The humble bed has a long and surprisingly illustrious history. Though we think of them as just something to sleep on, albeit probably the most important bit of furniture in a home and the one we would buy first, they were once so much more.
We spoke to Bob Hansard, Sales Director of Home Furnishings UK, who told us; “Not a lot of people know it but in historical times beds were also used as thrones and kings would rule from their bed quite often.”
If that sounds surprising a bit of research into the Wikipedia page on “Beds” brings up something that feels even more bizarre to use nowadays. Back in the 17th century, the era of “magnificent beds” it was not unusual to receive important guests such as ambassadors or royalty in a dedicated room with a special bed constructed just for such events. Favoured friends would be received in the bedroom as a matter of course and people would think nothing of it.
Beds have had such prominence in historical times that there have been special ones made whose names are still known today. The Great Bed of Ware from the 1850’s was one of the largest with a capacity of fifteen people. It even featured in a Shakespeare play. The Golden Bed is on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum. There have been beds of gold and of silver. It is hard to be definitive on the most expensive bed in the world as there are modern artistic ones, new floating magnet ones and an abundance of historical examples.
In ancient Egypt and other early times beds were not just for relaxation but also where one would partake of a meal. Up as recently as medieval times the beds of even royalty were usually fairly simple and basic affairs. It is only around the 12th century that more ornate, and practical, features started to make an appearance. One of the first of these innovations was the introduction of curtains around the beds of the high and mighty to keep out drafts and cold.
In the fifteenth century more ornate carving and panelling with large headboards and sturdy columns supporting all round curtains started to appear.
The 16th century continued this trend of more ornamentation, and it was in this time that the afore mentioned Great Bed of Ware was created.
Come the 17th century and the construction of beds had branched into two major trends. One with a lighter frame and more elaborate curtains hanging around the periphery and the other a continuation of the solid, heavy frame and headboard.
The focus on beds as a decorative feature continued into the 18th century with as many as 413 splendid examples dotting the palace of Louis the 14th, the Sun King.
The 19th century started to focus more on the comfort of the sleep, and it is here that the coiled spring mattress makes its first appearance. This brings us to the era of the modern bed and all its multiple variants. Waterbeds, bunk beds, floating magnetic beds. The list and the permutations are endless.
Hopefully this has given some insight into the development of the bed and how we got to the ones you lie on today.