Most modern beds consist of a soft, cushioned mattress on a bed frame, the mattress resting either on a solid base, often wood slats, or a sprung base. Many beds include a box spring inner-sprung base, which is a large mattress-sized box containing wood and springs that provide additional support and suspension for the mattress. Beds are available in many sizes, ranging from infant-sized bassinets and cribs, to small beds for a single person or adult, to large queen and king-size beds designed for two people. While most beds are single mattresses on a fixed frame, there are other varieties, such as the murphy bed, which folds into a wall, the sofa bed, which folds out of a sofa, and the bunk bed, which provides two mattresses on two tiers as well as a ladder to get to the upper tier. Temporary beds include the inflatable air mattress and the folding camp cot. Some beds contain neither a padded mattress nor a bed frame, such as the hammock. Some beds are made especially for animals.
Beds may have a headboard for resting against, and may have side rails and footboards (or "footers"). "Headboard only" beds may incorporate a "dust ruffle", "bed skirt", or "valance sheet" to hide the bed frame. To support the head, a pillow made of a soft, padded material is usually placed on the top of the mattress. Some form of covering blanket is often used to insulate the sleeper, often bed sheets, a quilt, or a duvet, collectively referred to as bedding. Bedding is the removable non-furniture portion of a bed, which enables these components to be washed or aired out.
Early beds were little more than piles of straw or some other natural material (e.g. a heap of palm leaves, animal skins, or dried bracken). An important change was raising them off the ground, to avoid drafts, dirt, and pests. 23-5 million years ago, before the advent of humans, apes began creating beds composed of a sleeping platform including a wooden pillow. Bedding dated around to 3600 BC was discovered in Sibudu Cave, South Africa. The bedding consists of sedge and other monocotyledons topped with the leaves of Cryptocarya woodii Engl. Beds found in a preserved northern Scottish village, which were raised boxes made of stone and likely topped with comfortable fillers, were dated to between 3200 BC and 2200 BC. The Egyptians had high bedsteads which were ascended by steps, with bolsters or pillows, and curtains to hang around. The elite of Egyptian society such as its pharaohs and queens even had beds made of wood, sometimes gilded. Often there was a head-rest as well, semi-cylindrical and made of stone, wood, or metal. Ancient Assyrians, Medes, and Persians had beds of a similar kind, and frequently decorated their furniture with inlays or appliques of metal, mother-of-pearl, and ivory.
The adjacent image showcases a headrest. Headrests like this were used in life to support the head while sleeping. They are also found supporting a mummy's head in the coffin. This headrest perhaps was made specifically for the tomb, since the offering prayer has been inscribed on the supporting column, although the prayer may have been added after the death of the owner.
The oldest account of a bed is probably that of Odysseus: a charpoy woven of rope plays a role in the Odyssey. A similar bed can be seen at the St Fagans National History Museum in Wales. Odysseus also gives an account of how he crafted the nuptial bed for himself and Penelope, out of an ancient, huge olive tree trunk that used to grow on the spot before the bridal chamber was built. His detailed description finally persuades the doubting Penelope that the shipwrecked, aged man is indeed her long-lost husband. Homer also mentions the inlaying of the woodwork of beds with gold, silver, and ivory. The Greek bed had a wooden frame, with a board at the head and bands of hide laced across, upon which skins were placed. At a later period the bedstead was often veneered with expensive woods; sometimes it was of solid ivory veneered with tortoise-shell and with silver feet; often it was of bronze. The pillows and coverings also became more costly and beautiful; the most celebrated places for their manufacture were Miletus, Corinth and Carthage. Folding beds, too, appear in the famous Ancient Greek vase paintings.
Roman mattresses were stuffed with reeds, hay, or wool. Feathers were used towards the end of the Republic, when custom demanded luxury. Small cushions were placed at the head and sometimes at the back. The bedsteads were high and could only be ascended by the help of steps. They were often arranged for two people, and had a board or railing at the back, as well as the raised portion at the head. The counterpanes were sometimes very costly, generally purple embroidered with figures in gold; and rich hangings fell to the ground masking the front. The bedsteads themselves were often of bronze inlaid with silver, and Elagabalus had one of solid silver. In the walls of some houses at Pompeii bed niches are found which were probably closed by curtains or sliding partitions. Ancient Romans had various kinds of beds for repose. These included:
The ancient Germans lay on the floor on beds of leaves covered with skins, or in a kind of shallow chest filled with leaves and moss. In the early Middle Ages they laid carpets on the floor or on a bench against the wall, placed upon them mattresses stuffed with feathers, wool, or hair, and used skins as a covering. Curtains were hung from the ceiling or from an iron arm projecting from the wall. They appear to have generally lain naked in bed, wrapping themselves in large linen sheets which were stretched over the cushions.
