Box-Bed

You know how small spaces tend to make most people feel claustrophobic. Well, not me. I love small spaces. They make me feel safe, which is why as a young adolescent I begged my mom to let me turn my day bed to face the wall. I wanted that enclosed feeling, but my mom just thought I was weird. It turns out that I’m not the only one to want to sleep in small enclosed spaces. Meet the box-bed (or closed bed, close bed, enclosed bed, closet bed, cupboard bed; lots of name variations here):

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Box-Bed, Shetland Crofthouse Museum in Scotland

As you can see, a box-bed is basically a cupboard that is fitted with a bed inside, and it performs the functions of bed, wardrobe, chest and bench. It is closed on all four sides with the front entrance being closed off by either curtains, a hinged door(s), or a sliding door(s). They are fairly short, measuring 5.25-5.60 feet (or 1.60-1.70 meters for you metric users). Sometimes (mostly for the wealthier), the box-bed would be ornately decorated (most of the decorations were on the doors) with carvings, intricately arranged copper nail heads, and for the wealthier, inlays.

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This fancy box-bed can be found at the South Tyrolean Folklore Museum, located at the Italy/Austria border.

*Interesting side note: You might be thinking, “wow! Those are some pretty small beds!”. There are a couple of theories for this. One is that they tended to sleep in an almost seated position because lying down was the posture of death, and there was fear/superstition that doing so might lead to an untimely demise. Another is that they were just shorter, plain and simple. The first has not been confirmed, though I’ve read that many‘a tour guide like to use the story, and the second depends on the areas you are looking at as, generally speaking, people were not much shorter then, than we are now. That’s the thing about history. It’s all perspective and really educated guesses.

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Box-Bed, Highland Folk Museum, Scotland

In some cases, you might find a small chest situated in front of the box-bed that serves as a step up into the bed, as well as a sort of seat of honor. The chest also served its customary function of storage space. In other cases, instead of a small chest, you will find drawers below the main sleeping space that pull out and are large enough to provide beds for children. If you didn’t find children tucked away in drawers, you might find them sleeping above their parents in the case of a double-decker box-bed (one box-bed having been built over another). I wonder if this gave rise to the bunk bed?

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Photograph of double-decker box-bed

The box-bed is a product of western Europe. Apparently, it was quite popular in Britain, in the Brittany area (a region in the north-west of France) and in the Netherlands (who also happens to govern three islands in the Caribbean, in case you were curious), though I’m sure you can find them in more places than just these. You would usually find them in poorer homes with only one room, particularly farmhouses. For the people who used them, the box-bed would have been the main piece of furniture. It helped solve the need for having a place to sleep that didn’t necessitate taking up a large portion of the room or the need to add-on an additional room. They allowed the user some privacy as well (with one room, I imagine this was much needed). Another perk, the small space and enclosed area trapped body heat serving to help keep people warm during winter, so they would not need to keep a fire stoked.

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Box-Bed, Rembrandt House Museum

*On a side note, I would definitely recommend checking out the website for The Rembrandt House Museum. They have a really cool feature where you can go on a 360 degree virtual tour of the house, which is great as I’m sure I won’t be able to afford a trip to the Netherlands anytime soon.

Unfortunately, these cozy cupboards began to go out of fashion in the 19th and 20th centuries. While a few ended up in museums, most were converted into bookshelves, dressers or TV cabinets. If you are still interested and want to know more about box-beds as well as other types of bed and sleeping customs you could check out, Sleeping Around: The Bed from Antiquity to Now, by Annie Carlano and Bobbie Sumberg.

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