1890,  Around the Home,  Bed Chambers,  Browse By Era,  Browse by Subject,  Victorian

Making the Bed

After we have done the best possible with the bedroom, we come to the chief article within that very useful apartment — the bed, and its makeup. The first thing to be considered is the bedstead. Fortunately, this is a much less pretentious and elaborate affair than a generation or two since. This simplicity is all in the right direction, as will be shown a little later. With the modern methods of living we have no need for the old style of inclosure, which formed what may be called an apartment within an apartment. From a hygienic point of view, this would be a most unwholesome and dangerous arrangement. Think of two persons sleeping for nine or ten hours at a stretch, shut into a closely canopied and curtained bed space, and that in turn inclosed in a modern air-tight room. The comparatively few gallons of air supplied to each pair of lungs must be breathed over and over and over again, since curtains and canopy would effectually confine most of it within narrow limits, and there would not be the aid of free circulation outside to withdraw it from these narrow confines.

In commenting upon this type of bed, which may be called the European, as no other portion of the earth — save our own continent by inheritance– ever used the like, a London paper says that it seems to have got itself fixed at an early date, and did not change till very late. The theory, apparently, was to make the bed a sort of tent or fortification against the winds of heaven. The medieval upholsterer knew something about the medieval builder, and realized that when one went to sleep in a room with no paper on the walls, and huge windows which did not quite fit their frames, or little arrow slits with no glass at all, something was wanted to keep out the draught. Hence the tremendous timber canopy of old bedsteads, and the voluminous curtains and hangings in which the whole structure was enveloped.

Long after there was any necessity for this tent-like arrangement it was kept up, for the honor and glory of the thing, so to speak, because there was an air of luxury:and costliness about these folds and lengths of silk or chintz which made people reluctant to part with them. Even now, in France and other parts of the Continent, they will not willingly give up their elaborately upholstered bedsteads for the harsh looking structure of iron bars and brass tubes which is gradually usurping the place of honor in the bedrooms of Anglo-Saxonism. It must be admitted that, if the modern British bedstead is, on the whole, cleaner and possibly healtheir, it is certainly less romantic. One hardly likes to fancy Juliet’s bed provided with round brass knobs at the corners for its sole adornment. At any rate, the old-fashioned type of bedstead lent itself very well to ornate artistic treatment, and nothing can be more magnificent than the bedsteads designed for Marie Antoinette and other French ladies in the great age of furniture during the last half of the eighteenth century.

But there are many things, romantic enough in and of themselves, or when treated by great artists in painting, sculpture or decoration, which have now no place in the workaday world. We read not long since of a wonderfully elaborate bedstead which had been made in Paris for an Indian prince. It was constructed partially of silver, with female figures at each corner holding delicate fans. The weight of the royal body set these fans in motion, through the agency of certain mechanism, and a gentle current of air was wafted about the sleeper. If this did not bring the unconsciousness sought, the touching of a spring started a musical box which played gentle and soothing airs. Such a couch might very well be incorporated in a romance, and no great stretch of the imaginative faculty would be necessary to weave in thrilling accompaniments; but for practical service few of us can hope to be fanned to sleep by silvery nymphs, or lulled by soft music — unless the ambitious girl next door may aid in the latter diversion.

Yet in our own country, among the wealthy, we shall find bedsteads and couch effects which if described with the power of a master would read like pages from the impossible scenes of some luxurious romance. Commenting on this tendency only the other day, one of our leading newspapers remarked: “What an object of art the fashionable bedstead is becoming! They are costly affairs, too, when overlaid with silver plate or gilded wood. As soon as brass bedsteads became so very common, the most exclusive concluded that they were not fine enough for them, so the decorators and furnishers set about finding some other novelty, with the result of lovely designs in silver and white metal, hung with pale blue or pale pink canopies. Lucky for the would-be exclusive, who has just purchased a brass one, that it is possible to have the same plated over with silver. When there are handsome toilet accessories of silver, the scheme of silver and blue is easily carried out in all the other arrangements.

“There are also bedsteads with uprights of imitation of mother of pearl and gilt ormolu, and others that look like pure gold with paintings of dancing nymphs on the headboards. A bedstead of pink enamel with silver decorations has dresser and chairs to match. The newest mahogany bedsteads are inlaid with light-colored woods and mounted ormolu. A girl who was determined to get something original, hit upon the idea of having several pretty bedroom pieces in curly birch, which were dyed a light green with a wonderfully pretty effect. With a judicious use of green and white enamels she has painted all the other furniture to match, and as a tasty cover to one of her metamorphosed tables she has a square of white felt painted in each corner with stem green bow knots edged with gold cord. Over the corner of an unframed painting, given her by a friend, she has draped a white crepe de chine scarf having narrow green ribbons run through the open drawn work. The room is cool, fresh, and novel looking.”

