People in Crowded Cities Are Starting to Sleep in Medieval Box Beds Again

In the bustling urban landscapes of cities like London, Paris, and New York, where every square inch of space holds immense value, innovative interior designers are on a quest to unlock new avenues of space-efficient living. To the surprise of many, their journey through the annals of history has led them to rediscover an age-old treasure: the medieval “box bed.” This 600-year-old Breton design is making a remarkable comeback, emerging as a symbol of efficiency and style in contemporary interiors.

The Renaissance of the “Box Bed”

The “box bed,” known as “lit clos” in French, is a small raised bed entirely enclosed in wood. Exquisitely carved and adorned with intricate designs, this compact cabinet comes complete with a comfortable mattress and bedding, providing a snug sanctuary for a peaceful night’s rest. Typically, it features an opening on one side, often concealed by a curtain or sliding doors.

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

Beneath the box bed, a cleverly designed bench offers easy access to the sleeping area, doubling as additional storage or seating during the day. While its origins can be traced back to late medieval Brittany, the concept of box beds quickly spread across Europe. By the 16th century, examples could be found in France, the Netherlands, Scotland, Austria, and Scandinavia.

The Multifaceted Appeal of Box Beds

The resurgence of the box bed can be attributed to several compelling reasons. Firstly, it provided a degree of privacy in an era where many families shared sleeping quarters in a single room. In more modest households, entire families may have cohabited in homes with just one or two rooms, akin to today’s studio apartments. The box bed enabled individuals to sleep together while retaining a semblance of personal space.

Furthermore, the box bed offered exceptional insulation and warmth, a valuable feature in times when central heating was nonexistent. The enclosed space trapped and preserved heat during cold winter nights, with fabrics lining the box enhancing its insulating properties.

In Dutch households, box beds were ingeniously crafted to accommodate an entire family, despite their smaller size compared to contemporary beds. Even taller inhabitants could find comfort, although they often had to sleep in a half-upright position. The drawers beneath the bed could be pulled out to create a smaller bed suitable for children, making it a versatile piece of furniture that catered to the needs of an entire family.

A Literary Legacy and Recent Resurgence

The box bed has left its mark on literature as well. In Emily Bronte’s 1847 novel, “Wuthering Heights,” a box bed is described as a large oak case with openings reminiscent of coach windows. The narrator muses, “[I] 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.”

Image Source: Quistnix at nl.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

While the advent of central heating in the 20th century led to a decline in the popularity of box beds, recent years have witnessed their resurgence. Contemporary Breton furniture designers Ernan and Ronan Bouroullec have reintroduced the concept with a modern twist. Traditional, intricately carved Scandinavian box beds are now a significant trend in northern European interiors.

The Ultimate Space-Saving Solution

In a time when real estate prices are soaring, urban living spaces are shrinking, and small studio apartments are on the rise, the box bed emerges as the quintessential stylish, space-saving solution for 21st-century interiors.

Discover the charm and practicality of these ageless designs, as box beds weave their way into modern living, offering a blend of history and contemporary sophistication.

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