Sleeping in high style

Home: Luxury bed linens are in demand, even though prices are anything but dreamy.

July 18, 1999|By Patti Doten | Patti Doten,Boston Globe

We spend one-third of our lives in bed, and more of us are choosing to spend it on beautiful, luxurious, soft bed linens. That means sheets of the finest cotton, highest thread counts and most elaborate designs.

"The trend is that people are splurging more on their beds," says Blair Franke, manager of Linens & Lingerie in Ruxton. "With the pace of living today, there's something very inviting about a big, soft, comfortable bed with a lot of pillows."

Once the concern of European royalty, the obsession with thread count -- or the number of threads in a square inch of fabric, which indicates how tightly they are woven -- filtered down a few years ago to the very rich. Now, it has entered the realm of the masses -- or at least of those middle-class Americans who have a little extra spending money and want kingly comfort.

The quality of the cotton is also important. A couple of years ago, people were still buying blends of cotton and polyester. Today many want 100 percent cotton. But then there are still choices to make between, say, Egyptian cotton or American-grown pima cotton.

It's clear that people believe tending to their beds pays off. In a recent survey of 500 American women, Coming Home, a catalog affiliated with Lands' End, found that 93 percent are convinced that comfortable sheets result in a better night's rest.

Dana Bruno, director of public relations at Bloomingdale's, says that when it comes to sheets, "Customers know what they want. ... High quality is a must, and anything less than a 200 thread count is undesirable."

"Charisma by Fieldcrest begins at 310, while [Calvin] Klein and [Ralph] Lauren start at 200," she says. "But once customers have slept on Charisma sheets, it's difficult to buy anything under a 300 thread count."

Luxury has its price. Americans now spend more than $2 billion a year on sheets. At Linens & Lingerie, a flat sheet in queen size with a 400 thread count (Egyptian cotton) can range from $165 to $400.

Customers not only want fine fabrics, they also want luxury detailing. That includes hemstitching, embroidery, lace and grosgrain ribbon detailing.

"We work with a lot of designers who want custom embroidery on bedding. They want it to be distinctive to the bedroom they're working on," Franke says.

And the most popular colors? Deep purple and lilac, blues and beiges. The hottest "in" color, retailers say, is yellow.

One of the most popular higher-end sheet lines is Palais Royal, made by a French company that has been selling its line of 100 percent Egyptian cotton prints, embroidered cottons and jacquards in the United States for the past 15 years. (A Palais Royal store is located in Green Spring Station in Lutherville.)

For the under-30 crowd, Pen and Ink by Esprit is a favorite. The design -- sage and stark white in a floral and plaid combination -- gives it both a feminine and masculine feeling.

For the really hip and young, there's Tommy Hilfiger. And for teen-age girls, Laura Ashley remains a hit with her traditional floral prints in lavender, sage and gray.

Then there are Pratesi linens, a 90-year-old Italian firm known for providing linens to monarchs, wealthy businessmen, sheiks and popes. The thread count of Pratesi linens tops out at 880. The price for a set of flat and fitted sheets with two pillow shams begins at $1,080.

In a published interview, the head of Pratesi is quoted as saying: "Our sheets are sun-dried in Italy and, therefore, perfumed in sunshine." Athos Pratesi goes on to describe his flower prints as "bringing the charm of a medieval garden to your home. Nothing is more regenerating for a person than slipping between fresh sheets so sweet and soft to the touch. Silk is the best because it maintains the temperature of the body. It's like having another skin. I become a poet when I think of it."


* Chambers: 800-334-1254.

* Coldwater Creek: Bed & Bath: 800-968-0984

* The Company Store: 800-285-3696

* Garnet Hill: 800-622-6216

* linensource: 800-431-2620

* L.L. Bean (L.L. Home, Bed and Bath): 800-221-4221

* Palais Royal: 800-322-3911

* Touch of Class: 800-457-7456

* Schweitzer Linen: 800-554-6367

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