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Vintage Bedrooms | Bedrooms of the 1800s-1900s
Bedroom furniture ranged from the most primitive designs to fancy inlay grand pieces mostly made of oaks, cherry, and walnut hardwoods.
As the country transitioned from the 1800s and into the 1900s bedrooms began to transform into more modern day bedroom furnishings that many still collect and use in bedrooms today.
Even though the Wild West was still unsettled and going strong up into the 1920s, the Eastern half of the United States was enjoying the refinements and wealth brought by a healthy and robust industrial period in America.
The basic bed frame has stayed pretty standard for all of these years. A footboard and a headboard with two sides locked into the foot and head boards using bed frame hangers or mortised joints provides the elevated bed frame.
What has changed is the mattresses’ and foundations and sizes. In the beds used in the 1800s the bed frame would be drilled and strung with rope to form a foundation for the mattress.
The bed size would have been either a single or double size, it was not until the 1950s that the King size bed was introduced.
Periodically the ropes would need to be stretched and tightened using an attachable wooden lever.
As the years progressed boards would be placed across the bed frame and a wire spring box made up of coil springs would form the foundation for the mattress.
This became known as the “Box Springs” part of the bed where the mattress would lay on top of the box spring.
Today, the coil spring concept is still used but instead of being an open set of coil springs located under the mattress, the coils are actually built into the mattress and then layered with padding and enclosed inside a fabric structure.
Known as the “Inner Box Spring Mattress”, with improvements in wrapping the coil springs in fabric and padding over the years have transformed the bedroom from a squeaky to quiet nighttime event.
With the introduction of foam rubber in the 1960s and then later NASA developed memory foam both innerspring and memory foam mattresses have improved in sleep time comfort.
The old time mattresses were mostly made of denim striped ticking material and depending on the source for abundant stuffing material the mattress could be stuffed with straw, corn shocks, feathers, horsehair, cotton or other stuffing material.
Most bedrooms of growing young families also had a baby crib nearby for the youngest child. A rocking chair would also be kept in the bedroom for rocking the babies back to sleep after the nighttime feedings.
Between squeaky box springs and baby cribs in the bedroom, it’s a wonder how those living in those time periods could ever raised such large families.
Indoor plumbing and electricity did not become common in most homes until the 1930s and even up into the 1950s.
Bedrooms in those pre modern times utilized chamber pots and wash stands for the personal needs while bathing was done in the kitchen areas.
Outdoor toilets would be used during the day time, but after retiring to bed the chamber pot, a porcelain or granite pot with a lid would be mostly be used for bathroom facilities, especially during inclement weather.
If you were wealthy enough to have servants they would empty the chamber pots out and clean them the next morning.
This era was one of extreme modesty with layers of clothing for the ladies. A small dressing area would likely be adjacent to the bedroom or a corner of the room would be sectioned off with an accordion divider.
Interestingly the bedrooms didn’t boast large closets, in fact many only had a freestanding wardrobe that matched the other bedroom furnishings.
Wash stands would hold a pitcher and bowl as well as the common toiletries, used for personal hygiene.
This is where the term sponge bath probably developed from. Since there was no indoor plumbing families would pull in a large metal tub from off the back porch and into the kitchen area for bathing.
Although bathing in the kitchen today would seem rather odd, in that period the kitchen area would be the only access to a hand pump or faucet for water.
The tub would be pulled close to the wood cook stove where the water would be heated and then dumped into the tub.
Since this was a pretty laborious chore families would only have one night per week for bathing, which the family would all then share the same bathwater starting with the oldest to the youngest.
Depending on the size of the family the youngest child could be bathing is some pretty cold and dirty water.
Back in the bedroom, either the wash stand would have a shaving mirror or an adjacent stand would hold the man’s shaving equipment which consisted of a shaving cup and brush, a straight edge razor and a leather sharpening strop.
Since germs were of unknown importance tooth brushes and other personal hygiene items would often be shared.
The bedrooms would also likely have comfortable sitting chair(s) for reading or knitting. Since over half the country didn’t have electricity up until late 1930s an oil lamp would sit on an adjacent table for night time lighting.
The bedroom if large enough might also have a small desk and chair that would be used for writing letters and cards before retiring for the evening.
Pretty much like today clothing would be stored in a dresser drawers or a high boy chest of drawers. Most all the dressers were equipped with an adjustable mirror.
Wall to wall carpet was not invented yet so wood floors from pine to hardwood would be the main floor surface covered with area rugs.
Since central heating was not yet invented either so each room including the bedroom would be equipped with a fireplace or wood stove.
During the summer months families would depend on evening breezes to cool off hot bedrooms.
Electric fans were not available, so in the construction and the placement of windows in a new home to catch prevailing summer breezes was a very important consideration.
Most of the homes were equipped with window transoms, a small window that opened over the top of the room door. This allowed air flow even with closed doors for privacy.
Although window screens were invented in middle 1800s they were slow to be used as a method to prevent flies and mosquitoes from invading the home and bedrooms.
Perhaps because it was then unknown how these insects carried diseases, but they knew enough to have screen covers over open food.
Most slept in bedrooms during the hot summer nights with wide open windows, or if the heat was bad enough they would pull the mattress out on to an open porch.
Some of the post style beds would be draped in netting apparently to allow for a good night’s sleep without having mosquitoes and flies buzzing.
Depending on the wealth and need for fabric to make the family clothing or curtains, the bedroom curtains could be plain or elegant with lace and fancy valances.
Most all the rooms including the ceilings would be wallpapered. The more wealthy even imported wallpaper and rugs from overseas.
To visit one of these historical vintage bedrooms during a nice cool day makes you want to move right in until you begin to consider the lack of the all modern convinces that we sometime take for granted.
Pictures are courtesy of Cottage Craft Works back to basics online general store located on the web at www.cottagecraftworks.com.