what thickness would be ideal. The final appearance should be as expected, not a foot taller than expected!