The leading furniture shops in any of our large cities show rich and rare specimens of carving, gilt and silver trimming, in their choicest bedroom furniture. Mahogany and satin wood, inlaid with mother of pearl; curly birch with artistic paintings on headboard and footboard; bird’s-eye maple in Rococo designs — these are some of the fashionable things, very beautiful to look upon, and representing a good deal of money. The use of silver gives wide scope to artistic treatment. A New York dealer recently displayed a very choice novelty in this line. It was a single bed, with very heavy framework, and with a silver openwork canopy curving forward from the head. This was called a Persian canopy, and could be raised or lowered to suit the height of the ceiling, or could be removed entirely. It was lined with soft blue silk, gathered at the sides and in the middle. This lining extended down to the silver work behind the pillows. The edge of the canopy was hung with blue plush, while the bed itself was dressed all in white linen, hand embroidered with forget-me-nots in a delightful shade of blue. The charming nature of the effect may be readily imagined.
There is a wide range of these goods, and inventive skill is constantly devising newer and richer things. Brass plays an important part, generally in combination, and for the latter purpose porcelain, enameled iron, and mother of pearl are among the choicest decorations. The enameled iron gives a fine effect, when judiciously used, it being as black as ebony and with a surface like glass. But the matter of bedsteads need not be further considered. Few can hope to have these very expensive and elaborate articles; but a knowledge of their existence may often lead to the exercise of a better taste in selecting, decorating and treating the more ordinary furniture. And thus for their suggestion of beauty, these special articles may have a wider place and influence than their favored owners dream.

Now that the old-time bedcord, the abominable “slats,” the straw bed and feather bed have largely given place to woven wire springs, which are so cheap as to come within the reach of every one, and comfortable mattresses, on which one may sleep, surely, soundly and healthfully, there is no reason why the stiff, harsh and disagreeable in other respects should not follow. Indeed, some of the best authorities on the subject declare that the better day is dawning, so far as what we might call “the bed sensible” is concerned. One of the leading furnishing and decorating journals of this country recently published a sound article in this line, in the course of which it said, in substance, as follows: “As to stiff white bed covers, pillow slips and shams, false sheets and Valenciennes trimmings, monogramed and ruffled fineries, there is a truce. They were so slippery, so troublesome, and so false withal that the beds that have known them shall know them no more forever. They had always to be unpinned and hooked before the sleeper could enter his bed, and they were the torment of the housemaid. They entailed a degree of washing and ironing that was endless, and yet many a young housekeeper thought them indispensable. That idea has gone out completely.

“The bed is now made up with its fresh linen sheets, its clean blankets and its Marseilles quilt, with square or long pillows, as the sleeper fancies, with bolster in plain line sheath. Then over the whole is thrown a light lace cover lined with liberty silk. This may be as expensive or as cheap as the owner wishes. Spreads of satin may be used, covered with Chinese embroidery or with patchwork designs. One light and easily aired drapery succeeds the four or five pieces of unmanageable linen. If the bed is a tester, and the curtains of silk or chintz, the bed covering should match in tint, and in a very pretty bedroom the walls should be covered with chintz or silk.”

The bed tester has become quite an important thing since the brass bedsteads came into favor. It may be attached either to the bed itself, or to the wall. On many accounts, the latter method is better, as it leaves the bedstead lighter, and more easy of movement; but on the other hand, should there be occasion to change the position of the bed in the room, it would be a considerable inconvenience to have the frame of the tester attached to a position from which it was desired to take the bed. A woman of ordinary taste can drape a tester very acceptably, after the frame has been made and attached to the wall by a carpenter. Almost any material which will give a good effect as a hanging may be used in draping a tester, and the color should be such as to harmonize with the plan of the room and the bed.

As to the clothing to be used upon the bed, common sense, the season, and the depth of the purse are all factors. The writer believes that a woman should cultivate judgment of her own in these matters, and that it fs a mistake to expect her to follow blindly a list of details laid down by some one else, with no option of her own, no opportunity for the exercise of her individuality and taste. These are things to be cultivated, rather than suppressed; and they may be best cultivated by leaving liberty for individuality.

There is one word of protest, however, which must be used in closing this article. Avoid the folding bed. Do not tolerate it, unless it is a positive necessity. Sometimes, where one is forced to the use of a single room, and that of narrow dimensions, nothing else in the way of a sleeping place can be introduced. In that case, the evil must be endured ; but evil it certainly is. Not to mention the danger of being shut into such a frame and smothered, which has happened in numerous instances, the folding bed puts a premium on careless habits in regard to the airing and ventilation of bed clothing. It is so easy, and so much the custom, to gather the bedding into the cabinet, early in the morning, close it immediately, and leave it closed till bedtime again, that it ought to be unnecessary to point out how much of a menace to health is thus perpetrated. And a word to the wise is said to be sufficient — but is it always true?