Today, we think of bedrooms as a haven, a place we go to for sanctuary after a hard day. This hasn’t always been the way. Bedrooms have a long history, and the privacy we expect of them wasn’t a concept until around the 17th century. Today’s bedrooms have progressed a long way from yesterday’s ones in their function and how we decorate them. Get ready for some surprises as we look at the history of beds and bedrooms.
Bedrooms in the days of ancient societies
The ancient Egyptians were a bit fancy pants. They’d have ornate decorations carved into their beds, which may have indicated the (social) status of the sleeper. Surprisingly, Egyptian beds were similar to beds today: raised, rectangular and with perforated platforms. There would have been a board at the foot of the platform and the head is likely to have rested at the open end of the bed.
The famously innovative Romans were even fancier and didn’t confine beds to bedrooms. They used beds for all sorts of activities: eating, which you did on your left side (bizarre!); marriage (this was a symbolic bed near the central courtyard); and studying. There was even literally a death bed on which the Romans would carry you to the pyre.
Bedrooms in the Middle Ages (500 to 10,000 AD)
By the time the Romans vacated the scene in the 5th century, life was very public. Trade, marriage, eating, preparing food, sleeping all took place in the great hall. When it was time to sleep, people would lie down on the rush-flooring and close to the fire to get their zs.
The lord and lady would live on the upper floor and kept this for family, friends and servants. It wasn’t a bedroom but rather a ‘chamber” or “bed chamber” and offered a sense of privacy. The chamber suggested importance and hierarchy within the community.
Kings and queens had royal bed chambers. They’d move around because they were in battle often. So would their furniture. The throne was constantly changing hands, given the upheaval of those times. They’d have servants whose sole duty was to manage important bed chambers. The head servant was the Lord Chamberlain.
Tudor beds and bedrooms (1453 to 1603)
In the days of the Tudors, houses began to change. The middle class had started to live in their own homes, but with their own upper floors. Bedrooms had a bed, a trundle and little else. The bedroom still served a more functional purpose and as a venue for public life. Birth, marriage, socialising and death all took place in the bed chamber. Curtains around the bed provided the only privacy.
The associations with bedrooms had started to change, however. They weren’t just important to the people who surrounded the king and queen; people considered the bedroom as important for the success of the crown’s royals themselves. Queens would hold court in their bedroom. The mere presence of servants attending conferred status on them because they became privy to the inner workings of the court and not just physically close to the king and/or queen.
The Stuarts and bedrooms (1603 to 1688)
Things start to change in the time of the Stuarts. In larger homes, bed chambers take the form of a series of rooms, and we start to see separate rooms for sleeping. This is the dawn of the concept of privacy.
Although bed chambers were still very public, bed chamber closets were private and only for the house’s man or lady. Servants would help dress and undress them because they wore so many layers of clothing. Bedchambers were still the domain of the richer folk, too.
At the residence of William and Mary Tudor, you likewise had to go through a series of chambers to receive an audience with the king and/or queen. The beds within the bed chambers were elaborate. They had lots of drapery, were gilded and acted almost like a mock bedroom. The king and queen would dress in them, with help from the servants, but would sleep in a separate bedroom.
Bedrooms in the Georgian period (1714 to 1837)
Into the 18th century and the Georgian period, the desire for privacy had become stronger. The public-life feel of bedrooms was becoming a thing of the past. Servants had their own quarters. They no longer had to walk through a series of rooms to reach their master or mistress. Staircases were starting to appear in homes. Clocks had become fashionable in bedrooms, and bedrooms had bells so masters and mistresses could ring for their servants.
Not only this, but royalty was losing its power. The real power was going to Parliament, which had an impact on the bedroom décor. The private bed chambers started losing their authority, and their opulence also dwindled.
This was the century in which the industrial revolution began, too. The revolution would continue into the Victorian period and wasn’t just changing the way we produced things, but also our attitudes towards design. People could afford their own furniture. They also started looking at the furniture more in terms of functionality and practicality than of privilege. And so on to the Victorians, who loved a bit of practicality!
Bedrooms in the Victorian era (1830 to 1901)
The Victorians wanted functional, elegant bedrooms. They thought more about colours and textures, and interior design really started to come into its own. Bedrooms became more decorative.
Social uses fell away from the bedroom, and privacy evolved further. Just like in the Georgian times, servants had their own quarters. The Victorians also introduced window shades and blinds into bedrooms. That being said… some of the tasks we perform today in other rooms, such as washing or using the toilet, still took place within the Victorian bedroom. Bedrooms and bed chambers often had a washbasin, toilet and mirror.
But what mighty beds they produced! They were made from metal, full size and had as many as 10 blankets on the top. Mattresses were filled with straw, feathers or horsehair. The Victorians may also have been the first people to suggest we should turn our mattresses over regularly. Historians have found one Victorian manual that recommended doing it every morning and changing pillowcases twice per day.
