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The Fascinating History of Box-Beds: From Medieval Furniture to Modern Design

CEO Khai Intela
Box-bed in Austria Imagine a bed that resembles a cupboard, with sides enclosed by wooden panels. You enter it through curtains or sliding doors, creating a cozy and private space. This unique sleeping arrangement is...

Box-bed in Austria

Imagine a bed that resembles a cupboard, with sides enclosed by wooden panels. You enter it through curtains or sliding doors, creating a cozy and private space. This unique sleeping arrangement is known as a box-bed, and its origins can be traced back to western European late medieval furniture. Let's dive deeper into the rich history of box-beds and explore their significance in different cultures.

The Closed-Bed in Brittany

Closed bed in Finistère (France).

In Brittany, the closed-bed, or "lit-clos" in French and "gwele-kloz" in Breton, holds a special place in the region's traditional furnishing. In homes with limited space, the box-bed offered privacy and warmth during harsh winters. Often intricately carved and adorned, it became the pride and centerpiece of rural houses in Brittany until the 20th century. Some closed-beds even featured a double-decker arrangement, with young people occupying the upper area.

These closed-beds were designed to accommodate the relatively smaller stature of the region's inhabitants. Sleeping in an almost sitting position, supported by three or four pillows, was customary during the Middle Ages. This practice was influenced by the belief that sleeping lying down resembled the position of the dead. Additionally, box-beds served the practical purpose of protecting household members from domestic animals and were even believed to offer defense against wolves in Breton culture.

Similar enclosed bed furniture was also prevalent in western Britain, particularly in Devon, Cornwall, Wales, and Gower.

The Closet-Bed in the Netherlands

A Dutch bedstede.

In the Netherlands, the closet-bed, or "bedstede," served as a common sleeping arrangement until the 19th century, predominantly in countryside farmhouses. These beds were enclosed with doors or curtains, providing a separate and intimate sleeping area. One of the main advantages of the closet-bed was its dual purpose. During the day, it could be closed off, transforming the living room into a functional bedroom.

Another significant benefit of the closet-bed was its ability to retain body heat, especially during the winter months. The small size of the bed meant that it could be easily warmed, reducing the need to continuously stoke the stove at night. To maintain ventilation, the door was usually left slightly open.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, closet-beds were much smaller. Sleeping in a half-upright position was customary, as lying down was associated with death. These beds could accommodate two people, with drawers beneath them providing additional sleeping space for children.

Preserving the Legacy

While box-beds gradually fell out of fashion in the 19th and 20th centuries due to the cost involved in their construction, some fine pieces can still be found in museums. Lampaul-Guimiliau, Nantes, Quimper, Rennes, and St-Brieuc display these historical treasures. Many others have been repurposed into bookshelves, dressers, or TV cabinets. In the 21st century, rental companies offer the unique experience of spending a night in an authentic box-bed.

Contemporary designers, such as Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec, have breathed new life into the box-bed concept with their reinterpretation called "lit-clos." Their design, created in 2000 for Galerie kreo, pays tribute to the rich heritage and practicality of box-beds.

In Conclusion

The box-bed, with its fascinating history and cultural significance, showcases the ingenuity of our ancestors. From medieval Europe to modern design, it has evolved while retaining its charm and functionality. Whether as a glimpse into the past or a cozy sleeping experience, the box-bed continues to captivate our imagination.

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