From New World Encyclopedia
A bed with a chamber pot under it.

A bed is a piece of furniture (or a location) primarily used as a place to sleep, and often used for relaxation. To make a bed more comfortable, a mattress is usually placed on top of it. The second layer is the box spring Inner-sprung Base. The box spring or "divan" is a large mattress-sized box containing wood and springs that provide additional support and suspension for the mattress. The third layer is the bed frame. The bed frame lifts the mattress/mattress-box spring off the ground.

A dust ruffle, bed skirt, or valance sheet may be used to make the bed frame match the rest of the bedding. For greater head support, most people use a pillow, placed at the top of a mattress. Also used is some form of covering blanket to provide warmth to the sleeper, often bed sheets, a quilt, or a duvet. Some people prefer to dispense with the box spring and bed frame, and replace it with a platform bed style. This is more common in Europe.


Ancient world

Tutankhamun's gold gilded bed from the fourteenth century B.C.E.

Early beds were little more than piles of straw or some other natural materials. An important change was raising them off the ground, to avoid draughts, dirt, and pests. The Egyptians had high bedsteads that were ascended by steps, with bolsters or pillows, and curtains to hang round. The elite of Egyptian society, such as its pharaohs and queens, even had beds made of wood and gilded with gold. Often there was a head-rest as well, semi-cylindrical and made of stone, wood or metal. Assyrians, Medes and Persians had beds of a similar kind, and frequently decorated their furniture with inlays or appliqués of metal, mother-of-pearl and ivory.

The oldest account of a bed is probably that of Odysseus: a charpoy[1] woven of rope, plays a role in the Odyssey. A similar bed can be seen at the St Fagans National History Museum in Wales. Odysseus also gives an account of how he crafted the nuptial bed for himself and Penelope, out of an ancient, huge olive tree trunk that used to grow on the spot before the bridal chamber was built. His detailed description finally persuades the doubting Penelope that the shipwrecked, aged man is indeed her long-lost husband. Homer also mentions the inlaying of the woodwork of beds with gold, silver and ivory. The Greek bed had a wooden frame, with a board at the head and bands of hide laced across, upon which skins were placed. At a later period the bedstead was often veneered with expensive woods; sometimes it was of solid ivory veneered with tortoise-shell and with silver feet; often it was of bronze. The pillows and coverings also became more costly and beautiful; the most celebrated places for their manufacture were Miletus, Corinth and Carthage. Folding beds, too, appear in the vase paintings.

The Roman mattresses were stuffed with reeds, hay, wool or feathers; the last was used towards the end of the Republic, when custom demanded luxury. Small cushions were placed at the head and sometimes at the back. The bedsteads were high and could only be ascended by the help of steps. They were often arranged for two persons, and had a board or railing at the back as well as the raised portion at the head. The counterpanes were sometimes very costly, generally purple embroidered with figures in gold; and rich hangings fell to the ground masking the front. The bedsteads themselves were often of bronze inlaid with silver, and Elagabalus had one of solid silver. In the walls of some of the houses at Pompeii bed niches are found, which were probably closed by curtains or sliding partitions. Ancient Romans had various kinds of beds for repose. These included:

  • lectus cubicularis, or chamber bed, for normal sleeping;
  • lectus genialis, the marriage bed, it was much decorated, and was placed in the atrium opposite the door.
  • lectus discubitorius, or table bed, on which they ate—for they ate while lying on their left side—there being usually three people to one bed, with the middle place accounted the most honorable position;
  • lectus lucubratorius, for studying;
  • and a lectus funebris, or emortualis, on which the dead were carried to the pyre.[2]

