Evolution of the Guest Bed

A little godsend called the Heavenly Bed spurs a long journey from the scratchy polyester quilts of yore to sumptuous materials that guests can't get enough of.


Twenty years ago, hotel bedding was a scary world of unknowns, making guests cringe at the thought of touching the ‘70s-style patterns that laid at the foot of their bed—let alone getting underneath them.

“I remember the old quilt polyester that comes from the planet Uranus,” laughs Andrew Morgan, CEO of the Andrew Morgan Collection, a manufacturer of luxurious bedding accessories that sell into a variety of high-end hospitality brands. Long before Morgan started his company in 2000, his family owned a Fontainebleau Hotel, so his knowledge of the industry stems from personal experience.

And that’s exactly what hotel guests started to demand: a more personal experience that reminds them of the comforts of home. They wanted the same standards of quality on the road that they had built for themselves in their own bedrooms. Executives at Starwood Hotels & Resorts answered their prayers with the introduction of the Heavenly Bed, just before the turn of the century.

“After conducting a ‘Sleeping on the Road’ sleep study in early 1999, Westin Hotels & Resorts found that 63 percent of travelers say that a good night’s sleep is the most important service a hotel can provide; 84 percent said that a luxurious bed would make a hotel room more attractive to them,” explains Erin Hoover, vice president of global design for Westin.

The brand spent months testing hundreds of pillows, bed linens, mattresses and more before the Heavenly Bed was born. The final line-up consisted of a plush, all-white bed with a custom-designed pillow-top mattress set; a down blanket; three crisp sheets ranging in thread count from 180 to 250; a comforter; a duvet; and five pillows.

“Westin spent more than $30 million to create the perfect night’s sleep, introducing 52,000 new Heavenly Beds in its 39,500 guestrooms and becoming the first hotel brand to take sleep seriously. To this day, we are credited with spurring the hotel bed wars that changed the industry,” says Hoover.

Guests immediately began calling to see how they could purchase the bed on their own. “Westin then became the first hotel company to sell a signature retail line with the launch of the Heavenly Bed in-room catalogue in 2000, and soon sold the product on its branded website to further respond to strong consumer demand,” she says.

In 2005, Westin formed a relationship with Nordstrom, becoming the first hotel chain to sell its line at a leading national retailer. This past December they also announced a partnership with Pottery Barn to feature Westin’s signature Heavenly Bed mattress in its catalog, website and stores.

But the Heavenly Bed didn’t just spawn this jump into the consumer market. It also was the start of a revolution in guestroom design, where the bed conducts the overall aesthetic. Whether it’s top of bed dictating the room design or a piece of art as the headboard, the guest bed as a whole now leads the way for the design process.

“Certainly the guest bed has evolved into the focal point of the guestroom,” says Diana Dobin, president of Valley Forge Fabrics. “Top-of-bed elements have become increasingly important and play a major role in the overall guestroom design concept. The guest bed, as the centerpiece of the room, is one of the most important, if not the most important design element. It requires the most amount of fabric, and typically the bedding fabric is replaced sooner than the other fabrics in a typical guestroom renovation.”

In Westin guestrooms, designers work to “frame” the Heavenly Bed. “Westin’s design is residential, in the sense that it’s like your ideal version of home—a beautiful, white bed is the centerpiece of your perfect bedroom,” says Hoover. “We frame the Heavenly Bed with materials and textures that are tactile and alluring, in a subtle color palette that’s inspired by nature, creating a calm, soothing environment that allows guests to relax and be at their best.”

The bed also plays a more than vital role in the room design at the Gansevoort properties, says Chief Operations Officer of Gansevoort Hotel Group Elon Kenchington. “In our latest urban resort, Gansevoort Park Avenue, we’ve placed the headboards and beds against walls that are not shared with another room, which eliminates disturbances. Once we decided that the bed should go on that wall, we then had it face the floor-to-ceiling windows for the amazing views.”

So now that the standard in hotel bedding quality has been raised to luxurious levels, where will it go from here?

new designs
“The white bedding concept is now being accentuated with more decorative bed skirts and throws,” says Jane Riback, Robert Allen Contract’s design director.

Kenchington agrees: “In recent years, Gansevoort has placed a greater focus on art and colors. We have an artist-in-residence, Deborah Anderson, who created a series of hundreds of photographs that can be found in our guest rooms and corridors. You’ll notice great pops of color in our rooms—fuschia and blues specifically, which is a change from the all-white trend hotels have done.”

Morgan, with a background in ready-to-wear, saw that the hospitality industry was in need of something “out of the box” when his collection of original and modernized prints hit the scene in 2005. “All the white bedding was very appealing and comfortable, but the room became sparse and as a result looked like it had a big white hole in the center. The goddess of white was beautiful and all, but it wasn’t aesthetically sensual.”

RA Contract also offers customizing options that allow hotels to take their brand to the next level, such as digital printing. “Designers can take a traditionally-scaled design and enlarge it to a grand scale. They can create a whole new look. We can take a photograph of an idea, such as a building, and create the pattern for the bed in any scale they prefer,” says Riback. They are also seeing a trend developing toward designing or engineering bedding with a “built-in” throw or “banded look” at the end of the bedding, which gives the appearance of a foot blanket.

new constructions
Morgan’s groundbreaking prints—featured in throws, blankets, pillows and soon-to-be quilts—and his innovative yarns brought a creativity to guest rooms that hotel brands jumped at. But his products also have an appeal because they meet the highest in housekeeping standards. He developed an olefin-based yarn (trademarked under the name of Ami-Vert) and a microfiber that the company sometimes uses in tandem, other times individually. Both are antimicrobial and antibacterial, as well as stain resistant.

Valley Forge Fabrics also offers products that are more than mindful of guests’ health. Proven to inhibit dust mites and stay cool during use, their Tencel+Plus™ Eucalyptus linens provide guests—and by extension designers and operators—a good night’s sleep.

Robert Allen Contract is another company offering hotel brands a variety of not just yarns, but specialty constructions and weaves, including matelassé constructions and crinkle jacquard qualities.

“They are easy to maintain and create a less wrinkled, neat appearance,” says Riback.

new products
These days, it’s not just top of bed that’s drawing the eye. Dramatic headboards have been used to create a dramatic design statement for years, but new formats and materials are bringing a fresh spin to this element.

“We’ve updated our collection of Ornamental Surfaces to include the latest trends in material finishes,” says Nancy Jackson, CEO of Architectural Systems, a distributor of decorative surfaces and panels.

The Ornamental Surfaces collection is a line of standard-sized lightweight sheets that are available with or without a self-adhesive backing that can go directly over an existing headboard. Designers can choose from materials simulating quilted or embossed leather, natural skins like shagreen, hammered metals, metallics and more, all in a variety of colorways.

Andrew Morgan also offers an innovative new product for a part of the bed often ignored: the boxspring. The Bedsok, made of spandex and olefin, takes only about two minutes to apply to the boxspring and has a number of intrinsic properties similar to his yarns, such as antimicrobial and antibacterial protection and bleach resistance.