Canopy bed

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A canopy bed seen in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.

A canopy bed is a bed with a canopy, which is usually hung with bed curtains. Functionally, the canopy and curtains keep the bed warmer, and screen it from light and sight. On more expensive beds, they may also be elaborately ornamental.


Canopy bed of the Chinese Qing dynasty, late 19th or early 20th century.

The canopy bed arose from a need for warmth and privacy in shared rooms without central heating. 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 and attendants who slept in the same room. Even in very modest homes, it was not uncommon to hang a simple curtain across a room to shield the bed from cold drafts and create a sense of division between living space and sleeping space.

Some late medieval European bed canopies with curtains were suspended from ceiling beams. In English these canopies were known as a "hung celour". The fabric canopy concealed an iron frame with iron curtain rods. These beds can be seen in manuscript illuminations, paintings, and engravings, showing cords suspending the front of the canopy to the ceiling. Such beds could easily be dismantled and the rich fabric hangings carefully packed away.[1]

From the 16th century on, ornately carved bed frames and expensive textiles became popular.[2] Inventories of Scottish aristocrats mention canopies as "roofs" and "chapel roofs", and a "chapel bed" was made for Anne of Denmark, wife of James VI and I in 1600.[3] A bed of crimson velvet and damask was made for her in England in 1605, and its canopy was called a "sparver".[4] The heraldic badge of the London Worshipful Company of Upholders depicts three sparver or canopy beds.[5]

In pre-Republican China, until 1911, the family's canopy bed was the most important piece of household furniture, and often part of the bride's dowry. As signifiers of status, these beds were often intricately decorated with auspicious motifs, particularly relating to fertility, longevity and a happy marital union.[6] In Germany, Frommern was the world capital of furniture in the time of Wirtschaftswunder. In Frommern a line of high polished industrial production take up the ideas of the royal Hofebenist. In the Haus der Volkskunst the traditional Himmelbett is used as a hotel bed.[7][8]

Modern canopy beds[edit]

Modern canopy bed

Today's canopy beds generally fit into one of two categories: traditional or contemporary. Most of the traditional canopy beds have a Victorian aesthetic, with either metal rod frames or intricately carved wood frames and posts. These throwbacks also often feature ruffled, pleated elaborate draping, sometimes with rather heavy cloth. In contrast, contemporary canopy beds generally employ a simpler design. Wood, metal, or a combination of the two is used in the construction of modern canopy beds, which usually have little to no detail on the foot and headboards and often feature sharp, geometric designs.[citation needed]

The individual parts of modern canopy beds are called as follows:

  • Bed frame: A typical metal frame that supports the mattress and box spring independent of the headboard or footboard.[9]
  • Bedposts: Both head posts and foot posts are vertical posts placed on either side of the headboard and footboard that extend from the floor to the top of the headboard, footboard, or canopy.[9]
  • Bed rails: Wood or metal rails that rest on top of and between the two side rails in order to support a mattress and box spring.[9]
  • Canopy: A framed rooflike structure suspended over a bed by the bed rails.[9]
  • Casters: Wheels attached to a bedpost or feet.[9]
  • Center supports: Additional feet or leg supports placed underneath the bed rails to provide additional support at the center for a large mattress or split box spring.[9]
  • Crown (also Canopy crown): The apex of a raised canopy.[9]
  • Finials: Decorative end caps for the bed posts, used to hold a canopy in place.[9]
  • Footboard: The solid or upholstered secondary focal point of a bed attached at or to the foot of the bed.[9]
  • Foot: The portion of the bed at your feet—the foot of the bed usually faces out into the room.[9]
  • Head: The portion of the bed that you lay your head on. It is usually the anchor of the bed and is placed against a wall or focal point.[9]
  • Headboard: The solid or upholstered focal point of a bed attached at or to the head of the bed.[9]
  • Platform: A boxed based for a mattress and sometimes a box spring and mattress.[9]
  • Risers: Extensions made to raise a bed frame to add height to the bed.[9]
  • Side rails: The support rails that anchor the headboard of the bed to the footboard.[9]
  • Schrooms: The decorative fringe of material round the edge of the canopy.[9]

Historic types[edit]

  • A lit de bout or lit de milieu is a bed standing with its head to the wall, the other sides remaining free. One of the two spaces left between the bedsides and the walls, in which callers were received during the XVIIth century was the ruelle, the other the devant. The alcove was introduced later and took the place of the ruelle.[10]
  • A lit de travers is a bed standing with its side to the wall.
  • A lit en coin is a bed standing in the corner of a room.
  • Lit à la duchesse
    lit de bout
    upholstered headbord, no outer posts nor footboard;
    bed-sized flat-roofed canopy projecting from the wall at the head of the bed.
  • Lit à la polonaise
    lit de travers or lit en alcove
    usually upholstered headbord and footboard of the same height; posts are poles which bend inwards to support a small crown, from which the canopy is suspended.
Lit à la turque
  • Lit à la turque
    lit de travers
    like the canopy on a lit à la duchesse, the crown is mounted only on one side (often on the wall), but unlike the lit à la duchesse, it is mounted at the side of the bed, not the head.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Penelope Eames, 'The Making of a Hung Celour', Furniture History, 33 (1997), pp. 35-42.
  2. ^ "A Brief History". Archived from the original on 2 March 2017. Retrieved 1 March 2017. "History Of The Four Poster Bed"
  3. ^ Michael Pearce, 'Beds of Chapel Form in Sixteenth-Century Scottish Inventories: The Worst Sort of Bed', Regional Furniture, 27 (2013), pp. 75-91.
  4. ^ Mary Anne Everett Green, Calendar State Papers Domestic, Addenda 1580-1625 (London, 1872), p. 456.
  5. ^ J. F. Houston, Featherbedds and Flock Bedds: The Early History of the Worshipful Company of Upholders of the City of London (London, 2006).
  6. ^ Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, plaque accompanying exhibit no. 2009.84, visited 2014
  7. ^ film in swabian german
  8. ^ Kultur in german
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Von Tobel, Jackie. "Bedding Basics: Key Bed Terms." The Design Directory of Bedding. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith, 2009. 58. Print.
  10. ^ La Société française au dix-septième siècle : an account of french society in the XVIIth-century from contemporary writers, New York and London, GP. Putnam's sons, 1907, p. 280.