Medieval Europe

The ancient Germans lay on the floor on beds of leaves covered with skins, or in a kind of shallow chest filled with leaves and moss. In the early Middle Ages they laid carpets on the floor or on a bench against the wall, placed upon them mattresses stuffed with feathers, wool or animal hair, and used skins as a covering. They appear to have generally lain naked in bed, wrapping themselves in the large linen sheets which were stretched over the cushions. In the thirteenth century luxury increased, and bedsteads were made of wood much decorated with inlaid, carved and painted ornament. They also used folding beds, which served as couches by day and had cushions covered with silk laid upon leather. At night a linen sheet was spread and pillows placed, while silk-covered skins served as coverlets. Curtains were hung from the ceiling or from an iron arm projecting from the wall. The Carolingian manuscripts show metal bedsteads much higher at the head than at the feet, and this shape continued in use until the thirteenth century in France, many cushions being added to raise the body to a sloping position. Elevating the head and shoulders helps aid breathing, especially when one is suffering from congestion or conditions affecting the lungs.

In the twelfth-century manuscripts the bedsteads appear much richer, with inlays, carving and painting, and with embroidered coverlets and mattresses in harmony. Curtains were hung above the bed, and a small hanging lamp is often shown. In the fourteenth century the woodwork became of less importance, being generally entirely covered by hangings of rich materials. Silk, velvet and even cloth of gold were much used. Inventories from the beginning of the fourteenth century give details of these hangings lined with fur and richly embroidered. Then it was that the tester bed made its first appearance, the tester being slung from the ceiling or fastened to the walls, a form which developed later into a room within a room, shut in by double curtains, sometimes even so as to exclude all drafts. The space between bed and wall was called the ruelle, and very intimate friends were received there.

In the fifteenth century beds became very large, reaching to a length of seven or eight feet by six or seven feet wide. The mattresses were often filled with pea-shucks, straw or feathers. At this time great personages were in the habit of carrying most of their property about with them, including beds and bed-hangings, and for this reason the bedsteads were for the most part mere frameworks to be covered up; but about the beginning of the sixteenth century bedsteads were made lighter and more decorative, since the lords remained in the same place for longer periods.

Renaissance and Modern Europe

In the seventeenth century, which has been called "the century of magnificent beds," the style a la duchesse, with tester and curtains only at the head, replaced the more enclosed beds in France, though they lasted much longer in England. Louis XIV had an enormous number of sumptuous beds, as many as 413 being described in the inventories of his palaces. Some of them had embroideries enriched with pearls, and figures on a silver or golden ground. The great bed at Versailles had crimson velvet curtains on which "The Triumph of Venus" was embroidered. So much gold was used that the velvet scarcely showed.

Bed used by Napoleon I.

In the eighteenth century, feather pillows were first used as coverings in Germany, which in the fashions of the bed and the curious etiquette connected with the bedchamber followed France for the most part. The beds were a la duchesse, but in France itself there was great variety both of name and shape. The custom of the "bed of justice" upon which the king of France reclined when he was present in parliament, the princes being seated, the great officials standing, and the lesser officials kneeling, was held to denote the royal power even more than the throne. Louis XI is credited with its first use, and the custom lasted till the end of the monarchy. In the chambre de parade, where the ceremonial bed was placed, certain persons, such as ambassadors or great lords, whom it was desired to honor, were received in a more intimate fashion than the crowd of courtiers. At Versailles women received their friends in their beds, both before and after childbirth, during periods of mourning, and even directly after marriage - in fact in any circumstances which were thought deserving of congratulation or condolence. During the seventeenth century, this curious custom became general, perhaps to avoid the tiresome details of etiquette. Portable beds were used in high society in France till the end of the ancien regime. The earliest of which mention has been found belonged to Charles the Bold. They had curtains over a light framework, and were in their way as fine as the stationary beds.

Iron beds appear in the eighteenth century; the advertisements recommend them as free from the insects which sometimes infested wooden bedsteads. Childhood diseases and epidemics were not understood before and during the Victorian Age, but it was believed that a metal bed could be more thoroughly disinfected to better control infectious diseases. Elsewhere, there was also the closed bed with sliding or folding shutters, and in England - where beds were commonly quite simple in form - the four poster was the usual citizen's bed until the middle of the nineteenth century.

