I’ve been sick-a-bed this week, and pleasantly returned to reading The Age of Comfort, by Joan DeJean. Appropriately, Chapter Ten: The Bedroom.

Not surprisingly, the history of beds is even more interesting than the history of sofas. I’m rather shocked by how much I didn’t know.

Before the 1670s, the sleeping area was a public space, open to everyone in the household. Over the next four decades, the private bedroom was born.

Beds, before, were movable, and simply curtained off. They tended to be single rather than double in size. Until late in the 17th century, most beds were moved around in the home rather than left in one room. The bed was made mostly of fabric, and, since fabric was expensive, it was the most expensive piece of furniture in the house.

A horsehair mattress provided springiness. A feather mattress on top make it plush. The less fortunate made do with straw mattresses.

Remember: there wasn’t much to sit on in the home in those days (other than the storage trunks, which served for storage until closets and armoirs were created). The bed, thus, was the social center of the room, a rather large sofa by day, and a bed by night:

” . . . it’s surface was used for all types of social interaction” (page 166).

Once again, it was the King’s mistress Athénaïs, Madame de Montespan, who lead the revolution. The first grand bed-frames ? the first beadstead, that is, a “bois de lit” ? were created for her Porcelain Trianon at Versailles. No doubt she had a great deal to do with the over-the-top design: the garlands of tassels, fabric swags topped with bouquets of plumes, the curtains replaced by a grand canopy. Mirrors set into the headboard called attention to the frame (and, one might add, to the lovers, as well).

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