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History of the bed

The bed… This object has always been essential in the daily life of Man, we spend a third of our lives in it, we wake up there to start our day and we fall asleep in it thinking of what this day has brought to us. But beyond being a crucial object for our physical and mental health, the bed has become a real place of intimacy and passion, where sometimes betrayal, adultery and even bloody crime happen. It is also a place of departure to the dream world, as well as a place where one feels safe to regain strength.

From ancient Egypt to the present day, the bed has been omnipresent in history. In the 14th century BC, Tutankhamun had five beds built to accompany him in the anteroom of his tomb for an eternal rest. In Greek and Roman civilizations, the bed becomes a mark of social importance and wealth, we pay a lot of attention to its decor, it becomes larger to accommodate several people, and higher to be able to spend more time in it, extending meals and organizing large feasts. In oriental culture and representations, the bed is also the central part of the harem.

In the Middle Ages, the bed became used by the more popular social classes. It was then, in the 15th century, that we saw the appearance of « closed beds », curious boxes built to ensure a quieter sleep and privacy within large families.

Before the French Revolution, the bed becomes a truly sumptuous object full of extravagance, featuring canopies and large tapestries, ornate bedside tables, vases at the four corners of the bed and feather bouquets. The bed becomes a place of reception and lengthy hearings where heads of state announce the key decisions for the future of the monarchy. The privacy of the bedroom is respected so much that during the Revolution it is forbidden to carry out any searches in it between sunset and sunrise!

Extrait du film de Sofia Coppola « Marie Antoinette » D.R.

The importance given to this piece of furniture is also evident in the painting of the time.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingrès, « La maladie d’Antiochus », 1840. Musée Condé, Chantilly

In the famous painting “La maladie d’Antiochus” by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingrès (1780-1867), the monumental bed inspired by the architecture of a Greek temple is the center of composition and action, the bed here is a symbol of Antiochus’ illness and impending death caused by his love and guilty passion to his stepmother Stratonice.

The reign of the bed as an object of luxury and ceremonial furniture ended in the nineteenth century due to industrialization. It gives place to function and comfort. We are starting to distinguish different types of beds according to our desires and needs: daybed, chaise longue, twin beds allowing a couple to sleep cool in summer, metal beds to avoid pests.

Méridienne, Époque Charles X, ca. 1825. Collection Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris
Lit bateau à couronne, XIXème. D.R.

At the same time in China, we are even witnessing the creation of special beds for opium smokers!

Chambre de Napoléon au Grand Trianon à Versailles (Style Empire, XIXème). D.R.

Desouches camp bed, patented in 1812 for officers of the Napoleon Army. What appealed to Napoleon was the practicality and the speed with which the bed could be raised, offering comfort to the officers of the Emperor, former General of the Armies. Little did he know that he would spend his last night on the same bed before dying on the island of Saint Helena.

But it was during the 20th century that the bed underwent a real transformation of its function and appearance.

Jacques-Emile Ruhlman’s « Soleil » bed designed in the 1920s, an extravagant creation composed of neoclassical elements presented in a modernist style using precious Macassar ebony wood.

The famous creator of the “Less is More” concept, Mies van der Rohe designed in 1929 a series of iconic furniture designs for the German pavilion of the international exhibition in Barcelona in minimalist style with chromed steel structure, namely the single or double bed freed of any ornament.

Gerrit Reitvield’s bed from the artistic movement « De Stijl » with its radical geometry and minimal use of details which also places great importance on chromaticism!

Another emblematic arrangement of the early modernist era is Maharaja d’Indore’s bedroom for his palace in Manik Bagh. We observe this spectacular bed designed by Louis Sognot and Charlotte Alix, a very refined set using glass and metal, very innovative materials for the time.

During the Salon d’Automne in 1929, Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand presented Interior equipment of the house, a modern apartment with minimalist and functional furniture in tubular metal and glass, including a bedroom opening onto the room where the headboard also serves as a room partition. Another bold idea from Charlotte Perriand, responsible for the interior design of the project, which breaks the sacred and closed intimacy of a room by creating an open and functional space.

Depending on the context and the location, the appearance and function of the bed have evolved.

In 1933, the Paimio sanatorium was built by Alvaar Alto for the treatment of tuberculosis before the vaccine was invented. At the time, the best remedy for the disease was fresh air and the sun. Interior spaces have therefore been designed with this in mind and to meet this need.

Each piece of furniture was also designed taking into account the specific needs of the patients. Comfortable and hygienic beds that were unlike usual hospital furniture, cold, austere and sterile.

Courtesy Galerie Downtown – François Laffanour

Echoing the technological development of medical establishments, Jean Prouvé and Jules Leleu designed in 1936 a set of furniture for the Martel de Janville sanatorium at the Plateau d’Assy in Haute-Savoie commissioned by the Air Force. Designed entirely in bent, welded and red lacquered steel in harmony with the colors of the exterior architecture, these pieces of furniture are both modern and adapted to the needs of patients for a peaceful healing. Martel de Janville’s bed has a side drawer.

During recovery time, the bed can also become a place of work, Marcel Proust having entirely written « In search of lost time » in bed, or Henri Matisse drawing on the walls of his room with pieces of charcoal glued to a cane.

In the extract from the film « It’s a gift » (1923) featuring the star of silent movies Snub Pollard who plays here a great eccentric inventor, we observe this curious bed full of mechanisms, notably the feather alarm clock, a poetic invention for a sweet wake up !