Types of beds

There are many varieties of beds:

  • An adjustable bed is a bed that can be adjusted to a number of different positions
  • An air bed uses an air-inflated mattress, sometimes connected to an electric air pump and having firmness controls.
  • A bassinet is a bed specifically for newborn infants.
  • A box-bed is a bed having the form of a large box with wooden roof, sides, and ends, opening in front with two sliding panels or shutters; often used in cottages in Scotland: sometimes also applied to a bed arranged so as to fold up into a box.
  • A brass bed, constructed from brass or brass-plated metal.
  • A bunk is a bed used in a confined space.
  • A bunk bed is two or more beds one atop the other. (See also: loft bed.)
  • A captain's bed (also known as a chest bed or cabin bed) is a platform bed with drawers and storage compartments built in underneath. Originally built into the wall of a ship in the captain's cabin.
  • An infant's bed (also crib or cot) is a small bed specifically for babies and infants.
  • A camp bed (also cot) is a simple, temporary, portable bed used by armies and large organizations in times of crisis.
  • A canopy bed is similar to a four poster bed, but the posts usually extend higher and are adorned or draped with cloth, sometimes completely enclosing the bed.
  • A curtained bed is luxury bed with curtains.
  • A daybed is a couch that is used as a seat by day and as a bed by night.
  • A futon is a traditional style of Japanese bed that is folded and stored during the daytime, also available in a larger Western style.
  • A four poster bed is a bed with four posts, one in each corner, that support a tester.
  • A hammock is a piece of suspended fabric, often comprised of knotted fibres or ropes. Often used outdoors in tropical climates or during warm summer weather.
  • A hideaway bed, invented by Sarah E. Goode in response to the needs of apartment-dwellers, folds up into another piece of furniture, such as a shelf or desk, when not in use.
  • A hospital bed is specifically designed to facilitate convalescence, traditionally in a hospital or nursing facility, but increasingly in other settings, such as a private residence. Modern hospital beds commonly have wheels to assist in moderate relocation, but they are larger and generally more permanently placed than a gurney. The hospital bed is also a common unit of measurement for the capacity of any type of inpatient medical facility, though it is just as common to shorten the term to bed in that usage.
  • An iron bed, developed in the 1850s, is constructed of iron and steel, later substituting aluminum.
  • A Manjaa is a traditional Punjabi bed made of tied ropes bordered by a wooden frame.
  • A Murphy bed or wallbed is a bed that can hinge into a wall or cabinet to save space.
  • A pallet is a thin, lightweight mattress.
  • A platform bed is a mattress resting on a solid, flat raised surface, either free-standing or part of the structure of the room.
  • A roll-away bed (or cot) is a bed whose frame folds in half and rolls in order to be more easily stored and moved.
  • A rope bed is a pre-modern bed whose wooden frame includes crossing rope to support the typically down-filled single mattress.
  • A sofabed is a bed that is stored inside a sofa.
  • A state bed developed in Early Modern Europe from a hieratic canopy of state.
  • A trundle bed or truckle bed is a bed usually stored beneath a twin bed.
  • A vibrating bed is typically a coin-operated novelty found in a vintage motel. For a fee, the mattress vibrates for a duration of time.
  • A waterbed is a bed/mattress combination where the mattress is filled with water.

Bed frames

Bed frames, also called bed steads, are made of wood or metal. The frame is made up of head, foot, and side rails. For heavy duty or larger frames (such as for queen- and king-sized beds), the bed frame also includes a center support rail. These rails are assembled to create a box for the mattress or mattress/box spring to sit on.

