Canopy beds have a long, not necessarily luxurious, history. In Medieval Europe, princes and peasants alike used them for protection: the cover at the top kept insects from dropping upon the sleeper through the thatched roofs above. Not exactly what one would call the stuff of pleasant dreams! The curtains held in warmth while providing privacy from attendants or family who often slept in the same room. In ancient China, canopy beds provided the same protection, but in summer months they were draped with gauze netting to keep bugs out while allowing cooling breezes in. As with most things, necessity proved to be the mother of invention, but design creativity led the transformation of these must-haves into expressions of sumptuous beauty.
Today, there is no real practical need for canopy beds, so the main question is: Are they a good design choice? We think they can be, and have designed many such beds for our projects ranging from modern to traditional and everything in between.
Above is a bed we designed for a client in Manhattan. The room has little architectural interest, so we created some with this very clean version of a half tester bed, which we covered in a very tailored wool. To the left is a bed where we extended the crown moulding around a modified canopy. A starburst silk insert in the ceiling and a full-height headboard unite the design. Because of the window curtains flanking the bed, no bed hangings were needed or wanted.
At the bottom is a bed we found for a California project in an early 20th century Spanish-revival house. Here there is no canopy, but the bed hangings, suspended from an iron bed frame, suit the feel of the house. This luxurious fabric gives the room an understated masculinity.There is no essential purpose for canopy beds these days, unless you live under a leaky thatch roof or in a drafty castle. But they do provide a warm “room within a room” feeling that provides the perfect place to slumber and dream.