The Modern Mattress — A Good Foundation

We are frequently asked what should be used as a foundation for an organic mattress. First, a little mattress history. In the very old days, of course, people slept wherever they could get comfortable.

In the middle ages things got better—at least for royalty. Mattresses were made of horsehair and other fine ingredients—you could have called them organic, though the term would've been moot before synthetic materials were developed. The big improvement was that mattresses were raised off the floor by wooden beds. That made it a lot easier to get up in the morning.

Before World War II, simple wooden beds were the main supports for mattresses. Today we would call these platform beds, as they were built with slats and rails.

In the 1950s, mattress manufacturers realized that they could make a hard mattress feel softer by putting it on a flexible box spring. That’s how the box spring got started. It also created a companion product to sell in addition to a mattress.

That all changed in the 1970s when waterbeds became popular. They were soft on top, comfortable and fairly durable. Waterbed mattresses were supported within a rigid waterbed frame. A little later futons came on the scene and platform beds with them. Platform beds have high-set slats, so no foundation is needed either to support a mattress or to add height to the bed.

By the 1980s and 1990s, foam mattresses made of materials such as memory foam and/or layers of synthetic latex had been developed. Like natural latex foam, these perform best on a flat, rigid surface such as a foundation or platform bed—as opposed to a flexible box spring. Any foam-type mattress performs best on a rigid surface. It’s the foam’s cell structure that allows it to disperse body weight and relieve pressure well, not interior springs. So it’s important that any foam mattress be evenly supported by rigid material--not by a box spring, which can sag.

From the outside, a fabric-covered foundation looks just like a box spring. It’s the inner design and its rigid slats (under the fabric covering) that are different.

Learn more about our mattress foundations