Types of bed frames include:

  • platform - typically used without a box spring
  • captain - has drawers beneath the frame to make use of the space between the floor and the bed frame
  • waterbed - a heavy-duty frame built specifically to support the weight of the water in the mattress

Though not truly parts of a bed frame, many people include headboards, footboards, and bed rails in their definition of bed frames. Headboards and footboards can be wood or metal. They can be stained, painted, or covered in fabric or leather.

Bed rails are made of wood or metal and are attached to a headboard and footboard. Wooden slats are placed perpendicular to the bed rails to support the mattress/mattress box spring.

Bed rails and frames are often attached to the bed post using knock-down fittings.[3] [4] A knock-down fitting enables the bed to be easily dismantled for removal. Primary knock-down fittings for bed rails are as follows:

  • Pin-and-hook fastener. A mortise or slot is cut vertically in the bedpost. Pins are inserted horizontally in the bed post so that the pins perpendicularly intersect the mortise. For example, if one looked in the mortise, one might see part of one horizontal pin at the bottom of the mortise and a part of a second pin toward the top of the mortise. Hooks are installed at the end of the rail. Usually these hooks are part of a plate that is attached to the rail. The hooks then are inserted into the bed post mortise and hook over the pins.
  • Plate-and-hook fastener. Instead of pins inserted horizontally into the bedpost, an eye plate (post plate) is installed on the bedpost. The hooks are installed on the rail, either as surface mount or recessed. Depending on the hardware, the bedpost may require a mortise in order to allow the hooks to fasten to the plate. This is also referred to as a keyhole fastener, especially if the connector is more of a "plug" than a "hook."
  • Bed bolts ("through-bolts") are a different means of knock-down connection. A hole is typically drilled through the bedpost. The bolt head is inset and covered with a plug. In the rail, a dowel nut or other type of nut receives the bolt. The springs are made from metal, which are swirled for maximum comfort

Bed sizes

Beds come in a wide array of shapes and sizes. Most countries have a standard set of four sizes of mattresses. While the Double size appears to be standard among English speaking countries, based on the imperial measurement of 4 ft 6 in by 6 ft 3 in, the sizes for other bed types tend to vary. The European sizes differ; they are based on the metric system.

A king-sized bed differs from the other sizes in implementation, as it is not common to have a king-sized box spring; rather, two smaller box-springs are used under a king-sized mattress. It is a common misconception that on a U.S. Standard or Eastern King, the box springs are identical in size to a Twin Extra-Long, however Twin Extra-Long mattresses next to each other add up to 78 inches wide instead of the 76 inch width that is standard for an Eastern King.

Standard sizes

Modern manufacturing conventions have resulted in a limited number of standard sizes of commercial bedding for mattresses and box springs. They vary by country of origin.

Mattress size (width × length)
U.S.[5] Australia UK / Ireland Europe
Twin / Single 39 × 75 in
3’3" × 6’3″
97 × 191 cm
36 × 75 in
3’ × 6’3″
91 × 191 cm
35 × 79 in
~2’11.43″ × ~6’6.74″
90 × 200 cm
Double / Full 54 × 75 in
4’6″ × 6’3″
137 × 191 cm
55 × 79 in
~4ft 7.12in × ~6’6.74″
140 × 200 cm
(US/Aus) Queen
(UK/Ire) King
60 × 80 in
5’ × 6’8″
152 × 203 cm
60 × 78 in
5’ × 6’6″
152 × 198 cm
63 × 79 in
5’3″ × ~6’6.74″
160 × 200 cm
(US/Aus) King
(UK/Ire) Super King
76 × 80 in
6’4″ × 6’8″
193 × 203 cm
72 × 80 in
6’ × 6’8″
183 × 203 cm
72 × 78 in
6’ × 6’6″
183 × 198 cm
71 × 79 in
~5’11″ × ~6’6.74″
180 × 200 cm

The sizes in the UK and Ireland, other than the Double, vary compared to the U.S. sizes, being generally smaller. The U.S. Queen corresponds to UK King and King to Super King. The European or continental basic sizes are similar to the UK but have a set length of 2 metres. The denominations Queen, King and Super King are not used in continental Europe, and Double refers to 140cm or any higher width. Instead of these US/UK denominations, the bed width is given in centimeters.

