A brief history of the mattress

Mattresses are a key component of bedding.  Because most humans spend over a third of their lives sleeping, finding a quality mattress is important for a high quality of life.  Normally comprised of foam and fibers, with metal springs on a wooden frame, mattresses help ensure a restful sleep.mattress

Serta, Sealy, and Simmons are the three largest, most popular mattress brands in the USA.

Standard USA mattress sizes are Twin/Single (39” X 75”), Double/Full (54” X 75”), Queen (60” X 80”), King (78” X 80”).  Other USA mattress sizes include Olympic Queen (66” X 80”), California Queen (60” X 84”), and California King (72” X 80”).

Mattresses typically require replacement after seven to fifteen years of use, or sooner, if the coils or frame have experienced noticeable wear and tear.

A Brief History of the Mattress

In the Neolithic period (8,000-6,000 B.C.), people migrated from sleeping on the ground to simple man-made beds and mattresses.  These first resting structures were constructed of leaves and grass, held together with animal skin.  Around 3,500 B.C., Persians invented the first “waterbeds,” made of goatskins filled with water.  The more affluent inhabitants of the Roman Empire, circa 200 B.C., slept on mattresses filled with feathers.  Steel coils, which now support the vast majority of mattresses, were not patented for this purpose until 1865.

Memory foam is a polyurethane product with additional chemicals to increase its viscosity and density.  Body heat causes it to soften, which is why it conforms to your body.  One cited disadvantage is that they can feel quite warm and many manufacturers are now added gel cells to make them cooler.  Some manufacturers add aloe vera, green tea extract or activated charcoal to reduce odors and provide aromatherapy while sleeping.

Mattresses have enjoyed many advances in the past few decades, including the advent of air mattresses, foam mattresses, and “memory foam” mattresses.  Increasingly, mattresses are being constructed from modern materials such as latex foam and polyurethane foam.  In addition, those consumers seeking affordability and convenience have chosen futons and futon mattresses to ensure their good night’s sleep.  And there has long been a core of waterbed enthusiasts who remain committed to waterbed mattresses.


Why and How to Achieve the “Rustic Look”

Created from wood that is unfinished or that has a rough finish, rustic furniture is treasured by those who love a country, mountain, or farmland feel.

Rustic furniture is known for its simplistic beauty.  Created from wood that is unfinished or that has a rough finish, rustic furniture is treasured by those who love a “country” theme.  Rustic furniture includes beautiful pine log cabins as well as the “rustic style” furniture that graces many homes, hotels, and cabins today. rustic1

Whether it be a log cabin that is nestled in the heart of the Carolinas, or a beautiful sculptured and reworked piece of rustic barn furniture, rustic style appeals to those who love the wholesome beauty of nature, country, and desire to surround themselves with this style.  Nothing says America better than beautiful handmade rustic furniture and its popularity is vast. Many modern homes have come to include some rustic elements to their decorating scheme as well as those who wouldn’t trade one step of a rustic staircase for an entire home furnished with contemporary décor.  Maybe the allure rests in the fact that long before the building materials that we frequently use today, existed, many homes and furniture pieces were hand carved from beautiful wood logs.  Every inch of a detailed chair, railing, bureau, or bed frame was expertly crafted with simple materials, but with such detail that the beauty was evident to all.


Today, rustic furniture still holds that appeal.  From log cabins to meticulously carved furniture pieces, rustic reminds us of the heart of America.

 Rustic Furniture: The Combination of Form and Function

Rustic furniture reminds us of the pioneering spirit that first created these beautiful pieces.  Combining both form and function, not only is rustic furniture cherished for its natural charm, but also for its ability to create beautiful form and functional furniture with primitive methods, tools, and materials.  Today’s rustic furniture may keep to the patterns of building techniques used in the past, or it may be enhanced by using some of today’s more modern styling.  The choice is yours.  You can choose for very simple hand crafted rustic furniture pieces, or items that have been adorned with more modern tools, hardware, and finishes.


