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Bedded down

WHEN SHOPPING FOR sheets, thread count is one place to start. Thread count is the number of threads per square inch of fabric. Look for at least 200 or higher.

THREAD COUNT ISN'T EVERYTHING

Bella Lino, which sells high-end luxury bedding and sleepwear through its Web site www.bellalino.com, warns that thread counts can be misleading. Counts claiming to be 600, 800 or 1,000 are actually threads that have been split and twisted -- thus doubling the thread count. You can only get 400-450 thread counts per inch, said Sharon Suder, a buyer and product developer for the company.

Suder suggests consumers look for cotton quality, weave and finishing details when shopping for sheets.

WHICH BRINGS US TO FABRIC

Fabric content is important. You'll find a range of cotton/polyester blends and all-cotton sheets. The different grades of cotton are determined by the length of its staple or fiber. The longer the staple, the more luxurious and durable the grade of cotton.

Long staple Egyptian cotton makes the finest, softest and most durable cotton. Supima is a long, consistent staple cotton that is soft and durable.

YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR

"Many bed linens may tout having Egyptian cotton," Suder said. "You can tell the quality always pretty much by the price. Inexpensive Egyptian cotton linens are just that -- inexpensively made, and many times it is only partly Egyptian cotton, or remnants of Egyptian cotton fibers then woven together."

DREAM WEAVER

When looking for weave, percale is the most durable and is soft and smooth. Launderings will make it even softer over time. It is crisper, it "breathes," embroiders beautifully and has a little bit of body to it.

The other weave, sateen, has an ultra soft smooth feel -- smooth as satin. It makes a beautiful bed, but is not always the most durable. The top layer is more loosely woven, so it can sometimes pull a thread, meaning it is not a good choice for children or pets. It also tends to be a warmer sheet.

Egyptian cotton sheets can cost more than $500 for a queen set.

SHOP AROUND

In the past several years, all sorts of stores have started selling sheets with higher thread counts and luxurious cottons. Designers suggest checking out white sales at department stores along with stores such as Tuesday Morning, Stein Mart and T.J. Maxx. Truly luxurious (and expensive) sheets, can be ordered through interior designers or high-end Web sites.

According to Bella Lino, high quality Egyptian cotton sheets will run from about $500 and more for a queen set. Less expensive bedding is not normally sized as generous as luxury bedding, and many are not preshrunk. A high quality blanket will run about $200.

AND FINALLY . . .

"There are many, many new luxury bedding products available than even 10 years ago. Search out not just the luxury name brands, but other brands as well," Bella Lino's Suder said. "The choice today is very large, and there are many more European companies out there -- some of them the actual manufacturers of the luxury name brands -- importing to the United States. So customers can have a real choice."

SOURCES: Sharon Suder, buyer/product development for www.bellalino.com;Bed, Bath & Beyond; Westin hotels; interior designer Laurin Johnson of Laurin Johnson Interiors in Columbia; interior designer Bonnie Younginer of Cobb/Younginer Interiors in Columbia; The Associated Press

Be sure to buy natural down, which will keep you cool in the summer and warm in winter.

"Unnatural fiber(s) do just the opposite. They don't breath at all," said interior designer Bonnie Younginer of Cobb/Younginer Interiors in Columbia.

The quality of down is measured by its fill power. Down with a higher fill power will be lighter and fluffier. Bed, Bath & Beyond suggests a fill power in the 550- to 650-plus range.

Fall into 'Heavenly Bed'

THE WESTIN HOTEL CHAIN has turned its bed into a selling feature -- beyond overnight stays at the hotel.

Westin sells its "Heavenly Bed" -- everything from the boxspring to the pillows to the down comforter.

The Heavenly Bed was conceived by Barry Sternlicht, former chairman and CEO of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide. It was modeled after the bed at his home in Connecticut.

It features a 13-inch pillow top mattress with 8 3/4-inch box spring,

A down comforter made with baffling features sewn-in cloth walls to keep the down from shifting and clumping. Without baffling, you'll have cold spots where there is no down.

For the cover, thread count is the number of threads per square inch. A higher count provides a softer, more durable product. It also keeps dirt from getting in and keeps down from getting out of your comforter.

five pillows (two feather and down pillows, two hypo-allergenic pillows and one boudoir pillow and cover), a duvet cover with an overstuffed polyester insert, down blanket, bed skirt, top sheet, middle sheet, bottom sheet and pillow cases. Prices range from $35 to $50 for a hypoallergenic pillow to $1,450 for a kingsize pillow top mattress and box spring. Sheets are $55 to $155 each. See www.westin-hotelsathome.com/bed/experience.aspx for more details.

SOURCE: Westin hotels

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