Wednesday, March 13, 2019

A Cozy Latex Mattress and Handmade Wool Topper for a Tiny Trailer

Air conditioner? Space heater? Screens to keep the bugs out? Check, check, check! But why did my wife and I really buy a tiny camper? I think the middle-of-the-night answer was to have a comfortable, secure place to sleep. We wanted to turn off the nightlight, fluff the pillow, snuggle deep into the covers and let out that long, comfortable sigh that summons the Sandman. Yes, the bottom line is the bed, and, in fact, many teardrop owners refer to their tiny trailer as a "traveling bedroom."

When my wife and I brought our barely used RTTC Polar Bear home, we felt the mattress just wasn't quite what we wanted. It was a mattress sewn into a single piece of upholstery with sectioned pieces that could be folded up to make a sort-of sofa--an awkward arrangement, we thought. My wife needs the trailer to also be a mobile office, so the large-size folding and unfolding of the mattress/sofa would occur twice a day. We got rid of the mattress and incorporated a retro, vintage style set-up of several pads that serve the dual role of seats and mattress. The twice-daily ritual of converting the sleeping area to a table area and back became much more simple and efficient.

The basic mattress for our bed, one large latex pad and three small cushions,
much like the set-up in my parents' trailer many years ago.

The mattress now provided a surface that was easily convertible. Slipping the middle cushion to the rear of the trailer, the table was easily set up. My wife had her office space, and if the weather demanded it, we had a table for meals that were out of the wind or rain. Converting back to a bed does not require moving an entire one-piece mattress system, which has all the pillows and such sitting on top of it. All we have to do is drop the table, set the middle pillow, and then unfold the bedding. To keep the seat cushions from slipping around, we bought at Walmart the plastic mesh used to place beneath throw rugs to stop slippage, cut the mesh to fit the Formica tops of the storage bin benches, and ended that loosey-goosey slipping of the cushions on the slick seat tops.

The large mattress area allows us to fold back bedding, freeing the small cushion area
for table and seating, sleeping pillows and sleeping bags to the back.

The mattress and seat cushions are from five-inch latex mattress foam, which we ordered through a local handmade furniture store, but there are many options for ordering online, including organic latex. (I searched using the phrase "latex foam for mattress.") My wife and I measured the size mattress we would need and supplied the size of the main mattress piece and the cushions sizes to our local contact. When we picked up our mattress, the cushions were cut for us. I'm not sure if our local contact was able to order the cushion sizes cut or if he cut them himself from the mattress we had ordered. He had made some comment earlier about using an electric bread knife if necessary. My wife ordered the cushion fabric with the campers online, along with some cotton canvas for the main mattress. Then she sewed the covers. The green cloth see above as a trim edge is a fleece sleeping bag liner that we've unzipped and use for a bottom protective sheet.

The mattress deployed for sleeping, with a wool topper folded back.

After trying out the sleeping arrangement for one camping trip, we decided adding another layer of softness and insulation would add to our comfort. My wife Sandy researched online and discovered on Etsy a business that hand made wool toppers (and other sleeping items), RiverHouseArtHouse, based in Amery, Wisconsin. After providing the custom measurements to owner Marla Berding-Pulkrabek, she hand made us a wool mattress topper that added that extra plush of softness and warmth to our sleep experience. In the photograph above, the topper is the natural color cloth of the folded back bedding. When the topper is pulled down flat, there are elastic bands on the corners that slip around the latex mattress corners (including the corner pillows) that secure the four corners of the topper. The topper cover also has a zipper so it can be removed and washed. Part of the joy of our purchase was being able to buy a product that exactly fit our specifications in terms of size, materials, and construction--created with individual attention and pride.

The topper laid out. Note the elastic securing band on the right.

My wife and I liked the idea of supporting a small art shop with our purchase of a handmade wool mattress topper. Sandy and shop owner Marla Berding-Pulkrabek exchanged several emails before both felt that they were clear about the exact product desired and its custom dimensions. Marla also manufactures standard-sized toppers at double, twin, and cot sizes.

Standard cot-sized topper (RiverHouse photo)
Marla is not new to the game of providing quality natural products. She describes on her Etsy website her journey to independent, handmade-products businesswoman as a process of increasing experience and skill.
"I began making natural fiber bedding products in the 90's. I managed one of the first Natural Home Furnishings shops that hand made everything from futons to toppers, wool-filled neck rolls to zabutons. And anything custom you could think of! I learned from the best, most true and humble pioneers of Natural Fiber Bedding and they believed strongly in what we were doing! I have worked with excellent conscientious wool mills who work with excellent, hard working, conscientious farmers over the years. Wool is the Golden Fleece!!!
"In 2015 I decided to again create a Natural Fiber line to my existing custom sewing shop. I so love making these items and working with wool and cotton. It just feels right! :-) And I love knowing that we at RiverHouse ArtHouse can provide a superior quality hand made product to customers to assist in reducing chemicals in our sleep, bedrooms, homes. I know it is helping many who have allergy issues, as well as providing a luxurious layer of comfort for sleep."


When possible, it's completely worth it to buy a product that is handmade with TLC by someone who is not just a cog in an assembly line production. Individual artisans can ensure that every bit of material and every step of construction meet personal and professional standards of pride and expertise. Owning our topper provides that extra feeling of home and safe haven that we so much appreciate about our tiny camping trailer. There is a certain sense of appropriateness that our little trailer, a product of a family business in North Carolina, is equipped with a natural fiber, pure wool topper for our mattress, the topper also being an American product, made by hand in the state of Wisconsin. There's something almost "rustic" about it that fits right in with our camping dreams.

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