Sleep On It

My bed is not beautiful. Handsome, maybe, with poster corners and a carved cherry wood headboard, but not lovely. Were it a man, it might be rugged and lanky, more about getting the job done than doing it in style. Not so far off, actually, from the guy who made it. Tom was an artisan from New Hampshire. We both liked Irish music; he played the guitar, I played the tin whistle. He also made furniture, so I asked him to build a bed to replace my old futon. When it was finished, he assembled the tongue-in-groove components in my bedroom. Then we tried it out.

[sidebar]The relationship was short-lived but the bed remains, despite the fact that I’ve entered a phase of paring down my possessions. Gone are hand-me-down rugs and the cat-scratched sofa. Half my closet is now at Planet Aid. Yet the sturdy bed stays, less for what it meant than for what it has become: The best place in the house for doing things. I don’t mean sleeping or having sex (both in relatively short supply these days); I mean everything else—eating, working, hanging out, Web surfing, sleeping. Living.

My reclined lifestyle began accidentally several years ago, when I was recovering from the flu. I was up against myriad deadlines, and recuperating time meant work time. I moved my laptop, briefcase, and to-do list onto my mattress. My teenage daughter showed up occasionally with soup or tea. After a few days, I realized I was twice as productive in bed as out. Bed, it also turns out, is the best place to practice my whistle, and the ideal spot to eat lunch while checking e-mail.

Of course, I’m not the first person to be so enamored by bed time. Benjamin Franklin and John Adams famously cozied up in their own beds to discuss politics. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Last Tycoon from bed, and Henri Matisse painted from his. The eponymous hero of the Russian novel Oblomov lived in bed, conducting all his daily business from between the sheets. And why not? I love my bed. The mattress cost as much as some small cars and it’s better dressed than I am, with soft, butter-colored sheets and an eiderdown quilt.

In our caffeine-driven, sleep-deprived culture, the bed occupies a precarious position. It’s a hush-hush spot, at once overindulged—witness the money spent on luxury linens—and hidden behind closed doors. Ask your neighbor about her new Sub-Zero and be prepared to listen. Ask her about her bed and prepare for an indignant look.

Yet you can learn a lot about people from their beds. Made or unmade? Ten pillows or two? Polyester comforter or goose down? I once dated a man who stored his belongings on his bed. He laid out his next-day’s clothes there, as well as his mail and Discman, and a teetering stack of CDs. It was little surprise to find there was no room for me.

I’m in bed now, on a chilly spring afternoon that threatens sleet. The pillows are plumped, the quilt draped over me. My briefcase and cup of coffee are nearby. I’m eyeing the too-big armoire on the opposite side of the room; it’s vintage Chinese, with hidden compartments. Should I sell it? It kind of smells funny, and a dresser would save space.

True, my bed is also too big, with its squared-off edges and boxy frame. Something lighter, smaller would better suit the room. But to start over, when so much has happened here? Tunes learned, assignments completed, late-night talks concluded, and, okay, good sex every now and then. I can’t imagine sleeping—or working, or living—on anything else.