Moving into the 20th century
The 20th century was one of turmoil. Two World Wars would influence architectural and design styles and trigger a struggle between the desire to preserve tradition and the need to accept machines’ presence as an essential (new) basis of society.
For instance, the Bauhaus movement wanted to remove some of the mechanical feels from design and restore human warmth and spirit. The International Style, the style that emerged from the movement, failed at this in some. There was no colour, and shapes were like boxes, and surfaces were hard and glassy.
Bedrooms in the 1920s and 1930s
In the 1920s, the world started to put World War 1 behind it. People developed a taste for glamour and more lavish rooms. Bedrooms got bigger and more elegant. The bathroom’s started to disappear from them.
Meanwhile, designers and architects struggled between the styles. The thinking was becoming more futuristic, although the style of one of the prominent architects of the years between WW1 and WW2, Le Corbusier, came in for some stick due to his belief the house was like a machine.
A new movement arose, too, Art Deco, in which craft worked together with industry, from 1925. Then Functionalism returned, led by the Bauhaus movement’s principles, and it became about simplicity and a swift return to form proportion, line, and texture.
Bedrooms in the 1940s and 1950s
During the 1940s and 1950s, some couples still felt odd about couples sharing a bed. They didn’t want to advertise it to their kids. They started to use twin beds but would share the room.
Family life was becoming more important, too. Men were returning from the war, getting married and seeking their own homes. Children were getting their own bedrooms. People were turning even more to luxury and comfort. This was the order of the day.
And then the 1960s happened.
Bedrooms in the 1960s
1960s need no introduction. It was the decade of flower power and free love. Design-wise, comfort, relaxation and bedroom individuality were the order of the day. Pop art found its way onto wallpaper and furniture. The colours were vibrant and would even clash. Art nouveau also made a return.
In the bed’s industry, something just as revolutionary was taking place: the duvet was making its way onto British and American beds. This Scandinavian creation was as symbolic of the era as what was happening out on the streets and in the fields of towns and cities. Duvets allowed people to strip away formal bedding favouring this new (and highly comfortable) invention!
Wood also became a bit of a thing and would highlight bedroom spaces. There was a special preference for dark cherry wood. Although not used for the furniture itself, wood was a popular choice for panelling. This love affair with wood would continue into the 1970s.
Bedrooms in the 1970s
In the 1970s, the zeitgeist of the 1960s was fading. Disco was materialising, and people wanted a glitzier feel to their spaces. They also wanted more liveable spaces, but the individuality of the 1960s somehow went against that slightly. Shag pile carpets stayed, however.
Whereas dark cherry or ebony was more traditional in the 1960s, the 1970s were all about lighter rattan wood. This light and airy wood gave bedrooms a bohemian look. Today, you can achieve the look with a standout rattan piece, such as a bed. Please don’t go overboard with it and use rattan furniture everywhere in the room, however.
Bedrooms in the 1980s
The 1980s loved pastel! The softness was the way to go and worked well with generous amounts of white. If you didn’t have plastering or wallpaper on your walls, the trend was artex. This popular finish involved a swirling pattern but would look hideous now.
Drapes were also big. They were long, sweeping drapes that covered the window and trailed along the floor. The 1980s were also the time we’d see technology start to creep into people’s bedrooms, a trend which would continue into the 1990s.
Another popular craze, but more in the US, was the emergence of water beds. The British media lampooned these, partly because the beds could burst so easily. A more sensible trend was bunk beds in kids’ bedrooms, both in the 1980s and 1990s.
Bedrooms in the 1990s
In the 1990s, the trend moved towards minimalism. The 1980s had been a culture of excess, and it was time to get rid of it all, although, as we saw, the tech was appearing more and more in people’s rooms.
Then there were some of the colours. Brown was in (and it’s coming back). It looks a little dated, but you can change that if you add some grey to the paint. Then combine it with dark brown accessories and, suddenly, your room is looking modern, and it’s all coming together.
There are actual painting techniques, too. Some people really loved their bedrooms and would sponge paint the walls of these and other rooms. This involved the use of a sponge and two other media to paint your rooms. It was an excellent way to add texture to a tired finish or, if you were a little bit clumsy, to cover up a mistake or some old plaster!
Bedrooms in the 21st century
Look how far we’ve come. In the early years of the 21st century, muted colours came in. White, red, and bronze were the colours of choice. It’s also the century in which teenagers have had a bigger say in how their bedrooms look. They use their bedrooms to express their own tastes.
Today we’ve got a catalogue of styles from which we can choose. We can go minimalist and still keep up with the times. Bedrooms have gotten much sleeker. We use gadgets more and more. The amenities in our bedrooms are more modern. Take memory foam mattresses, expensive bedding, flat-screen TVs and dimmer lights.
The one thing that stands out in all this modernity is that the bedroom has become more like a hub. Children use it to play and/or do their homework. Students study in their bedrooms. Remote workers may use it as an office. It’s no longer just a place where we sleep or engage in intimacy. Ideally, though, we should because, ultimately, it’s a haven.