Critics' Corner: The Hunt for the Perfect Mattress
Because a good night's sleep is paramount to the perfect stay.
Do you recall the nostalgic pages of the fairytale, “The Princess and the Pea?” The exquisite yet scrupulous princess was so sensitised to her sleep environment that through 20 feather-filled mattresses, she could feel a single pea. The pea would blight her night’s rest, causing distress and discomfort, despite her not knowing what this unfathomable niggle was. As the fable goes, this enhanced tactile sensory awareness was what in fact verified that she was a true princess, and fit to marry the prince.
She is discerning; she is exacting; she is Plum.
We have studied the science of the perfect stay endlessly – we have measured it and we have mastered it. But the science ends there, and the art begins, because like Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale heroine, sometimes the elements are in place, yet something is amiss that we can’t quite put our finger on overshadowing the whole story.
The sleep environment is more than the sum of its parts; we will meticulously check off the non-negotiable components covering linen, noise levels, light levels, mattress quality, bedding and overall environment. Yet we also insist on more than check-box formulaic; we take the quality of your night’s rest seriously.
“A good night’s sleep is paramount to the perfect stay” – excerpt from the Plum Home Test. As a UK-based Home Critic, I have seen too many homes place their energy and spend into the living spaces, creating a jarring imbalance throughout the home. Homes that relegate the bedrooms to a rushed afterthought don’t make it into the portfolio. We just don’t do the “crash-pad” thing.
Nevertheless, while Plum is stringent, we aren’t stiff. An imaginative take on living spaces we applaud; a break-free from one-size-fits-all we revere. Character, bold design choices, cutting-edge architecture, surprising contrasts and experimental layouts are all things we dig. But mediocrity, and simple lack of effort, just won’t cut it.
Sleeping quarters are not some functional add-on in the Plum world, they are private chambers of restoration, retreat and serenity, bringing together all the design finesse of the home while creating a space that represents indulgence and comfort. The ancient Sibudu tribe of South Africa used sedge grass for bedding some 77,000 years back - the aromatic leaves provided a pleasant scent also acting as a natural insecticide. In China, hot stones were traditionally used for bedding. It was the Ancient Egyptians that made the first modern-looking beds; claw feet and curtains around them would indicate the status of the sleeper. During Medieval Britain, as much as one-third of a family’s wealth may be tied up in a bed; they were passed down the generations.
At Plum, we know our memory foam from our pocket sprung; we test every mattress rigorously for comfort, support and durability. We test its age and its performance while assessing linen and bedding, discerning our Frette from our Loro Piana. A bedroom needs to hit just the right note - sedate, yet cosy; serene, yet put-together; good quality air circulation, lighting (and light restriction.)
Homes that fail the Plum test may tick all the right boxes in terms of designer pedigree, yet the bedrooms are underwhelming. With years of trials, experience and insider know-how we judge bedrooms with an eagle eye. With the sweep of a finger we can identify thread count, and by the nature of our test, we hierarchise all things bedding related with a fastidiousness that underpins our values.
Like many Home Critics, I have always struggled to sleep in a hotel room. It’s hard to articulate why, but it’s something to do with their generic nature and anonymous feel. The interchangeable nature of a hotel room’s design, its shiny surfaces and absence of character, while the guest turnover creates a transience that somehow seeps into the room’s soul. The stale and replaceable sense of amenities, the dehydrated soft furnishings, the “staged” effect of temporary-meets-functional that even the slickest of hotels can’t fully escape.
Now, for a Plum style night’s sleep, let’s take a look at some of our finest.
Take Churchill, a sleek, understated city pad, nestled in the heart of well-heeled Pimlico. A veritable pied-à-terre, this low-key abode doesn’t do detail or gloss yet its quality throughout is immaculate in a muted sort of way. The bedroom epitomises everything that is Plum. While the mattress, linen and bedding quality all rate high, it’s the details that we don’t let slip through the net - placement of lamps and sockets, mirrors, noise levels and light levels. Raw materials are used artfully so that nothing jars, nothing is abrupt, nothing too challenging for the weary traveller or the stimulated soul. It simply sets the scene for quality rest - sludgy tones and earthy taupes, natural timber, soft carpeting, thick blackout curtains creating a chic retreat, set moments from bustling Victoria.
Head over to trendy Clerkenwell to Elderflower Tonic – it’s as bijou as it is pocket-sized. The bed is statement-making Art-Deco salmon pink velveteen with an architected headboard. Jade green cushions flirt with the sherbert pink tones - yet linen quality, bed height, and that playful touch of regal grandeur all make for a fine night’s shut-eye. An example of clever design renders this studio space both charming and quixotic. When slipping between the Egyptian cotton sheets you will be reminded why you went for Plum.
Next, up onto Hobart Spring Estate, a grade II listed building that sleeps 25 dating back to the 1470s, every inch the period home, dripping with original features. Stepping into its medieval confines, perhaps after a windswept walk on the Norfolk Broads, this characterful abode doesn’t miss a trick when it comes to bedtime finesse. This home offers consistently impeccable Vispring mattresses, bedding filled with natural materials and premium cotton, set within unique suites brimming with individual flair. Original fireplaces, exposed timber beams and diamond grid windows are set within sleeping quarters that hark back to an altogether more civilised age. Think mahogany roll top desks for letter writing, views over manicured gardens, fringed silk lampshades and upholstered chaise-longues.
Going now directly south to the Kent Coast, Crescent Moon emanates ebullient and breezy sea-side vibes. Enjoying the sounds of the sea while ensconced in the folds of high-end linen with the ornate charm of an antique polished brass bedstead, guests would be forgiven for thinking they had stepped into the glossy pages of a design magazine. Eve mattresses are industry gold, while the attention to detail aligns with everything that is Plum: standards and care. Pillow sprays, eye masks, extra blankets and hot water bottles, free-standing bathtub with sea views - guests can indulge after those bracing coastal walks.
Up to the other end of the country, and into Edinburgh’s distinguished old town, Purple Reign overspills with designer panache and flamboyant style. Its centrepiece is the imposing antique solid wood four-poster bed, offset with vivid purple textured wallpaper and velvet curtains. This elegant home offers sophisticated tones, luxe fabrics and opulence that offers the perfect antidote to the Celtic winds and plays into the vibrancy of the Edinburgh art scene, offering something that strikes the right note between unique and decadent.
We think Hans Christian Andersen’s princess heroine would approve.