The frame of your bed is an important structural element so it's important to decide, once and for all, between a panel bed and a platform bed. What makes these beds distinct and which is better?
Are you looking for the bed of your dreams? You want a relaxing space where you can stretch out at night in comfort and drift away. Many people focus on the mattress here, from box springs to memory foam to more high-tech options. However, you’re missing an important piece of the puzzle: the frame.
You may think that the choice of a bed frame is mostly about personal style. However, this decision goes deeper than headboards and bedposts. The frame of your bed is an important structural element, like the foundation of your home. You need to build your dream bed on the right foundation. Is that foundation a panel bed or a platform bed? What do you need to know before choosing between them?
Table of Contents
What is a Panel Bed?
Panel beds are distinguished by their side rails and bases with slats or metal bars. These slats or bars are designed to support the box spring foundation. A mattress sits atop that. Traditionally, these beds include headboards and footboards.
What is a Platform Bed?
Platform beds have large, solid bases and tend to have an overall lower profile. These beds are designed to not require a mattress foundation. Platform beds often come with a modern, sleekly minimalist design that may skip headboards and footboards in favor of other features.
All About Platform and Panel Beds
Beds Through History
Platform beds may now be associated with modern trends, but they’re actually an ancient design. Cultures including the early Egyptians and ancient Greeks created solid bottomed bed frames. They would layer softer materials atop this sturdy surface.
Panel beds came into play later. They required fewer materials to make than solid platform beds and lifted sleepers higher up off the ground. Eras including the Renaissance and American Colonial were marked by fantastically elaborate woodworking to the frames and headboards of panel beds.
Headboards and Footboards. These features let you make a visual statement. They may also be practical, keeping pillows and comforters from sliding off the bed.
Built-in Shelving. Many beds of more modern design have cubbies and shelving built into the headboard and footboard. This lets you keep items like your alarm clock and nighttime reading material close at hand.
Trundle Beds. These accessories are a small, low-profile bed that rolls out of the way underneath your main bed. Many people find them handy for visitors, children, or even family pets. Trundle beds are generally only available with panel beds, which stand higher up off of the ground.
Extra Storage. Many people could use a little extra storage around the home. This makes under-bed drawers a very popular option that lets you turn wasted space into storage space. If the frame you have your eye on doesn’t come with these built-in, you can get simple drawers that roll into space.
Accessibility Friendly Features. One obvious option is to have grab bars installed on the wall. In a similar line of thought, some beds come with a rail along the sides that can be gripped. Many of these can be swung out of the way when not in use. Finally, some companies create risers that fit on the feet of the bed frame. This raises the height of the bed, making it easier to get in and out of.
Update-able Design Elements. Look at that bed frame with fresh eyes. Fabric covered headboards can have the cloth replaced to update the look. Painted wood can be repainted with a new, trendier color. Bed posts may be able to be changed out.
In the modern era, both styles of the bed are available in materials ranging from metal to wood to high tech composites. While looking for the right frame, you’ll probably run across options like:
Engineered wood. This material is made of recycled wood fibers that have been bonded together with a combination of adhesive, heat, and pressure. It results in a solid and highly durable product. Engineered wood is available in a variety of simulated grains, patterns, and colors.
Hardwoods. Popular hardwoods used in bed frames include maple, pine, and oak. These can be pricey. They are also a classic, cozy, and attractive option. If properly cared for, hardwood bed frames can last for decades or a lifetime. However, they may need occasional polishing or sanding and re-varnishing to continue looking their best.
Asian woods. Think options like teak, bamboo, and rattan, which have been cured and treated for durability. Asian woods are a stylish alternative to traditional western hardwoods. Many of these, like bamboo, are eco-friendly choices. Asian woods are easily stained with different colors.
Laminates and wood veneers. Thin sheets of material are layered and glued over a core and sealed in place with heat and pressure. This allows you to enjoy the look of wood or other high-end materials without the high price tag. Paying a little more here can get you a more durable product.
Metal. This material is strong and durable, but vulnerable to rust and oxidation. That’s why bed frames made of metal are treated with protective finishes or paint. Solid metal frames are heavy and generally expensive. You can save weight and cost by choosing a frame of metal tubing, but choose a heavy gauge for greater durability.
Bed style is not as important as the quality of materials used. For instance, a flimsy metal tubing bed will fall apart long before a quality engineered wood frame. It can be helpful to look at a number of different beds to see which are well-designed. Do you notice uneven gaps in the joints? Is the laminate already chipped or peeling? Does the frame wiggle when you push on it? All of these are signs of a low-quality product that won’t last you very long.
Another key factor in durability is the upkeep required. All bed frames will need some care to keep looking and performing their best. In general:
- Metal beds require little care but get chips in their protective finish repaired ASAP or you risk rusting.
- Solid wood frames may need yearly oiling and polishing to keep the wood from cracking.
- Laminates are vulnerable at the exposed seams, where moisture from the air can sneak into gaps and weaken the adhesive. Get those gaps sealed when you notice them.
- Engineered wood is vulnerable to water damage for similar reasons, so wipe up spills immediately.
Your costs here vary wildly depending on materials, size, extra features, brand names, etc. At the time of writing, overstock selling sites showed basic panel beds on sale for under $200, although about $500 was more typical. Basic platform beds without features like built-in storage could also be found for under $200 for the frame, with about $400 a more typical cost.
If you want to make your dollar stretch farther, here are a few ideas:
- Keep a sharp eye out for furniture outlet sales.
- Buy a basic design that only includes the frame itself. Invest in headboards, roll-out drawers, etc as your budget allows.
- Get a platform bed and save the expense of a mattress foundation.
- Get a panel bed and invest in a modern style mattress that is designed to not need the support of a box spring.
Platform and Panel Beds Compared
Platform beds tend to have a more sleekly modern design. They often include handy built-in features like under bed drawers and shelves or cubbies in the headboard. Platforms also don’t require you to purchase a box spring foundation or specialty mattress.
However, these beds can be a challenge for people with mobility issues as they sit lower to the ground. They can have a visually bulkier look than pane beds. Finally, those with a solid platform may require you to rotate the mattress regularly.
Panel frames are widely available in a variety of classic styles. They stand higher off the ground, making it easier to get in and out of the bed. They also have a larger gap under the bed, allowing for features like trundle beds or stacked drawers.
However, panel beds require either a box spring or a specialized mattress with built-in support. These traditional designs often don’t have built-in shelves and cubbies, requiring you to source these separately. Finally, remember to budget for recurring fees like new box springs or replacing broken slats.