Let us introduce you to the “lit clos” (it’s French) or as it’s also known, the box bed. A trend that started back in medieval times that is experiencing a bit of a revival. A cabinet for sleeping? Let us explain…
A box bed is essentially a decorative wooden cabinet outfitted with a mattress and linens intended for sleeping. The cabinet was generally elevated from the floor and included a bench to help people climb up into it. The bench also made for handy extra seating during the daytime. The cabinet usually opened on one side with a swinging or sliding door. Some models included a pull-out drawer beneath the main cabinet that contained an extra mattress for children or guests to sleep on. Some were mounted to a wall for extra sturdiness while others were free-standing and could be moved with enough help–they tended to be quite heavy.
The oldest box beds became popular in the 16th century in France, Austria, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Scotland. Through the 19th century, the popularity of the lit clos grew and spread throughout Europe. Ornately detailed and intricately carved examples of the box bed are found in museums and historic locations all over Europe.
There are a number of reasons why the box bed became so popular. One reason is that the average home in the 16th through 19th centuries were comprised of anywhere from one to three rooms (excluding the homes of nobles and the very wealthy). Having a closed sleeping chamber created a sense of privacy in a living situation where entire families often slept in one room.
A second reason for the popularity of box beds is that they helped conserve warmth during the colder months. The linens and bedding provided insulation and the cabinet trapped body heat, helping keep the sleeping occupants warm through the night. Keeping warm during the night was an important consideration in the centuries before central heating was invented.
A third theory is that the elevated cabinet provided safety from animals (and likely some bugs as well). This theory is less practical and has less evidence than the first two but we have to say, a warm wooden cabinet sounds like a pretty good way to protect yourself from hungry wolves while you sleep.
With the invention of central heating in the 20th century along with advancements in homebuilding that increased the number of rooms in a reasonably affordable way, the lit clos quickly became a somewhat forgotten relic of the past. However, this comfy sleeping cabinet is making a comeback. Tiny homes, small studios and loft-style living have renewed the interest in the box bed as a stylish and space-saving option for modern eco-friendly and tiny living times.