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Antique Beds Furnishing

History and information on antique beds, using beds in furnishing schemes, and the main historical types of old bed design.

Beds were made in the earliest times and sleeping places were contrived long before other furniture was evolved. Although the oldest forms of bed have passed away, it is still possible to adapt designs two or three centuries old, and raise their standard of comfort to modern levels.

Stump End Beds

Very attractive stump-end beds can be made from pieces of old oak panelling. It is doubtful whether this can be classified as legitimate restoration, or merely intelligent adaptation of good material that might otherwise be wasted; but it is responsible for some very charming effects in bedrooms furnished with old oak arranged for modern needs. The work to be done is simple : a carved panel or a pair of carved panels may be fixed in a moulded frame, that can have carved posts supporting it; this frame may be made up from pieces of old oak, and the whole bed-head when complete may be toned and polished to an even hue.

In small bedrooms with distempered walls and plenty of colour in carpet and curtains the effect of oak is wonderfully inviting and comfortable. With a stump-end or foot the coverlet of a bed can come right over the end as well as hanging down on both sides. The framework of the bed may be of wood, or the sides iron; but this does not matter for the coverlet screens everything, and the selection of a coverlet that is going to make the most of an oak head is important. Patchwork quilts, simple linen covers trimmed with braid, or even a Paisley shawl, wrhich is sufficiently large to cover a single bed, are all possible, though actual colouring is governed by the colour scheme of the bedroom.

Double Bed in Walnut
Double Bed in Walnut.

Two Panel Beds

From the framing of pieces of carved oak panelling, we come to the type of bed that can be made from two panels, large enough to form a head and foot. This type is not so effective as the stump-end bed, which takes up little space, and does not shut out the view of the room from anyone lying in it. If a bed projects into a room with its head against the wall, then a stump-end is best, but if it is going along a wall a foot has a better effect.

Carved Beds

Carved beds close covered in damask are expensive, and even copies are costly. We must pass them by, even as we have passed Tudor beds, Elizabethan beds and Jacobean four-posters in richly-carved oak, and we find that later periods of design provide an ample selection of models suitable for simple rooms.

Four Poster Beds

Beds with fretted panels framed in the head and end, finished in plain mahogany or painted are very graceful, and any type of mahogany or painted furniture, old or modern, can furnish the rooms they occupy. We must consider the simpler types of four-post bed, with turned or cluster columns and plain cornices. The very simplest type of four-poster consists of four plain poles, with a strip of framed material as a canopy ; rather like the plainest examples at Hampton Court Palace. The chief object of the curtained bed was to afford protection from draughts, and although we do not favour the idea of a stuffy tent at night, we find that a four-poster does require narrow curtains at the head, and perhaps at the foot also, otherwise an impression of bareness may be created by slender columns without a backing of drapery. Apart from that, all that is necessary is a simple valance running beneath the cornice and some piece of material at the back, over the head of the bed.

Modern beds can offer us variety and the painted and decorated four-post bed is very attractive ; but four-posters cannot be used in every bedroom ; unless they are given ample space and a fairly lofty ceiling they will appear squat, dwarfed and ill-proportioned. Today the bed with the simple head and foot is claiming appreciation, and mahogany beds with caned panels, oak beds with slatted heads, and painted beds of every kind have come into our rooms in place of the iron-barred and brass-bound designs of the nineteenth century.

Black Lacquer Bed
Black Lacquer Bed.

Iron Beds

Although iron beds have come to stay, it has not occurred to anyone to better their design. There is much futile ornament on the more expensive varieties, brass knobs and bars, curves and squiggles and so on. The consideration of housework seldom influences furniture designers, and with iron beds every curve and joint and corner seems to specialise in the collection of dust and dirt that is difficult to remove. But there is an excellent solution to the problem of the iron bed. It is a simple and inexpensive remedy for ugliness, making a pleasant feature out of a discordant design.

To convert an iron or brass bed into a bed with a wooden head and foot, painted, polished or covered with cretonne or some such material, sounds like an expensive miracle, but it may be carried out in the following manner at comparatively small cost. A wooden casing can be made that will drop over the iron head and foot, and this casing or boxing can be made of three-ply, framed up and edged with a bead moulding, and painted, stained or lacquered, or even veneered, or it may be of plain wood close-covered in chintz or cretonne to match the loose covers on the furniture in the bedroom ; and whatever its final treatment may be, it is an immense improvement on the cage-like design it conceals.

Folding Beds

Folding beds should not be ignored for they are very useful in bed-sitting-rooms and are a great improvement on the uncomfortable chair-bedsteads. Then there is the bed that combines the qualities of a locker, having a nest of drawers beneath the mattress instead of the usual waste space. For a small bedroom this space-saving design is invaluable, although some may contend that it is an unnecessary sacrifice of appearance to utility.


Though bedding may seem rather out of place in a chapter on bed design, it is too important a subject to be passed over altogether. The best type of mattress is a box-spring with a hair overlay, although a modern wire-spring mattress has much to recommend it if it has a hair mattress on top. We are prone to ignore such practical details as the cleaning and re-making of mattresses, but this should be carried out at least once every two years. Feather beds have had their day: they have been pronounced unhealthy by so many people that most of us are now firmly convinced of the truth of the allegation. However, country folk still treasure feather beds, and in some old, sleepy inn, where nobody bothers much about being up to date, one may still enjoy the thorough rest and comfort they offer.

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