Rustic Furniture and Decorating Themes

The beauty of rustic furniture is far reaching, and this style is appropriate for many different themes.  For example, when decorating with a country and western style, rustic furniture is essential.  You can use any Native American or Country Western piece and anything that is classified as rustic furniture will enhance and compliment your decorating theme.  Another great alternative is that when choosing rustic furniture and themes, you don’t have to commit your entire house to a rustic look.  You can add a few pieces here and there, or even choose to decorate a room or two with a rustic theme.  Since the rustic look combines the beauty of wood, you can accentuate many pieces such as mirrors, bookcases, and tables with rustic charm and grace simply by adding accessories such as flowers, twigs, and other natural items.

rustic4The rustic look is a perfect choice when opting to decorate an outside patio or lanai.  No matter where you choose to showcase your rustic furniture, you will love the country look and grace of your newly decorated room

Some Origins of Decorating Terms

Art Déco
The phrase Art Déco, more commonly abbreviated to just simply “Déco” originates in France from a journal by architect Le Corbusier, L’Esprit Nouveau, in an article detailing the 1925 Expo, titled 1925 Expo: Arts Déc”. In 1966 an event celebrating the  1925 exhibit titled itself Les Années 25: Art Déco/Bauhaus/Stijl/Esprit Nouveau, and from then on it became solidified as a style set apart from all others. A fewDéco influenced works of art we are familiar with here  in America are The Chrysler Building, the Statue of Liberty, Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer and the RCA Building.  In Olympia, the Armory located at 515 Eastside St. SE, The Greyhound Station at 107 7th Ave SE, and The Old Thurston County Courthouse at  1110 Capitol Way S are all in the Art Deco style.  Art Deco has made a scene on the fashion and design stage recently, and is expected to be an ongoing trend for the next 5-10 years.
Art Noveau
It is nearly impossible to mention Art Deco without mentioning its progenitor, Art Noveau. Noveau was an art movement usually identified with its interest in the structure of the natural world. Vines, flourishes and flowers all took on an architectural feel and sinuous curving lines and feminine figures dominated architecture in many instances of art from 1890-1900. With the onset of the Age of Industry, with all of the shapes and materials that suited large scale manufacturing, the happiest marriage between Nature and Industry was Art Deco, which later gave way to Modernism.  The Art Noveau movement elevated art to the highest status it has achieved since the Greeks or Sumerians. The popular opinion was that art should encompass all facets of life, from caryatids on mantles to flowering silverware. We see this influence today in the importance that is placed on decorating the home and acquiring stylish utilitarian items. The philosophy of the Art Noveau movement was that art should be a way of life. The name Art Noveau stems from a Parisian gallery, Maison de l’Art Nouveau,  owned by a German art dealer named Siegfried Bing.

Furniture Tips: It’s not over until it’s finished

All of the faithful readers of this column (Hi, Mom!) have said I must know something other than how to make a mess and clean it up. Although I have far more experience with making a mess (and occasionally cleaning it up), here’s some info about wood finishes. We’re going to be stealing a few ideas from Bob Flexner’s definitive Understanding Wood Finishing.

As you know, the purpose of a finish is to protect the wood underneath. Describing them in terms of how they work, there are 3 types: Evaporative, Reactive and Coalescing.

Evaporative finishes, which include shellac and lacquer, are long stringy molecules (think spaghetti) suspended in an evaporative liquid. The liquid is usually something that will evaporate quickly like alcohol. Shellac is a resin secreted by the lac bug and approximately 1.5 million (“lac” means “one hundred thousand”) bugs are required to make a pound of shellac. The resin is scraped from the branches, melted, the bits of bugs strained out, and what’s left is dried and flaked. It’s then dissolved in alcohol to use. Lacquer, a synthetic product that became popular during the 1920’s, caught on because it is more resistant to heat, water, alcohol and acids. Most lacquers are made from nitro-cellulose which comes from treating the fibers of wood or cotton with nitric and sulphuric acids. An important factor in all evaporative finishes is how fast the solvent evaporates. When you put on multiple coats of an evaporative finish, the solvent redisolves the bottom coat and the two mingle and attach to each other, like dumping a pot of fresh spaghetti on top of some dried spaghetti.

Reactive finishes are varnish and all have 2 parts. As the thinner that separates the two molecules evaporates, the 2 molecules touch each other and with either oxygen (as in a varnish) or with a special hardener a cross-linking of the two molecules takes place. The reason this is important is because when you add multiple coats of a reactive finish, you need to do so within hours or days of each other so the top coat can react chemically with the bottom coat to join the two together. Otherwise you need to scuff the surface with a fine sandpaper so the finish can attach mechanically.

