Hitting the hay - the history of our fave piece of furniture

Hitting the hay...a brief history of our fave piece of furniture

 Every night we appreciate the chance to climb into our beds and nod off to sleep, but have you ever considered just how we arrived at this blissful state of sleep comfort?  Technology has improved so many things over the centuries and our bedroom furniture is no exception, with our 21st century sleep even being influenced by the greatest minds at NASA!  Sound crazy?  Well let’s fly back a few thousand years and see how it all came about shall we?

The earliest versions of beds were first discovered in caves dating from the Neolithic period, approximately 10,000 to 3500BC.  They consisted of stylish, oval indentations dug out of the cool cave floor and were filled with the most luxurious straw, leaves and animal skins a caveman could procure.  Who are we kidding, nothing screams comfort here, even the bed was oval presumably because they slept in a fetal position trying to stay warm!  Let’s move on! 

Now the Egyptians, they had the right idea, about 3600BC the raised bed emerges.  A metal frame with metal or rope woven supports lifted the wealthier of society off the dirt floor.  The first version of the modern mattress also appears at this time, as material casing is stuffed with feathers or straw. 

Although the raised design aesthetic is one we still embrace today for its style and comfort, it had a much less glamorous reason for its creation - it was to combat the rodents, snakes and other creepy crawlies that might want to visit you in the night!  However, the Pharaohs’ beds were so high they had stairs leading up to them…err did they think rats couldn’t climb?

During the Medieval period, from the 5th to the 15th century, beds looked much the same as the Egyptian invention of a raised platform and stuffed mattress, with a few exceptions.  Around the 12th century the Germans started getting just a little bit fancy, building the frames out of timber and introducing decorations which were inlaid, painted or carved into the wood.  The French had a peculiar trend around this time also, choosing to raise the head of the bed with a profuse amount of cushions so as to sleep in a sloped position...not surprisingly we see footboards begin to emerge at this time, presumably to stop you sliding out of bed.

As we enter the Renaissance era of the 15th and 16th centuries, luxury and style really start to ramp up as the humble bed becomes a status symbol!  Woodwork becomes less important as everything is draped in the richest of fabrics - silk, velvet, fur and even cloth woven from gold.  The four-poster bed appears, as do feather bedding and the finest linen sheets.  As the bed is now a prized possession and an obvious way to show your wealth, the rather odd custom of receiving visitors in the bedroom becomes popular.  Important citizens, leaders and the royals conduct meetings and discuss business from their bed whilst women greet guests in their bedroom for any form of congratulations or condolence, be it a newborn or a death in the family! 

The 17th century continues this madness and is coined ‘the century of magnificent beds’ with fanciful headboard posts and curtains replacing the fully enclosed four-poster style.  King Louis XIV has 413 beds described in his palace inventory from this time and the bed at Versailles had so much gold embroidery it was almost impossible to see the velvet.


Iron beds take over as the popular choice in the 18th Century with its catchy advertising ‘free from insects’ encouraging people to move away from easily infested wooden frames.  The bedroom also takes on a new role in the house, no longer for entertaining or having servants sleep on your floor, it becomes a place of rest and privacy.

In 1865 the first coil spring mattress is patented, although it is known to be rather squeaky!  In contrast, in 1895, Harrods start selling waterbeds in their mail order catalogue, but we can’t imagine either let to a great sleep!  The 1960’s see the modern waterbed emerge with the invention of vinyl.  However, whilst the box spring mattresses improves over the 100 years from its inception, thankfully for those with bad backs or motion sickness, by the 80’s the waterbed disappears into the watery grave of history’s terrible bed ideas.

We can thank the 20th century for our modern comforts today – spacious sleep becomes the norm in the 90’s with wider bed options available, sleep improves with the development of the innersprung mattress (squeak removed!) and we fall into beautiful dreams on memory foam inspired by innovations from our friends at NASA  - see we told you so!

There was just one slight slip up in the 21st century, with the invention of the TV Bed. Yes, they hid a TV in the footboard which ascended like a nightmare to fight against all things needed for a good sleep.  Although I guess we can’t blame them since we didn’t publish our Clean Sleep research and blog till 15 years later!

And so that brings us to the wonderful sleep we can have today.  But why, you ask, do we say we are ‘hitting the hay’ when we head off to bed?  Well to scare off the creepy crawlies in the straw mattress of course!  All I can say is, fortunately only the saying survives today… and thank goodness for modern comforts like my Helmii mattress!


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