Early sleigh beds resembled boats

Published March 14, 1998|Updated Sept. 12, 2005

(ran HP, HC editions)

Sleigh beds were once built to resemble boats, not sleds, as the name suggests.

The painter Jacques-Louis David designed the sleigh bed in the shape of a boat in the early 1800s, a shape that remained popular for much of the first half of the 19th century. The canopy for the bed was held up by a kind of mast, and the frame was curved to make it look like a seafaring vessel.

One sleigh bed in the shape of a boat, included in an 1827 book of design, was in the form of a Venetian gondola. Many sleigh beds were also decorated with allegorical bronze figures, encrusted with enamel cameos or ormolu.

In time, the sleigh bed would become more refined, with less detail, to resemble the curved front of a sleigh. Cabinetmakers of the period often designed them with headboards that were higher than the foot.

The sleigh bed as we now know it, with sleek, smooth scrolled lines, is a version of the original early 18th-century French or sleigh beds, which remained popular through the Regency period of 1715-1723 and into the Empire years of 1804-1815.

Sleigh beds continued through the 1920s Art Deco period.

The beds were meant to be placed sideways and centered against the wall with a coronet (small crowned canopy) attached to the wall and fabric sides cascading out and over each end of the bed.

In later years, the bed was moved out into the room with only the headboard against the wall as a convenience, because they were so hard to make up (unless you had servants) and for better ventilation.

Antique sleigh beds can be found for $6,000 and higher. New reproductions can cost $1,200 to $2,000.