Home History: Simple Feathers & Furs – How Beds Evolved

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Katerina Bulovska
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In many cultures around the world, the bed was considered a significant piece of furniture in the house, that provided rest, relaxation, but most of all, a good nights sleep.

Of course, the modern bed had to go through centuries and millenniums of changes to get to where it is today.

The first known improvised beds were used in the Neolithic era. The excavation team in Hinds Cave, southwest Texas, discovered small grass-lined beds made by the nomadic hunter-gatherers, dating back to 7000 B.C.

In 1850, archeologists discovered the prehistoric settlement known as Skara Brae, inhabited between 3200B.C. and 2200 B.C., located in northern Scotland. The well-preserved site revealed ancient beds, that looked like big pieces of stone, that were most likely covered with large fern and animal skins or furs.

Bedroom on the Detmold Open-air Museum premises. Photo Credit

The first water bed appeared in Persia in 3600 B.C. The nomadic people would fill goatskin bags with water, and leave them outside in the sun so that they would provide comfort and warmth during the night when brought back indoors.

The first raised bed emerged in ancient Egypt. Wooden platforms were used to avoid dirt, insects, and rats. The elite, Pharaohs and Queens of Egypt had their beds decorated with ebony, jewels, and gold. However, the peasants were still sleeping on the ground on palm fronds. Similar beds were constructed in Ancient Greece and Rome.

Tutankhamun’s gilded bed from the 14th century BC. Photo Credit

During the Middle Ages  raised beds became more widespread, made of wood with leather lattices into the frames. The Vikings were also constructing wooden platform beds, to use them in their ships for the voyages.

The Renaissance is the period when the bed became a status symbol. People with high status used carved bedsteads, decorated with jewels and gold. Curtains of velvet and brocade were all around the bed and it was coated with silk coverlets and blankets made of wool. The royalty and the elite were so obsessed with their beds that beside nighttime, they spent a great part of the day there too, receiving visitors and eating their meals. They even had a different bed for the purpose called the state bed.

A canopy bed c. 1465; at the archeological site of Walraversijde; near Oostende, Belgium. Photo Credit

The canopy is the important element of the Renaissance. The curtains were suspended from the ceiling above the bed and were used to provide privacy, warmth, and protection from insects. These box-beds were usually placed in the corner of the room.

They probably originated from the Vikings, whose homes were cold and small, and these beds provided them with space and warmth. The bunk-bed style was characteristic for big families, which had their bed one on top of the other, from the floor to the ceiling. The box-beds were brought to America by the Dutch settlers, but unfortunately, there isn’t a surviving model.

Lit à la Polonaise (Polish style bed),[12] Royal Castle in Warsaw, 18th century.

Napoleon I’s bed

During the Colonial era, new design and construction techniques appeared. In the 18th century, the bed was probably the most precious piece of furniture in every household. New elements were the iron bed frames, that helped reduce the spread of diseases because the insects preferred the wooden environment. However, wood-frame beds didn’t lose their popularity.

With the Industrial Revolution, the traditional hand carved beds were replaced by basic lines, and with the mass production, the bed became simple and cheap. The first mass produced waterbed was produced in the 1960s and was preferred among the younger generations.

A person operating a Murphy bed. Photo Credit

The Murphy Bed is a space-saving bed made of steel platform and a single mattress. It was invented by the American designer William Lawrence Murphy, with the idea of the bed being incorporated into a wall closet. The Murphy Beds were popular in the beginning of the 20th century.

Today, there are many choices of bed sizes, styles, materials, colors, and features than ever before. Trends change every year, and new models are continually introduced so that anyone can find the perfect bed, advantage our ancestors didn’t have.