Furniture Matters: The Bed

In this new post in our Furniture Matters series, I will look at another essential piece of furniture: the bed.

Even though beds seem to have a single purpose–where we sleep–it actually encompasses a number of human activities. Let’s see where that history began.

The bed – A history

The first known beds are dated as early at 77 000 years BP and consisted of little more than vegetation piled together topped with leaves. In Northern Scotland, scientists have dated beds consisting of a stone box topped with fillings from as early as 3200 BCE. The technique of raising beds from the ground to avoid vermin, dirt and drafts was a major change in bed technology.

Ancient Egyptians reached their beds through steps, and the richest of them gilded their beds with precious metals and stones. The Greeks used a type of bed called “charpoy” (also known as “manjaa”) consisting of woven rope inside a rectangular frame, providing a kind of support similar to hammocks. Greeks covered this frame in skins and often gilded the posts and frame. Pillows and bed linens became more luxurious with time, using expensive fabrics and threads of precious metals.

antique bed


The Romans developed thicker mattresses filled with hay or reed. The most luxurious of them used feathers as filling. As with the Egyptians, Romans reached their beds by ascending steps. They hung rich fabrics to hide the front of the bed, and they were mostly sized for two people. The bedsteads were often made of bronze inlaid with silver. Romans had several types of bed: one for eating and one studying during the day, one for sleeping at night, and a separate marital bed.

During the Middle Ages, the bed changed little. Poor people laid on crude hay mattresses, while nobility had access to better bedding. The importance of inlaid bedsteads waxed and waned, along with the richness of the hanging fabrics.

The 18th century saw the appearance of the iron bed frame, which would be free from insects and other vermin that sometimes infested wooden beds. The modern era saw the apparition of the water bed, which peaked during the 80s.

The bed – A cultural view

As a more or less intimate object, the bed seems to have little importance culturally, but its construction and fashions surrounding it can tell us a lot about our own culture. These days, bed frames tend to be minimal, often without bedsteads or posts. The focus remains on the bedding, which shows its owner’s fashion and decor acumen and his or her economic status.

These days, we have developed beds that make TV watching easier, telling us a lot about the importance of television in our culture. The sofa-bed demonstrates our interest in practical, space-saving, multifunction objects. This list of of crazy modern beds shows all kinds of original developments on the traditional four-legs-and-mattress beds. The particular interest in technological beds shows how technology has inserted itself into our lives… all the way to our very dreams.

The bed – A personal view

The bed obviously holds immense personal and psychological meaning. The bed is meant to be a safe, relaxing place where we give ourselves up to sleep. People who have suffered trauma while sitting or lying in bed can refuse to sleep in them for a while.

The bed is also where most people have intimate encounters. Our sexual lives are intimately linked with the way we feel in bed. If the bed is a stressful place, other activities done in bed may feel stressful as well. Insomniacs know this feeling very well: the anxiety of not sleeping seeps into everything, from sex to reading to simply their ability to relax.

The foot of the bed is also where some people practice religious rituals like prayers and meditation. The bed, as a source of relaxation and replenishment, can serve as a channel for our spiritual lives.

Teenagers spend a lot of time in bed reading, chatting with friends, doing homework, listening to music and watching TV. The bed (or at least the bedroom) becomes the center of their lives. This is where they have control over their environment and can affirm their own personalities.

What meaning do you associate with your bed? Is it a place of safety and replenishment or a space of stress and anxiety? I’d like to hear your thoughts and stories in the comments!

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