This section is from the book "Homes And Their Decoration", by Lillie Hamilton French. Also available from Amazon: Homes and their decoration.
THE most important feature in every bedroom is, of course, the bed, and nearly every one has some fad about it. Certain monarchs, who had been soldiers as well, would never, even in their palaces, sleep on anything but the iron cots to which their service in camps had accustomed them. The kings and queens of other days slept in four-post arrangements more like royal hearses than anything else, so trimmed were they with nodding plumes and heavy funereal hangings. In one French palace the guide will lift a coverlet belonging to the bed slept in by a certain Louis and his spouse, and show you the mattress divided, the king's side hard as a rock, the queen's side soft. In our day, in the larger establishments, two beds are often placed side by side, with a small table for books and candle between. At other times, the single headboard embraces hinged bed-frames, which can be swung apart to be made up according to the preference of the prospective occupant, and then pushed together and covered by the same spread.
I know a trained nurse who is as fussy about her bed as any monarch who has been accustomed to a camp. She will not get into a bed with a valance on it. She thinks of microbes. Her hospital life taught her that. She fancies that no bed is well made unless it looks like one in a public ward, open for the inspection of the doctors, - not a hanging visible, and every vestige of an end tucked safely up, like the petticoats of a woman who must pick her way across a muddy street. On some other persons whom I know, a guilty conscience would never press as heavily as an eider-down quilt. They declare that as many physical ills are inherited with ancestral feathers as atavism produces in the moral world.
The carved beds of some ancient Swiss landowners were nothing more than wooden closets, which could be wheeled about the room, and into which their owners could creep, barring the door behind them, secure against the assault of an enemy, or the more insidious effects of a draught. Orientals sleep on divans, in some districts without removing their clothes. They maintain, however, that the custom is more cleanly than our own, since they not only bathe before sleeping, but many times during the day.
Every new departure in household decoration, each new law of hygiene, seems to bring about new fashions in beds. In our day we have not only revived some of the models of old times, but we have, for the sake of cleanliness, gone extensively into metal and brass bedsteads. The white-enamel bed is always in good taste unless too elaborately trimmed with brass. Even when a bedroom is furnished in old mahogany, the enamelled bed, if of good design, never offends. These beds may be single or double, plain or trimmed with brass. Sometimes the four corners are finished with upright pieces to support a tester, so that the bed may be hung as a four-poster. Such a bed is strongly urged for dwellers in country districts infested with mosquitos, where nettings are imperative.
Our mosquito nets, in this country, by the way, are wofully ugly, a disfigurement to almost any room; in Cuba, on the other hand, they are so pretty that they become an agreeable feature of the bedroom. There the beds are always provided with upright posts at the four corners, supporting the tester. The netting is then stretched flat across the top, and falls as curtains around the bed, the edges of which are ruffled or trimmed with color. Malaria, and worse than all, as experiments in Cuba have proved, yellow fever itself, is produced by the bite of the mosquito, so that to the Cuban householder the netting is a necessity, and any trouble necessary to make it pretty is considered worth while. In some houses belonging to wealthy Cubans, the mosquito nettings are made of fine pineapple cloth, while in Spain a silk grenadine with a narrow stripe of blue is often used.
On some of the modern enamelled beds the upright pieces are found only at the head, and support a canopy or half-tester, the curtain falling back of the head of the bed and on either side of the pillow, in this way protecting the shoulders of sensitive people who may fear draughts. In the hanging of these curtains and in the arrangement of the canopy, certain old fashions prevailing among the French are revived. The model often-est followed is that of Marie Antoinette's bed in the Trianon. In certain country houses, when the valance and the bedspread are of muslin and trimmed with lace, a brass ring is fastened into the ceiling directly over the centre of the bed; into this ring a double brass bar the width of the bed is inserted horizontally, and so fastened that a white embroidered Swiss-muslin curtain may be slipped through it and drawn tight. This curtain falls over both the head and foot piece and reaches the top of the hem of the valance. It is edged with a full ruffle of lace, and serves to keep off breezes, besides adding immensely to the charm and daintiness of the bed.
Where the bed and its appointments are concerned, the aim of the housekeeper should be to create and maintain this impression of daintiness and charm. For this reason, where it is possible, the presence of a couch becomes a necessity in the room, so that the bed itself, once arranged, shall not be disturbed until nightfall. For the same reason, the pillows, with their ruffled and belaced edges, should be made pretty and becoming to the face. It is, to be sure, no longer the fashion to hold receptions in bed-chambers, the lady sitting among her pillows in a night-costume of stiff brocade, while the distinguished assemblage pays her homage; but the instinct to preserve appearances, even in a sick-bed, is to be commended. I sometimes believe Mr. George Cable touches upon an almost solemn subject when, in the "Grandissimes," he makes the lovely Aurore, just awakened and praised by her daughter, say, "Clotilde, my beautiful daughter, I tell you now because you don't know, and it is my duty as your mother to tell you, - the meanest wickedness a woman can do in all this bad, bad world is to look ugly in bed."