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People are Starting to Sleep in Medieval “Box Beds” Again

furniture, bedroom
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When innovative minds are in search of new ideas, they’ll oftentimes look for inspiration from the past. That’s how these “box-beds” have started coming back into the picture – all the way from Medieval times. And I’m not talking about the themed dinner theater restaurant.

As cities around the world have gotten bigger and bigger, a demand for more space-efficient furniture has increased. These 600-year old Breton-designed beds are proving to meet that demand while also inspiring a revitalized trend for interior design. (1)

What Even is a Box-Bed?

A box-bed is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a small, raised bed that is snuggly enclosed by wood, or, a box. The wood is typically carved with intricate designs and the mattress and bedding inside are accessed by either a door on the side or a curtain. Depending on their height, they sometimes also have a little bench on the bottom to help people climb inside. This bench can also contain space for extra storage or even a spot to sit.

People are Starting to Sleep in Medieval "Box Beds" Again

Closed bed in Finistère (France). Photo by Loïc CC BY-SA 3.0

Box-beds were incredibly useful back in their day, to the point they spread their way all across Europe. Poorer, lower-class homes would oftentimes be no bigger than one or two rooms, meaning conserving space was absolutely essential. Box-beds allowed people to not only save space but also sleep in the same rooms and maintain some semblance of privacy. The boxed enclosure also helped people stay warm during cold nights. They would also protect sleepers from unwanted animal invaders in the night such as wolves. (2)

People are Starting to Sleep in Medieval "Box Beds" Again

The Little Nurse by Jacob Vrel shows a woman reading in a box bed with a companion looking out the window

Even though box-beds are smaller, they were designed to fit two adults inside. It was customary to sleep in a somewhat upright position, as laying down fully too closely resembled the dead. (2) Some of them would also have drawers that could be pulled out to make beds for children as well. One box-bed had space to fit several people at once and could remain tucked away during the day like it wasn’t even there.

In Emily Bronte’s classic book, Wuthering Heights, she even describes a box-bed and its odd, multiple potential uses and secure structure:

The whole furniture consisted of a chair, a clothes-press, and a large oak case, with squares cut out near the top resembling coach windows. Having approached this structure, I looked inside, and perceived it to be a singular sort of old-fashioned couch, very conveniently designed to obviate the necessity for every member of the family having a room to himself. In fact, it formed a little closet, and the ledge of a window, which it enclosed, served as a table. I slid back the panelled sides, got in with my light, pulled them together again, and felt secure against the vigilance of Heathcliff, and everyone else.” (3)

Should I Get a Box-Bed?

Though the dire need for box-beds fell away by the 20th century due to indoor heating, different home designs, etc., they have been steadily making a comeback. If you’re looking to conserve space or just want a vintage look to change things up a bit, you might consider a box-bed. More ornate box-beds were put into museums or made into bookshelves, dressers or TV cabinets. (2)

People are Starting to Sleep in Medieval "Box Beds" Again

Photo by Moreau.henri CC BY-SA 3.0

With modern innovators creating new, trendy designs, box-beds can have entirely different looks than they did before. This time around, they are far more fitting for modern day while still bearing traces of their traditional roots.

Depending on where you live, getting a full-on box-bed may not be entirely convenient. Say you live in a 3rd-floor apartment, getting a box-bed up there may be quite difficult. But the general idea of having a small, enclosed space for a bed could inspire some new ideas for how you want to design your living space. Use your imagination and think outside the box – or, in this case, inside the box.

People are Starting to Sleep in Medieval "Box Beds" Again

Cloppenburg Museum Village. Photo by Heinz-Josef Lücking CC BY-SA 3.0 de

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