Are waterbeds about to float back into fashion?

Surrounded by mahogany wood paneling, enveloped in satin sheets, an eight-track humming out the sultry sounds of Donna Summer overhead, the undulating mattress of a waterbed always put Francis Melton right to sleep.

One Edmonton couple thinks its time for a waterbed revival

Barb Moreau and Francis Melton in front of their waterbed. (Nola Keeler/CBC Edmonton )

Surrounded by mahogany and mirrored wood paneling, an eight track humming out the sultry sounds of Donna Summer, the undulating mattress of a waterbed always put Francis Melton right to sleep.

He still remembers the first time he slept on one. He was only a teen and had just returned from a gruelling week working on the rigs in northern Alberta.

"It had a stereo in it, and  it could vibrate, and I was so beat," said Melton. "I kid you not, I slept for 26 hours straight on that bed. Compared to a conventional bed, it was a trippy experience. It was groovy."
Thi waterbed ad from the Chicago Reader touts the benefits of the aquatic sleep. (Chicago Reader)

Though the market appears to have sprung a permanent leak, waterbeds were ultra-trendy in the 1970s.

When they crashed onto the shores of the conventional mattress industry in the late 1960s, choices for a spring mattresses were "firm" and "firmer" (hard and really hard), and waterbeds promised a revolution in the bedroom.

From wavy to waveless, with temperature controls, some even had full sound systems built into the bed frame, so people could listen to their favourite disco stars while they dozed off.

But the appeal of waterbeds wasn't all about sleep.  Marketed sometimes as a way to alleviate aches and pains and provide more restful sleep, they were just as often touted as gateways to wild lovemaking.

Companies used that sex appeal to their advantage with slogans such as, "Two things are better on a waterbed. One of them is sleep." 

Melton was (and still is) convinced, and believes it could be time for a waterbed revival. 

He met Barb Moreau, another waterbed aficianado, and once they got married they invested in their own.

In the heyday of aquatic slumber, thousands of Canadians slept on waterbeds. In Edmonton, dozens of stores sold them, from big outfits like the Brick to small independent furniture stores.

Drained and deflated 

But as quickly as the waterbed became de rigueur, the allure soon deflated.  Nowadays, your best chance of finding a waterbed is on a website like Kijiji. In Edmonton, there is only one store - Water Beds Sales and Service - that still sells a few waterbed bladders, but management there declined an interview.

 But why did the business spring a leak?

Jerry Simmering with Leisure Living Bedrooms has an idea.  He's one of the few dealers left in Canada. He caught the waterbed wave early, setting up his first waterbed retail outlet in Calgary in the early 1970s.

At the peak, Simmerling had more than half a dozen stores across Alberta. Sales eventually went from a flood to a slow drip, but he's now back to selling the hard-to-find mattresses, bladders and heaters out of a cozy-looking home in Red Deer.

Even though Simmerling has slept on one since 1978, he understands why most people gave up on them.

"I see people who have gotten out of the waterbed for what I call the hassle factor. If the heater quits, you've got to deal with it. If you get a leak, you've got to deal with it."

Simmering said he may have found the key to refilling the waterbed market.

"If I had a new customer today, it would be from six to 16. The kids think it's cool to have a waterbed."

Will the tide turn? 

Melton also thinks the waterbed tide could rise again.

"Was it a fad? Will it come back? I think we need only look as far as the lava lamp. Big in the '50s and it just kind of disappeared. And now everybody wants them. So who knows? Maybe we'll come back full circle."

After years, Melton and Moreau say their waterbed started giving them back problems, and a few weeks ago they put it up for sale on Kijiji.

"I think if the younger generation knew what waterbeds are all about they would probably go out and buy one in a hot minute," said Moreau.

"I don't think waterbeds are for the older generation, I really don't. But for the younger generation? Sure why not. And why not test out everything you can get your hands on."

It took weeks, but they finally sold theirs to a young woman who used to sleep in her Grandma's waterbed.

They say they won't be sad to see it go — they need the space and want to downsize.

But still, the fond memories keep rising to the surface.

"Oh, yeah," Moreau said. "It was a great experience.

"I had satin sheets that I bought with my bed, and it was nice and silky. Oh, I'm sure I had my days with that waterbed. I'm sure it got worn in just fine."