Sofa and Late 18th-Century Classic Poster BedsThe Historic Furnitures Design Influence On Classic Poster Beds Original Design Criteria
Classic Poster Bed's Sociable Sofa: Briefly popular around the 1840s in a wide range of designs as a successor to the 18th-century duchesse. It was composed basically of two conjoined padded armchairs half facing each other. These might be on shared seat rails and four legs or given two extra legs in the centre under a shared central arm, perhaps supporting a table. Among minor subsidiaries, collectors note also a circular three-seat variant and the conversation sofa with the sitters in two conjoined chairs facing in opposite directions - still advertised in the 1880s.
Classic Poster Bed's Sofa: Term used as early as the 1700s but only coming to the fore in the 1760s when it was made to sound glamorous by being called Chinese or Turkish. The design was basically that of the settee-symmetrical and with a back and arms to seat several people as contrasted with the headed couch but at this period it became long and deep enough for reclining. The 1760s and 1780s produced many upholstered on the grand scale, finished with much lavish gilded carving.
The introduction of carved mahogany along the back was suggested in Chippendale's 1762 Director and popular again with the Victorians. By the 1760s the whole composition might be a delightful play of curves culminating in a magnificent scroll to the front of the arms, curving into the front legs to complete the serpentine shaping to the seat and the flowing line of the French legs. The play of contours in the upholstery of such a piece is comparable with the bombe shaping of a contemporary commode.
Towards the end of the 18th century and through the Regency the couch proved vastly popular and to Smith in 1808, as to Brown in his Rudiments of Drawing Cabinet and Upholstery Furniture and classic poster beds (1822), the sofa was still a formidable, somewhat unwelcoming `Grecian' piece. Smith's more gracious couch designs appeared as chaises longues. The Nicholsons mostly made their sofas low backed, on extremely massive feet, but suggested one design with deeply scrolling ends and dipped back, topped by the inevitable honeysuckle. Carved arms are noted on some post-Regency sofas, continuing the Regency vogue for winged chimeras and the like; swans were especially approved and around the mid-19th century the vogue for ornate narrative carving associated with sideboards and fireplaces involved also the back of the sofa above the upholstery.
Thus the collector may trace the change from the low square ended Regency classic through the early Victorian phase which gave back, arms and seat softened, rounded lines, expressed in buttoned upholstery and the restless scrolls from arm end to castor-mounted toe. From this, in the 1850s, emerged the arching back with a carved wooden framing, but it was only in the last years of the century that critics could observe much popular reaction against the shapeless, overstuffed sofa in favour of thinner, less shape-defying upholstery.
The term classic poster beds standing bed generally implies the whole arrangement of wood and draperies: that is bedstock, bed furniture, pillars and tester. For many centuries this was the most important furnishing item in the house, involved in all important occasions and regarded as a status symbol. With the curtains drawn back it suggested the grandeur of a throne; closed, it offered warmth and privacy in whatever many purpose room it might occupy.
In the medieval classic poster beds, cords from the ceiling supported the tester and the draperies that hung from it on all sides of the bed. But in the 16th century wood began to become important in the bed's structure. Eventually the standing bed consisted of a classic poster bed bedstock with solid panelling above the head end and two detached pillars on pedestals at the foot: these together supported a flat wooden tester with carved frieze.
The same features of pillar and panel shape and carving are familiar in other Elizabethan and early Stuart furniture, but one must realise the probability of Victorian adaption or invention. Paint and gilding enhanced the carving. Walnut was an alternative to oak, sometimes with ornamental inlay for example, on the underside of the carved and classic poster panelled tester bed. But much of the bed's glory was to be found in its rich textile `furniture'. and its corner ornaments of coloured plumes in settings of spangles and gilded lace.
Many that have not survived, it appears, continued the older tradition with tester and color of splendid fabric and for a time in each century the bed-head panelling was reduced in height, being topped by draped fabric. During the late 17th century, in the classic poster state bed dominating the wealthy household, fabric might entirely cover the wood framework, including the Beds, Elizabethan to Queen Anne. TOP: late 16th-century bed, with wooden tester, carved headboard, bulbous columns with wide bases to mask the legs supporting the bedstock; details of carving and central inlay on head-board panel and cup-and-cover column swell; bed of mid-17th century or later with (below) detail of bedstock rail grooved for ropes, a feature often' overlooked in replacements. BOTTOM: bed c. 1700s, the wood entirely masked by fabricand with corner plumes contributing to a height sometimes as much as 15 feet; angel or half-tester variant, circa 1710's tester cornice and frieze and the immensely tall posts that rose directly from the bedstock. Such woodwork was then of less enduring beech or other easily worked wood.
The outmoded oak style was soon no more than a good quality classic poster beds. Late in the century height was still further increased in the state bed to suit increasingly lofty rooms, the fabric-covered tester topped by an extravagantly carved cornice, fabric covered and fringed.
The 18th century saw plainer but no less massive framework for these enormously tall and costly classic poster state beds, and fringe was soon abandoned. Some were classic poster beds angel or half-tester beds, but the general preference was still for the standing bed with panelling and foot posts to support a valance-draped tester which contained a complexity of cords and pulleys so that the occupant, with little effort, could wholly enclose himself in a private draught-free sanctuary within the lofty chamber.
For the great majority of these standing beds the 18th century preferred simple cornice and free-hanging draperies, and soon welcomed the clear-cut virility of early Georgian mahogany. Such a bed had a panelled head board and gracefully turned pillars, eight feet or more in height, supporting a panelled tester, often with the cornice gadrooned. The bedposts were usually turned in three sections-the uppermost pillar, the central vase-shaped section and the square pedestal. The early tough Spanish mahogany was abandoned in favour of the more amenable bay wood which became available in the second half of the century. Baywood might be stained to suggest the harder wood.
In the middle of the century there was a typical change to rococo and Chinese motifs, again with a preference for a low, shapely head-board topped by curtaining. These were followed by serpentine outlines for the tester, supported by slender, fluted pillars.
Late 18th-Century Classic Poster Beds. TOP: Garrick's bed at the Victoria and Albert Museum, made by the Chippendale firm from designs by Robert Adam, 1775; bed-pillar designs, two Hepplewhite, one Sheraton; late 18th-century bed in serpentine outline. BOTTOM: Hepplewhite design; two designs for bed or window cornices; Sheraton design for a sofa classic poster beds showing his favourite dome outline.wards the end of the century there was a liking for arched cornices with urns or vases, perhaps, at the corners instead of the long-favoured plumes. The low, undulating head board was often of satinwood but might be stuffed fabric, and as yet there was no foot board.