A water-based finish is a coalescing finish. The little droplets of finish have solid insides of a reactive finish that has already bonded and an outside coating of a solvent. As the water evaporates, the solvent bonds the little droplets together. White and yellow glue works the same way. The reason you can add water on top of a cured polyurethane finish is because it is really the solvent that is holding the bits of finish together. You can add another coat of a water based finish anytime after the first, because the solvent will help bond the new coat to the old one.

So, you might ask, what is that stuff that’s on my furniture? Alas, the only way to tell is to try and dissolve the finish. Add a few drops of alcohol in an inconspicuous spot. If the finish gets soft and sticky within seconds, it’s shellac. Now apply a few drops of lacquer thinner. If it gets soft and sticky it’s shellac, lacquer or water based. Fortunately, you’ve already ruled out shellac. To tell the difference between water based and lacquer, add a few drops of toluene or xylene. If it gets gummy, it’s water based. If nothing happens, it’s a reactive finish, you just don’t know which one.

Or, you can always guess. Water based finishes didn’t really become popular until the 1990’s so if it’s a recent piece of furniture, that’s probably what it is. Water based finishes have the advantage of less solvents and hence less nasty chemicals going into the air…a good thing for everybody.


My beloved wife continues to be mystified by my interest in trivia.  I like to read and am utterly unable to distinguish between the important and the tangential.  I nodded my head in agreement when Anne Fadiman wrote that she once read a 1974 Toyota repair manual because it was the only thing in her house she hadn’t read twice.  So for this column, we’re going to explore the etymology of blue jeans.  After all, this ubiquitous cotton is one of the “fabrics of our lives”.

Denim was originally the serge de Nimes (de Nimes becomes denim), a town on the southern French coast.  The weft fibers pass under two or more of the warp fibers (making it a twill, “twi” meaning double).  This is why the reverse side shows a diagonal ribbing pattern and makes it different than cotton duck, which is two warp fibers and a single weft.  The fabric was a blend of silk and wool.  All cotton denims were an invention of the 1800s. Denim was first made into pants in Italy in the 1600s for the Genoa navy, so Genoa transmutes into the word jeans.  They used wide legs (bellbottoms) so they could be rolled up while swabbing the deck.

The blue dye was indigo, which originally came from several tropical plants (woad and dyer’s knotweed, the most popular) until July of 1897 when synthetic indigo replaced the traditional plant dyes.  In 1993, Crayola added denim as one of their 16 new colors.

Dungarees came from Dongari Kapar market next to the Dongari Killa fort, which would become Bombay (now known as Mumbai).  The first English use of the word dungaree is from the 1696 Oxford English Dictionary.  To get really obscure, Volkswagen produced the Jeans Beetle between 1973 and 1975 that had all denim trim.  Bonded Logic UltraTouch is a home insulation made from the remnants of blue jean manufacturing.  It has an R-Value of 13 to 19 (3.5” or 5.5” batting) and is used as a replacement for fiberglass batting. Ralph Lauren Paint has techniques for painting your walls to look like blue jeans, including a tool for making the characteristic seams.

You probably know that the German-Jewish immigrant Levi Strauss sold a lot of jeans to the gold miners of California (the canvas pants he started with were too uncomfortable).  But it was a tailor and customer of Levi’s, Jacob Davis, who figured out how to add copper rivets to the stress points.  Jacob couldn’t afford the patent and went into business with Mr. Strauss, which is probably why we’re not wearing Jacobs today.

How popular are these staples of youth culture?  The average North American owns seven pairs of jeans and although in 1885 a pair cost $1.50, today American’s spend over $14 billion on them.

It takes about 15 pieces of fabric (a total of about 5 feet of fabric) to make a standard pair of 5 pocket jeans.  Up to 100 layers of fabric are cut at a time.  It takes about 15 minutes and 12 steps to sew a pair and an average factory can make about 2500 a day.  Then there’s about a pound of pumice to stone wash a pair.

So why bother with this?  My point is only that even a common place object can have a fascinating, international and multi-cultural history.

And if that’s not enough trivia for you: 75% of the residents of Wisconsin were born there, the Dodgers won the 1955 World Series, Sigmund Freud died in London and the average worker ant lives for 3 months. I’m sure all this means something, I’m just not sure what.