It was a trip to County Surrey, England, that first inspired Debbie Zarling to (re)make her bed. The retired physical therapist was staying with her husband, Max, at the Burvale House, a 200-year-old Regency bed-and-breakfast owned by two former Minnesotans. In their cozy bedroom, the Zarlings found a queen-size bed done up in the European style: a fitted sheet topped with goose-down duvets and no flat sheet in sight. (A duvet is a soft, down-filled quilt that is often housed in a sold-separately washable shell, called a duvet cover.) The experience, said Zarling, was a revelation. "No fighting the sheet, no fighting for your share of the blanket, wonderfully breathable, and making the bed in the morning takes two seconds."
When Zarling got back home to Excelsior, she looked at her traditional bed with its double layer of sheeting and thought, "Why?"
"It is something we've noticed, more people taking a pass on the flat sheet," said Molly MacDonald, owner of Highcroft Fine Linens and Home in Wayzata. "Myself, I love to sleep without a top sheet in the winter. I have a linen duvet that's wonderfully broken in, and that's all I want to feel on my skin when the air is cool." Ann Seehof, the buyer at Highcroft, never sleeps with a top sheet. "She first experienced it at a bed-and-breakfast in Wisconsin, and she's never gone back," MacDonald said.
MacDonald said she would be very surprised if the flat sheet went away entirely — "sleepers who prefer a blanket, coverlet or quilt over a duvet almost always want a flat sheet." But, she said, most Americans don't seem to realize that the top sheet is a product manufactured primarily for the U.S. market.
"It's the same story with pillowcases," she said. "Europeans, by and large, sleep on pillow shams, which Americans tend to think of as decorative only."
Among bedding aficionados, opinions on the matter are tightly tucked in. Traditionalists who would never dream of going without a top sheet include dinnerware designer Julia Knight ("I'm not a fan of going sans top sheet"), Gather boutique owner Ammar Alshash ("pro-top-sheet camp here") and upholsterer and interior designer Cy Winship ("hmmm, sorry, not for me").
Minneapolis architect Phillip Koski found the idea downright uncivilized. "Sounds like barbarism," he wrote in an e-mail. "Should we all stop using dishware and serve our meals on place mats instead?"
Charlie Flynn, owner of the Francis King showroom at International Market Square in Minneapolis, happens to live in a divided household. He has long campaigned for flat-sheet-less sleep, but his wife, Linda, is an all-American flat-sheet devotee.
There is one demographic, however, that is all in on flat-sheet-free bedding: parents. Interior designer Brandi Hagen stopped making her sons' beds with top sheets because every morning she found the boys snuggled under their duvets with the top sheets kicked to the foot of the bed. "My husband finds it gross that they no longer use a top sheet, but I don't see a problem," she wrote in an e-mail. "Obviously, I wash the duvet cover as much as I do their fitted sheets."
Interior designer Brenda Scherping does the same for her two girls.
"I always recommend going without a flat sheet for a kid's bed," MacDonald said. "Kids are active sleepers, and some of them get almost constricted in a top sheet."
Luxury linen companies have always sold top sheets and fitted sheets separately, MacDonald said. But recently, even discount retailers are breaking open the standard bedding hobby kit (fitted sheet, flat sheet, two standard pillowcases), made especially for quirky Americans. Target, for example, sells flat and fitted sheets separately.
For those who find duvets much too warm, MacDonald suggested buying one of higher quality. "Down-market duvets sometimes have feathers or polyester fill inside that make them warmer," she said. "A nice goose-down duvet is light and lofty and quite temperature-regulating." She also said that taking off and putting on a duvet cover for washing is really no big deal. "You might find it tricky the first, or the second, or maybe even the third time you do it, but eventually it's just one of the tricks you get the hang of with practice."
Zarling, the Excelsior woman who first slept without a top sheet in England, is taking Euro-style sleeping to the next level. She's having a queen-size duvet cut in two to mimic the individually sized duvets that are popular in Scandinavia. She's on Cloud Nine about it.
"The other night, I kicked my husband right in the knee, where he just had surgery. It's nice to be together, but having my own duvet sounds like a sweet dream to me."
Alyssa Ford is a Minneapolis freelance writer.