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What is a Canopy Bed?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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A canopy bed, commonly called a four-poster bed, features a tall post at each corner that supports a covering made of material or netting, which forms a private enclosure that can be drawn back. While today canopy beds are considered stylish, their roots lay in a far less glamorous past.

During the Middle Ages thatched roofs were home to burrowing mice, caterpillars and other insects that often fell from the roof on to sleeping victims below. To solve the problem, posts were erected at all corners and a sheet thrown over the top to catch any wayward pests that could then be thrown out, come morning. The canopy bed was a necessity for a good night's sleep!

Wealthier landowners who resided in great stone castles didn't have this problem, but they had another. In early European castles the Lord, his family and the servants slept in a single large room referred to as the great hall. Canopy beds, with their curtains, provided a modicum of privacy. Later, when castles afforded separate sleeping chambers, the beloved canopy beds were retained to provide warmth.

Canopy beds were also useful for other reasons, especially in humid climates like South America. Rather than heavy curtains, breathable netting was used to keep flying insects at bay. While the canopy beds of Old England and France may no longer be a requirement, but simply desired, canopy beds featuring netting are still considered a must-have in many parts of the world.

Canopy beds of countless design are a popular choice for people everywhere. They can be fashioned from many materials, including carved wood and ornate cast iron. The canopy itself may be any material from chintz to muslin, or netting for a tropical look. In the 1970's ad hoc canopy beds became popular when high schoolers purchased defunct parachutes and created billowing canopies over their beds.

The word canopy is taken from 14th century France's conope, meaning bed curtain. This traces back to the Latin conopeum, and before it, the Greek konopeion meaning couch with mosquito curtains, all derived from konops, a mosquito or a gnat.

If there is a silver lining behind every cloud, then mosquitoes and gnats have one as well -- they gave us the ever-elegant and long-loved canopy bed, here for centuries before us, shrouding our dreams into the centuries ahead.

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Discussion Comments
By andee — On Jul 08, 2011

When we were shopping for new bedroom furniture, I kept admiring the four poster queen canopy beds. Many of them were priced higher than what I wanted to pay, so I just kept looking.

One day I was in the clearance section of a local home furnishing store, and they had one there that was being closed out. I was so excited because it was just what I had been looking for, and the price was right.

I love the elegant look of this bed and it has a lot of detail that really make it stand out.

By honeybees — On Jul 07, 2011

When my daughter turned five, we bought her a twin canopy bed for her room. This was quite a big deal for her as she had wanted one for quite awhile. Another advantage of having this special bed, was that she would stay in her bed most of the time instead of coming to our room.

It was fun to choose the bed comforter, curtains and pillows to match. She went with a princess theme, so there was no shortage of places to find things. She loves her bed and it really adds a lot of charm to her bedroom.

By sunshined — On Jul 07, 2011

When I was growing up, I dreamed of having a white canopy bed. Something about the feminine, romantic look of this bed has always interested me. I wanted a white bed, with pink accents all around the room.

I never got that bed when I was kid, but I still love the look of them. I have seen canopy coverings that you can use. This would be an economical way to have the same look without the expense of buying a new bed.

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