When the rest of the room permits the extravagance, the cover may be made of some rich old embroidered satin or silk, results of a forage in old palaces abroad; brocades are used in this way, fine old damask, rare Japanese and Chinese embroidery, the half-tester or canopy being hung with them. But these stuffs, it must be again insisted, are never permissible unless the other appointments of the room are in keeping.
A pretty bedspread, designed by a royal English princess interested in applied design, shows white mercerized cotton worked with green leaves, which outline the square top of the bed, the centre being filled with embroidered roses scattered over it. This mercerized cotton, it is to be explained, is a comparatively new material for hangings, imitating, with its raised figures, the effects and designs of brocades. It is cheap and satisfactory when its colors are good; the trouble, however, lies in its crude-ness, or bad combinations of color. Another coverlet made by an American is of a heavy linen or crash, with green leaves and poppies scattered over it charmingly. "Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care" is interwoven in a running text among the flowers. Linen stuffs in various colors, and heavy linen laces, may be used successfully in the construction of similar articles.
In a pretty bedroom of a certain town house, an Empire bed - head and foot pieces of similar height and ornamented with wreaths of ormolu - has been pushed back against the wall of an alcove. The drapery, of richly embroidered satin, has been hung, tent-fashion, over it, but instead of leaving the wall bare, the satin has been caught up against it with a golden figure. Such an arrangement, like many of those just described, must only belong to rooms finely appointed in other respects. Propriety and harmony must be preserved. One must understand that such bed-furnishings belong to a woman whose other possessions correspond to them, and who has wealth enough to command a service sufficient to change or renovate her hangings whenever necessary, without disarranging her whole domestic establishment. Effective as this particular drapery is in its particular room, it would have been unendurable in any bedroom where the rest of the house suggested a careless management, and out of the question for a simple country house with mattings on the floor, or in a room cumbered by a sewing-machine and work basket.
When a woman is poor, and has only a limited number of servants or none, she must resort to soap and water when her hangings are to be freshened and the results of the season's wear are to be remedied. She cannot, like her more opulent neighbors, depend upon the linen-draper or the upholsterer; neither can she, in her purchases, yield to whims of fashion, nor discard an outgrown fancy. She must content herself with what she has, and what she has she must keep clean. She does not always remember this, and to save time and trouble she will buy a bedroom hanging that is both pretentious and unsuitable. A simple bedroom with spotless linen and dainty hangings will always hold its own, and compare favorably with the more sumptuous furnishings of elaborate apartments. Those of limited means, who may have tastes beyond their purses, should bear one thing in mind - the privilege of cleanliness, that finest of virtues, is always theirs. No wealth can command for them anything intrinsically finer. I once knew a young girl, forced to live in one of the dreariest and most desolate of small apartment-houses. It took all one's courage to enter the dark hall and mount the still darker and always dusty stairway. But once in her little apartment, with a view of her bedroom, one's whole attitude suddenly changed. Fresh white muslin was everywhere, and the atmosphere it imparted compelled admiration.
Four-posters, like the enamelled beds, may be dressed with flowered chintz, with dimities, muslins, or with richer stuffs. A New England four-poster, long cherished as an heirloom because for a single night it had sheltered the great Lafayette, was, I remember, hung with a yellow damask of beautiful tone; for the most part, however, these old beds were trimmed with dimities or chintzes or homespun linens, edged with home-made fringes, handed down from generation to generation. There was always a valance, and the coverlet might match or not, but the valance on the tester was always of the same stuff as that on the bottom of the bed, as were the curtains, which sometimes fell on all four sides, or appeared only about the head. The tester itself, when curved, was topped with material laid perfectly plain, otherwise the stuff was fulled and drawn to a button in the centre. Under the direction of an artist, an old carved four-poster has been hung with a valance and curtains of the softest velveteen of an exquisite green, a green that in some lights shows the very silvery quality seen on the leaves of the apple-tree in the spring. At the head of the bed, in the space between the top of the headboard and the tester, there is a large plaster cast of the Singing Boys, toned to a soft ivory white. The rest of the room is in ivory white and green.
From what has been said, it will be seen that a bed need follow no arbitrary fashion in design or construction. These details are governed by the tastes of individual owners, each man or woman being entitled to his or her own way of sleeping most comfortably, but that, while yielding as it does to personal requirements, good taste demands that it be well appointed, and by the term "well appointed" absolute freshness and daintiness of detail is implied. It will be seen, too, that the bedstead is one affair, its hangings another, and that for this reason a beautifully carved bedstead may be appropriate amid the simplest surroundings, as it was in the old Dutch houses, but that the proprieties are altogether violated when certain stuffs are introduced as hangings, when the cheap and tawdry are permitted, and when the magnificence of the opulent is imitated by those who have not the means to make their finery appropriate.