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The Box-Bed: A Cozy and Functional Piece of History

Box-bed in Austria Have you ever wondered what it would be like to sleep in a cupboard? Well, that's exactly what people in medieval Europe did with their box-beds. A box-bed, also known as a...

Box-bed in Austria Box-bed in Austria

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to sleep in a cupboard? Well, that's exactly what people in medieval Europe did with their box-beds. A box-bed, also known as a closed bed, close bed, or enclosed bed, was a unique piece of furniture that offered both functionality and a touch of whimsy to the sleeping quarters.

A Timeless Design

The box-bed, originating in western European late medieval times, featured an enclosed structure made of wooden panels. This design allowed for privacy and protection from drafts. To access the bed, one would either move curtains, open a hinged door, or slide the doors on one or two slides.

To prevent moisture from the dirt floor, the bed was elevated on short legs. Interestingly, in front of the box-bed, there was often a large oaken chest serving as a seat of honor and a step for climbing into bed. The chest also doubled as storage for clothing, underwear, and bedding.

Closed bed in Finistère (France) Closed bed in Finistère (France)

The Coziness of the Box-Bed in Brittany

In the region of Brittany, France, the closed-bed, locally known as lit-clos in French and gwele-kloz in Breton, held a special place in traditional households. These carved and decorated box-beds provided privacy and warmth during the harsh winter months. In fact, the box-bed was the main furniture in rural houses until the 20th century.

Some box-beds in Brittany were even built in a double-decker, two-story arrangement. The upper area was reserved for the younger members of the family. These box-beds were typically 1.60 to 1.70 meters in length, suitable for the smaller stature of the region's inhabitants. Sleeping in an almost sitting position, the individuals would lean on three or four pillows, following the medieval tradition that associated lying down with death.

Aside from its practicality, the box-bed also played a role in protecting the inhabitants from domestic animals such as pigs and hens. According to Breton folklore, it was even believed to offer protection against wolves.

The Dutch Closet-Bed

In the Netherlands, a similar concept known as the closet-bed, or bedstede, gained popularity. These cozy sleeping enclosures were commonly found in farmhouses until the 19th century. The closet-beds were closed off with either a door or a curtain.

One of the distinct advantages of the closet-bed was that it could be integrated into the living room and closed off during the day, eliminating the need for a separate bedroom. Additionally, during the winter months, the confined space of the closet-bed would be warmed by body heat, reducing the reliance on stoking the stove throughout the night.

During earlier centuries, closet-beds were much smaller. The idea of lying down was associated with death, so people slept in a half-upright position. These closet-beds typically accommodated two people, with drawers underneath that served as beds for the children.

Embracing the Legacy

Over time, box-beds faded out of fashion and were gradually replaced by modern sleeping arrangements. Many of these unique pieces found their way into museums, while others were repurposed into bookshelves, dressers, or TV cabinets. However, the charm and functionality of the box-bed have not been forgotten.

In the 21st century, rental companies offer the opportunity to experience a night in an authentic box-bed, allowing visitors to connect with history in a tangible way. Furthermore, contemporary designers, such as the renowned Bouroullec brothers, have reimagined the box-bed form, infusing it with a modern touch.

So, next time you crawl into your comfy bed, take a moment to appreciate the legacy of the box-bed and its unique place in history.


  • Zaria Gorvett (22 January 2024). "The strange reasons medieval people slept in cupboards". Retrieved 23 January 2024.