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Why people used to sleep in closets and chests: an interesting explanation

Old sleeping furniture resembled wardrobes

Transformer beds that turn into a wardrobe for a day, capsule hotels that look like a closet with large shelves for sleeping, and even special sleeping niches in the walls all seem to us to be modern solutions for saving space and money. However, in fact, such design solutions are hundreds of years old.

Proof of this can be seen in one of the museums in the north of Scotland. According to the BBC, there you can find a piece of furniture that looks like a large wardrobe made of pine boards. The wardrobe has double doors in its entire length, and suitcases are stacked on top of it. It can be easily assembled and moved to any convenient place. But there are no shelves or hangers inside. The object is not intended for storing things - in fact, it is an old bed.

The multi-bed wardrobe resembles a modern capsule hotel

Such wardrobe beds or chest beds could be found all over Europe from the Middle Ages to the early twentieth century. It was a very popular piece of furniture for sleeping. Some of them were even richly decorated with carvings and windows, made into two-story beds, equipped with drawers for linen and a low bench to make it easier to climb inside.

Such furniture was placed in the houses of townspeople and peasants, it was easy to rearrange and allowed for a relatively comfortable sleep, even if the house had very little space. There is a well-known case from 1890 when a Scottish family took a bed-chest to the barn and someone had to sleep near the dogs and horses because there was no more room in the house.

Poorer people, such as peasants who went to the cities to work, could sleep on such beds for several people at a time. Sometimes this led to someone suffocating in their sleep. It is known that in France, one woman hid three secret guests in such a bed at once, who died because they had no room to breathe. To prevent this, they began to make windows in the wardrobes to allow air to flow in.

Such beds were mounted in different ways. They could be separate pieces of furniture and move freely, or they could be built into niches or attached to walls. They also often had curtains instead of doors, which created a cozy atmosphere.

When there was little space, such a bed could even be placed in a stable

One of the secrets behind the popularity of wardrobe beds was that they retained heat better in winter, which was important in stove heating. Such beds helped people survive the winter during the Little Ice Age of the 14th and 19th centuries. As historian Roger Eckirch explained, at that time Europe and part of North America suffered from a cooling climate. Even the Thames River froze 18 times. So keeping warm during sleep was very important.

But over time, chest beds became associated with poverty and rural life. In addition to the lack of air, they also caused certain hygiene problems. Therefore, in the late nineteenth century, their popularity began to decline. Although it is known that in many parts of Scotland people slept in closets and chests even in the 1900s.

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