In decorating magazines, I see that canopy beds are becoming trendy again, with narrow wood or metal frames, hung with fluttery curtains, looking very elegant. But before buying one, check the room you may have selected it for – it can make a small room even smaller by dominating the room.
Canopy beds are much larger than your typical bed and take up a lot of space in a small room, but in a spacious room with a high ceiling they can look magnificent. Vertical space is where you want to create more layers and dimensions. Nowadays, the canopy bed is popular for the bedrooms of little girls who aspire to be fairy princesses! From a design point of view modern canopy beds are typically used in large rooms with lots of natural light.
Originally invented to create more privacy in shared bedrooms, canopy beds have evolved into an iconic bed design that is both elegant and romantic. Are four-poster beds going out of style? No, they are still very much in fashion! Moreover, with a modern makeover, these beds radiate stylish sophistication that will fit right in with your bespoke bedroom design.
For a long time, canopies were the mark of opulence and decadence. But their origins didn’t start because of extravagance, but instead, out of necessity, and ones in early China in the 4th Century were made with brocade silk. But upon arrival in Europe, they had a very different function.
Castles and grand manor houses were traditionally cold and drafty places, and the curtains added a much-needed extra layer of warmth. The main hall of the house was where everyone slept - the lower ranks on straw pallets, with the lord of the manor, or the king, sleeping on a raised bed at one end in the same hall, where curtains were added for not only warmth, but privacy, and could also block out the light and muffle sound. While beds were mostly understated in the Middle Ages, curtains were rich and heavy, constructed from luxurious brocade or velvet. The Renaissance period inspired carved headboards and posts and even inlaid paintings. The canopy was so elaborate that sometimes it cost more than the wood of the bed itself.
In time, castles got their own separate bed-chambers for nobility, but the curtains remained. During the 16th century, it was common for several servants to sleep on floor pallets in their master’s room, to be on call at any moment, and the curtains were still a handy necessity. Private bedrooms where only one person slept were practically unknown in medieval and early modern Europe, as it was common for the wealthy and nobility to have servants who slept in the same room.
A knight or lady's bed was large and wood-framed, and its ‘springs’ were interlaced ropes or leather strips under a feather mattress. It had sheets, fur coverlets, quilts, and pillows, and it could be easily dismantled and transported to other castles when the lord went touring. Originally, curtains were hung from the ceiling, but as the bed evolved, a frame was added to support a canopy, or ‘tester,’ from which the curtains hung.
During the early decades of the 1800s, canopies were still popular for the upper classes, falling from favour only when the blame for the spread of infections such as cholera came to be pinned on bedrooms. These types of beds began to be replaced with metal bed frames, and by the 1870s, canopied beds began to feel old-fashioned and outdated.
The Bug Hoax
There was a myth that maybe that the canopy was there to stop bugs and bird droppings falling through the roof and ruining the lord’s bed, so beds with four posts and a sheet suspended over the bed a were supposedly created to catch the debris. This is probably untrue, as it is highly unlikely that someone with such high stature would be sleeping in a grand bed in a house with such a crude roof– they were much more likely to be sleeping in a castle or manor house built from bricks, stone and slate.
Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man.