Life would be very boring if everybody wanted the same thing, so it is just as well we all have different tastes. The function of a bed could be solved with a mattress on the floor, and in many countries in the world this would be regarded as a luxury. Any culture capable of reading this has progressed from this stage in evolution, although it would be wonderful to eradicate poverty. People want more than a plain bed frame; they want a centrepiece of the room, probably the room in the house where they spend most time, albeit asleep. For many generations, the four-poster bed has been revered as the elite bed, many believing it to be the ultimate possession. Four-poster beds with or without canopies made in wood or metal are still extremely popular, with history playing an important part in how we feel about it.
There are two fields of thought relating to the four-poster bed, that of the British, and the Americans. In the U.K. (and Europe) we consider a four-poster bed to be a bed with four posts, cornice, high headboard and roof, but in the States, I understand this would be called a four-poster canopy bed. In the U.S. a four-poster bed is exactly that, a bed with four posts, no cornice, no roof, just four posts. The tall, elongated posts stand like spires above the rest of the bed, often ending in finials. For obvious reasons, this style is frequently called a pencil bed. We have seen and made a variety of posts for these beds, either slender to give it a Shaker feel, or chunky for a country flavour. The posts can be turned round, left square, but tapering with some shaped features, or octagonal. They can have twists, flutes (dished hollows), or reeds (raised beads), or even inlayed wood down the length of the post. The list for the traditional looking posts is long enough, but if you start to get away from the past, and what’s been done before, then a whole new world can open up, it’s just a question of what the public will tolerate.
Traditional British four-poster or canopy beds had turned, reeded, fluted or twisted posts, indeed, many were made more ornate with extensive carving added to them. In years gone by, only wealthy noblemen would own such a bed and when he died one of the treasures was the four-poster bed.
It’s amazing just how many people love or always wanted a four-poster bed with a full canopy, many feeling it an ambition or dream fulfilled when they finally own one. You will hear comments like, ‘I saw one once,’ or ‘I slept in one, and I’ve always wanted one ever since.’ Many consider the four-poster to be extremely romantic, but it may all come back to fairy tails, and the days of fair maidens, white horses and shiny knights, or were they white knights. Tradition has instilled into many of us to aspire to own a four-poster bed, antique if possible. Failing that, then reproduction is a good alternative, as it is often not as costly, and when you commission a piece of furniture, you get what you want. People at furniture auctions either seem to compromise their wish or wait till next time, whereas asking a furniture maker for something you can have any size, style, wood, colour or carving that you wish.
The more bed you have, the more you can personalise it, and by the time it is complete, you would rarely find two the same. So the four-poster bed is ideal, with a choice of several wood, post and panel designs, carving, finished colour (including paint), and the variety in size and height, four posters are very individual. If you add to that the variety of fabrics, patterns and colours available from which drapes can be made, there is no end to the possibilities. It is not just the look of the bed that is important, but also the feel. The sheets are a critical factor in feeling the quality of your bed, and as you spend a third if your life there, you may as well make it comfortable, so buy good quality linen.
From heavy tapestries draped over deeply carved posts, with linenfold panels and a fully enclosed oak roof, to light silks and lacy dressing an American style pencil bed with no footboard, fine rope twists ending in a finial rather like that of a pawn or bishop in a chess set, the four-poster bed will survive for many more centuries. It is up to us to start looking into the future, moving with the times, developing new styles, dragging the bed by its’ posts into the 21st Century, to be held in esteem as the ultimate dream for another 600 years.