Considering that it is the one piece of furniture we probably spend the most time on, it’s astounding how ambivalent some folks are about beds.
Yes, dear readers, there is a section of the population for whom the bed is a mere statement in horizontal utilitarianism, an inner-sprung resource. For others, however, it is a queen-sized canvas for self-expression, expansive items as much for gazing upon and embellishing as collapsing on come day’s end.
As such, they are prone to the fashions, fads and foibles that characterise so many other areas of decor.
Case in point: the four-poster. Although now mostly found lingering in country B&Bs, until the early ’90s the four-poster bed was the epitome of elegant romance. Many a honeymoon was breathlessly embarked upon beneath a redundant canopy – you were, after all, indoors – of Sanderson print. There was doubtless a grandeur to a quartet of mahogany posts soaring ceilingwards, a sense that you were grabbing 40 regal winks.
The mosquito net was another add-on that had its gauzy moment. Suspended from the ceiling on a ring, it actually had a practical, insect-defying purpose, while rendering whoever was reclining behind its diaphanous folds in appealing soft focus. Or early-stage glaucoma. That was until a lone mozzie somehow – yet inevitably – snuck between the transparent swathes to the inner sanctum for a night-long shrill serenade, accompanied by self-administered slaps to the limbs as it sought flesh. Not exactly Fifty Shades of Grey.
“It rendered whoever was reclining behind its diaphanous folds in appealing soft focus. Or early-stage Glaucoma.”
For a minute there, we also turned to pretty much the exact opposite – from four-poster to futon. Nothing else quite exemplified the simple allure of Japanese minimalism like the futon. Until, of course, we realised that all of its apparent back and spine benefits were cancelled out by getting into and out of a bed that sat mere centimetres off the floor. For a time, we were also besotted with the idea of sleigh beds, which paid sweeping and curled timber homage to the horse-drawn vehicles you might splash out on in St Moritz to take you from après to Gasthof. And you just had to have a faux fur throw to complete the picture.
Which brings us to bedlinen. You know the saying, “Can’t see the forest for the trees”? Well, there were times when you couldn’t see the bed for the cushions. We took the scatter in scatter pillows not so much as a suggestion but an order. A bed wasn’t a fashionable sanctuary unless it had to be undressed before entry was possible. And if you think we’re going to make some smutty double entendre here, you’d be wrong. At times it was nothing but a big sham. Which is an excellent joke if you happen to know that a sham is, according to dictionary.com, a decorative pillowcase for covering a pillow when not in use. Shams were merely the top layer of a triple-decker pillow sandwich, with the bottom two actually used for sleeping.
The sham was there purely for decorative purposes, a textile show pony either matching the bedlinen or – to borrow a fashion phrase – “worked back” in a complementary hue.
Far more welcoming was the reading pillow, an oversized V-shaped affair that supported the back and shoulders while Jackie Collins whisked you on her latest “sweeping saga of three generations, two continents and a love that would not die”. For some reason, these were only available in beige, off-white, white and pastels.
“Nothing, apparently, was as visually unappealing as that gap between a mattress base and the floor.”
Then there was the valance, a word beloved by Scrabble devotees and so mellifluous that TV starlet Holly chose it as her last name over Vukadinovic. Nothing, apparently, was as visually unappealing as that gap between a mattress base and the floor. The solution was fitting on ruffles of fabric in either a neutral shade or one that matched the doona cover and pillows. It was the ultimate statement in co-ordination, and in the current era, which seems characterised by a militant march towards a streamlined “less is more” approach, the odd bulwark of chintzy charm is a welcome respite.
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