These dimensions are for the mattress—the actual bed frame will be a little bigger in order to fully encompass and support the mattress. The thickness of the mattress may vary considerably.

Historically, Single referred to a bed size that was half the width of a Double, that is, approximately the width of one pillow. In Western nations, such beds have become quite rare, with a Twin bed becoming the standard for one-person sleeping. Without another common use for the term Single and with the term Double being widely used, Single has come to be another term for a twin bed in these places.

Other U.S. sizes

Twin Extra Long
39 × 80 in (0.97 × 2.03 m)
This size is popular in college dormitories.
Three Quarter
48 × 75 in (1.22 × 1.90 m) often (47-48) X 72 in. sizing varies.
This size is considered obsolete by the major manufacturers.
Super Single
48 × 84 in (1.22 × 2.13 m)
Full Extra Long
54 x 80 in
Olympic Queen
66 × 80 in (1.68 × 2.03 m) a novelty size by Simmons
California Queen
60 × 84 in (1.52 × 2.13 m)
Eastern King
76 x 80 in (1.93 x 2.03 m)
An alternate name for a U.S. King.
California King
72 × 84 in (1.83 × 2.13 m)
A common size on the West Coast of the United States, also called a Western King, West Coast King, Cal King, or WC King.

Other UK sizes

Small Single
30 × 75 in (76.2 × 190.5 cm)
Super Single
42 × 75 in (106.68 × 190.5 cm)
Small Double / Three Quarter
48 × 78 in (121.92 × 198.12 cm)

Other European sizes

Modern continental Europe practice is to refer to a bed by explicit width or size ("80 cm bed" or "80x200 cm bed"). Other sizes found include:

Extra Small Single
0.75 × 2 m (30 × 79 in)
Small Single
0.8 × 2 m (31 × 79 in)
Large Single
1 × 2 m (39 × 79 in)

Most mattress sizes in the Netherlands are also available in extra long. Meaning 2.2 m instead of 2.0 m.

Other Australian sizes

Single Extra Long
0.92 x 2.03 m (36 in by 80 in)
King Single
1.06 × 2.03 m (41 × 80 in)

Other New Zealand sizes

The following bed sizes are available in New Zealand:

Long Single
0.90 × 2.03 m (35 × 80 in)
King Single
1.05 × 2.03 m (41 × 80 in)
Long Double
1.35 × 2.03 m (53 × 80 in)
1.65 × 2.03 m (65 × 80 in)
Super King
1.80 × 2.03 m (71 × 80 in)
Californian King
2.00 × 2.03 m (79 × 80 in)

See also

  • Relaxation
  • Sleep


  1. Woven rope or jute on a wooden Retrieved December 30, 2008.
  2. This article incorporates content from the 1728 Cyclopaedia, a publication in the public domain. Chambers, Ephraim, 1680 (ca.)-1740 Cyclopedia. Retrieved December 30, 2008.
  3. "Historical Guide: Bed Hardware", Whitechapel-Ltd Retrieved December 25, 2008.
  4. "Bed Rail Fastener Options".
  5. Mattress Size :: USA & Canada

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Fine Woodworking Editors. Beds and Bedroom Furniture. Best of Fine Woodworking. Newtown, CT: Taunton Press, 1997. ISBN 1561581917
  • Miller, Jeff. Beds: Outstanding Projects from One of America's Best Craftsmen : with Plans and Complete Instructions for Building 9 Classic Beds. Newtown, CT: Taunton Press, 1999. ISBN 1561582549
  • Wright, Lawrence. Warm & Snug: A History of the Bed. Sutton History Classics. Stroud: Sutton, 2004. ISBN 0750937289

External links

All links retrieved September 26, 2023.


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