The Anatomy of a Well-Dressed Bed

If you have ever looked at an image of a bed in one of your favorite furniture catalogs or design magazines, you’ve probably noticed that the bed is really decked out. It’s layered in all sorts of bedding that looks really nice in the picture.


But in reality the average person’s bed at home looks nothing like this. At best, your bed most likely consists of sheets, a duvet cover and/or comforter, two standard size shams and maybe a blanket.

Whenever I’m working with a client on decorating their bedroom, we will typically discuss bedding preferences, which often leads to questions like, “What’s a duvet cover? What’s the difference between a Euro sham and a standard sham?” Here’s my favorite: “Do I really need all this stuff?”


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For those of you who may be wondering the same things, I’ll break down the anatomy of a well-dressed bed. Here’s everything that you need to know about basic bedding.

Duvet. A duvet is a common bed covering that gained popularity during the late 20th century. It was designed to reduce the complexity of making the bed by serving as a single covering that replaced bed sheets, blankets and quilts. The duvet itself is made of down feathers and fits into a cover that can be laundered regularly like pillows.

Comforter. A comforter is a type of blanket that is filled with natural or synthetic material in a shell cover. “Comforter” was derived from the word “comfort.” They are typically used during the winter months to provide comfort against the cold. Not to be confused with the duvet, a comforter is generally used with a set of bed sheets.

Quilts or Coverlets. The words “quilt” and “coverlet” are often used interchangeably. They serve as bed toppers to provide warmth and decorative appeal to a bed. The quilt/coverlet lays on top of the bedspread or comforter, exposing the bed skirt. For centuries, traditional quilts were made or given to mark important life events such as the birth of a child, marriage or family member leaving home. Modern quilts are used for more than just bedding. You can find them as wall hangings, table runners or articles of clothing.

Pillows. Let’s talk pillows, shall we? Also known as a Continental sham, a Euro sham is decorative pillow that is 29″ x 29″. Since this is the largest pillow on the bed, the Euro sham should be placed directly in front of the headboard. Next is the standard sham, which is also a decorative pillow that is adorned in ruffles and cording. The standard sham is placed behind the sleeping pillow. Throw pillows are the final layer of pillows on the bed. These decorative pillows come in a variety of different shapes and sizes.

Blanket and Throws. Blankets and throws are lightweight bed coverings that are designed to provide an additional layer of warmth and decoration to a bed. They are usually placed at the foot of the bed.


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Bed Skirts. Bed skirts, also known as bed ruffles or bed dusters, are a decorative element used to cover the box spring and legs of the bed. They go between the mattress and box spring. Bed skirts are not necessary for beds that have an upholstered frame or a low profile. They are commonly found in traditional interiors.

Sheets. There are two types of sheets – fitted and flat. If you have ever slept in a bed before, then I’m sure you know the difference between the two. The fitted sheet fits snugly over the mattress. The flat sheet goes on top of the fitted sheet.

Most people will consider some of these items unnecessary and expensive. I advise all of my clients to be practical. If you’re not someone who sleeps under a lot of covers at night, then skip the blankets, quilt and comforter. Invest in a nice set of decorative sheets and a simple throw pillow, and let your headboard take center stage. And if cost is a concern, there’s nothing wrong with starting with the basics and building your dream bed over time.

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Danielle A. Gray

Danielle A. Gray

Washington, DC based interior designer, blogger and creative force behind Gray Livin', a home interiors brand inspiring cool people to live soulfully with style. To schedule a design consultation, please visit:

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