These Medieval “Box Beds” Are Being Used To Sleep Again

Innovative interior designers are constantly looking for new ways to create space-efficient furniture designs as modern cities become increasingly crowded. These efforts are particularly relevant in big cities where space comes at a premium. In order to find inspiration, furniture designers have gone all the way back to the medieval past. As a result, the so-called “box bed” is the new trend in efficient, stylish interiors that has been making a comeback.

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

The box bed is differently known as “lit clos” in French. It was a small, raised bed, entirely enclosed in wood. It created a cozy nest to ensure the perfect night’s sleep. One side of this bed was covered by a curtain or swinging doors as it had a small opening for you to enter the box bed.

They also had a bench below the opening so that you could climb up into. This bench could be used not only for climbing up, but also for sitting during the day.

The Little Nurse by Jacob Vrel. It shows a woman reading in a box bed with a companion looking out the window

It is believed that this box bed originated in late medieval Brittany. However, it soon spread to other parts of Europe. Examples of this bed that date back from the 16th century have been found in France, the Netherlands, Scotland, Austria and Scandinavia.

Photo by Moreau.henri CC BY-SA 3.0

This bed had been quite popular all around the world for a number of reasons. First, it is commonly known that most families used to all live in the same room at that time. This box bed provided privacy for the different members of the family despite sleeping in the same room.

Second, this bed was excellent for providing extra warmth when central heating was not an option. As it was an enclosed space, the bed would retain its heat and people would not be cold during the night.

Third, it is also believed that the box bed may have also been used as a sleeping space for small children who were threatened by predators such as wolves in rural France. However, that cannot be said for sure as there is little evidence regarding this fact.

A Mother’s Duty by Pieter de Hooch shows a woman with her child next to a cozy box bed

Indeed, box beds were quite popular in many families. They were often designed for two adults, although they were much smaller than our typical beds today. However, most of the taller family members had to sleep in a half upright position.

This box bed was quite convenient for all family members sometimes. As the drawers underneath could be pulled out, there was the chance to make a smaller bed for children too in just one piece of furniture.

A Dutch box bed. Photo by Quistnix CC BY-SA 2.5

As it was so efficiently built, it’s no wonder that box beds appeared in societies all across Europe. They are even mentioned in 19th century British literature! Emily Bronte’s 1847 novel Wuthering Heights references a box bed. She has described as a large oak case with openings resembling coach windows.

The narrator goes on to say, “[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.”

Photo by Moreau.henri CC BY-SA 3.0

In the 20th century, the need for box beds diminished as central heating was invented. These box beds became just a part of interior design history. However, in recent years, their traces are still seen around the world.

Cloppenburg Museum Village. Photo by Heinz-Josef Lücking CC BY-SA 3.0 de

Many designers now believe that the box bed is probably the most efficient and stylish solutions for our century. With prices getting higher and higher and apartments’ size getting smaller, box beds may hopefully be our savior.


Written by Ketrin Ulbrich

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