In the 12th century, luxury increased and bedsteads were made of wood much decorated with inlaid, carved, and painted ornamentation. They also used folding beds, which served as couches by day and had cushions covered with silk laid upon leather. At night a linen sheet was spread and pillows placed, while silk-covered skins served as coverlets. The Carolingian manuscripts show metal bedsteads much higher at the head than at the feet, and this shape continued in use until the 13th century in France, many cushions being added to raise the body to a sloping position. In 12th-century manuscripts, the bedsteads appear much richer, with inlays, carving, and painting, and with embroidered coverlets and mattresses in harmony. Curtains were hung above the bed and a small hanging lamp is often shown.
In the 14th century the woodwork became of less importance, generally being entirely covered by hangings of rich materials. Silk, velvet, and even cloth of gold were frequently used. Inventories from the beginning of the 14th century give details of these hangings lined with fur and richly embroidered. It was then that the Four poster bed (also known as a tester bed) made its first appearance, the bed being slung from the ceiling or fastened to the walls, a form which developed later into a room within a room, shut in by double curtains, sometimes even to exclude all drafts. The space between bed and wall was called the ruelle, and very intimate friends were received there. The 14th century is also the time when feather beds became highly prized possessions.
In the 15th century beds became very large, reaching 7 to 8 feet (2.1 to 2.4 m) by 6 to 7 feet (1.8 to 2.1 m). The mattresses were often filled with pea-shucks, straw, or feathers. At this time great personages were in the habit of carrying most of their property about with them, including beds and bed-hangings, and for this reason the bedsteads were for the most part mere frameworks to be covered up; but about the beginning of the 16th century bedsteads were made lighter and more decorative, since the lords remained in the same place for longer periods.
In the 17th century, which has been called "the century of magnificent beds", the style a la duchesse, with tester and curtains only at the head, replaced the more enclosed beds in France, though they lasted much longer in England. Louis XIV had an enormous number of sumptuous beds, as many as 413 being described in the inventories of his palaces. Some of them had embroideries enriched with pearls, and figures on a silver or golden ground. The great bed at Versailles had crimson velvet curtains on which "The Triumph of Venus" was embroidered. So much gold was used that the velvet scarcely showed.
In the 18th century feather pillows were first used as coverings in Germany, which in the fashions of the bed and the curious etiquette connected with the bedchamber followed France for the most part. The beds were a la duchesse, but in France itself there was great variety both of name and shape. The custom of the "bed of justice" upon which the king of France reclined when he was present in parliament, the princes being seated, the great officials standing, and the lesser officials kneeling, was held to denote the royal power even more than the throne.
Louis XI is credited with its first use and the custom lasted until the end of the monarchy. In the chambre de parade, where the ceremonial bed was placed, certain persons, such as ambassadors or great lords, whom it was desired to honour, were received in a more intimate fashion than the crowd of courtiers. At Versailles women received their friends in their beds, both before and after childbirth, during periods of mourning, and even directly after marriage—in fact in any circumstances which were thought deserving of congratulation or condolence. During the 17th century this curious custom became general, perhaps to avoid the tiresome details of etiquette. Portable beds were used in high society in France until the end of the Ancien Régime. The earliest of which mention has been found belonged to Charles the Bold. They had curtains over a light framework, and were in their way as fine as the stationary beds.
Iron beds appear in the 18th century; the advertisements declare them as free from the insects which sometimes infested wooden bedsteads. Elsewhere, there was also the closed bed with sliding or folding shutters, and in England—where beds were commonly quite simple in form—the four poster was the usual citizen's bed until the middle of the 19th century.
Bed sizes vary considerably around the world, with most countries having their own standards and terminology. These are discussed in detail in the Bed size article as there are too many variations for even a summary to be given here.
One of the largest beds in the world is the Great Bed of Ware, made in about 1580. It is 3.26 metres (10.7 ft) wide, 3.38 metres (11.1 ft) long. The bed is mentioned by Shakespeare in Twelfth Night. It is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London. Another bed in the V&A is the Golden Bed created by William Burges in 1879.
In 1882, an Indian Maharajah had a bed made of solid silver. At each corner of the bed there was a life-sized statue of a naked woman holding a fan. When the Maharajah lay on the bed, his weight started a mechanism that made the women wave their fans.
There are many varieties of beds:
Bed frames, also called bed steads, are made of wood or metal. The frame is made up of head, foot, and side rails. For heavy duty or larger frames (such as for queen- and king-sized beds), the bed frame also includes a center support rail. These rails are assembled to create a box for the mattress or mattress/box spring to sit on.
Although not truly parts of a bed frame, headboards, footboards, and bed rails can be included in the definition. Headboards and footboards can be wood or metal. They can be stained, painted, or covered in fabric or leather.
Bed rails are made of wood or metal and are attached to a headboard and footboard. Wooden slats are placed perpendicular to the bed rails to support the mattress/mattress box spring. Bed rails and frames are often attached to the bed post using knock-down fittings. A knock-down fitting enables the bed to be easily dismantled for removal. Primary knock-down fittings for bed rails are as follows:
Safety rails, or cot sides, can be added to the sides of a bed (normally a child or elderly person's bed) to stop anyone falling out of the sides of the bed. A safety rail is normally a piece of wood that attaches to the side rails on one or both sides of the bed. They are made so that they can be easily removed when no longer required.
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