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.