The bed also becomes the main and central piece of furniture inlarge university construction sites.

Courtesy Galerie Downtown – François Laffanour

The « Cité » bed, designed by Jean Prouvé for the first time in ca. 1933 for the university city of Nancy and then commercialized in the 1950s by the Ateliers Jean Prouvé. Modern, functional and ergonomic, this bed also met the need to find economical solutions for interior design.

Courtesy Galerie Downtown – François Laffanour

In 1954, Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand and Serge Mouille won the competition for the arrangement of the student rooms at the Jean-Zay university campus in Antony. Prouvé integrates in the project the existing model of « S.C.A.L. » bed. », firstly designed for engineers of the Central Society of Light Alloys in 1938. In single or double size, with or without swiveling tablette, this bed has been very successful and will continue to be sold by the Steph Simon gallery after the war.

Courtesy Galerie Downtown – François Laffanour

In university commissions, we shouldn’t forget the interior imagined by Charlotte Perriand for the Maison du Brésil at the Cité Universitaire de Paris, designed in collaboration with Le Corbusier in 1959. By highlighting the warmth and simplicity of the wood as material, Charlotte Perriand designs a minimalist and neutral bed to complete a simple but functional interior of the student bedroom.

But like many things essential to everyday life, the appearance of the bed changes across different cultures and climates.

Inspired by Japanese culture, the position of the bed in relation to the ground and the use of bamboo, Charlotte Perriand created in 1941 these beds made of bamboo slats, a true blend of Japanese tradition and modern design.

She is also inspired by the use of hammocks for a nap time in North African culture, which she integrates into the resting area of the demountable house of the Sahara, architecture imagined by Jean Prouvé and the interior carried out by Charlotte Perriand for the Salon des Arts Ménagers in 1958 in Paris.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the bed regains its decorative elements and a sophisticated design, while nevertheless retaining its functionality and prioritizing comfort, as seen in the interiors of Jean Royère (1902-1981).

During the 1960s and 1970s, designers began to question the principles of modernism by trying to reverse the role and connotation of the object. In 1969, Ettore Sottsass asked the Archizoom Group for a project to introduce the group in the architectural review Domus.

Archizoom imagines a project of 4 bedroom « Dream Bedrooms » as a manifesto of Radical Architecture.

In line with the new generation of designers that appeared in the 1970s in Italy, Joe Colombo presented in 1969 in his open space apartment the « Cabriolet Bed » which integrated the interior of the studio while taking inspiration from the multifunctionality of an automobile and the famous Italian red convertible.

In 1970, Ettore Sottsass designed for Poltronova his series of furniture « Mobili Grigi » in fiberglass, where the bed becomes the center of the installation in the form of a pedestal and where the headboard is replaced by neon light fixtures!

Here, the bed allows you to convey a political message, initiated by John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono by being photographed in their beds in Montreal in order to protest against the Vietnam War.

In 1972, Marc Held designed for the Prisunic company a set of modular elements making up both a double bed and a living room when the elements separate, an intelligent solution for small apartments!

The bed could have been used as the flagship object of the cover of the magazine « Rolling Stones » in 1977 with the iconic rock group Fleetwood Mac. It is by lying on a bed together that the group sends a message of freedom and well-being that we also read on their faces.

Courtesy Galerie Downtown – François Laffanour

In 1981 appears the iconic creation of the “Memphis” movement, the “Ring” bed by Masanori Umeda. Realized only in 5 copies, this bed plays on the shift of the functions of an object and on the use of unexpected materials such as the tatami, concept very characteristic of this artistic movement.

The bed can also become a work of art, as in Gunter Sachs’ spectacular New York loft bedroom with Allen Jones tables and the bed by Roy Lichtenstein.

Or this fantastic piece of furniture that served as a bed for Salvador Dali, the most famous painter of the Surrealist movement, which is now in the Theater-Museum in Figueres.

During the exhibition « Italy: the New Domestic Landscape », Mario Bellini presents his mobile installation « Kar-a-Sutra », an « erotic minivan » with which we can travel, where we live, we sleep, we make love.

The round bed becomes a true extension of the architecture and the organic and spherical decor of the Bubble Palace by Antti Lovag, designed in 1975.

As for Donald Judd’s house and studio in New York, the bed placed in the center of the room surrounded by the works of Flavin and Oldenburg, is reduced to its bare essentials and its primary function: to be comfortable to rest.

Courtesy Galerie Downtown – François Laffanour

The artistic and emblematic duo of 80s design, Garouste and Bonetti opposes themselves to functionalism, minimalism and technological innovation by creating extravagant furniture in the Baroque spirit, like this spectacular bed « Beaux Rêves « , edition of 8 pieces.

Last but not least, the bed « Laputa » by Shiro Kuramata, his last work made in 1991, drawn from the writings of Jonathan Swift and inspired by an eponymous floating island.

This object oscillates between humor and poetry, between the real and the imaginary, fascinating us and making us want to … dream!


© since 1980 Laffanour Galerie Downtown
18 rue de Seine, 75006 Paris
+33 1 46 33 82 41

Member of Compagnie Nationale des Experts
Member of Syndicat National des Antiquaires
Partner of the Museum of Decorative Arts

©2020 Laffanour Galerie Downtown
18 rue de Seine, 75006 Paris
+33 1 46 33 82 41

Member of Compagnie Nationale des Experts
Member of Syndicat National des Antiquaires
Partner of the Museum of Decorative Arts

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