A look back at the canopy bed revival of the 1970s

by Carleton Varney

The four-poster bed with a canopy, known as a tester bed, is back in a big way. At the recent furniture market in Chicago, the canopy bed look was bigger than life.

It really has never been out for some people, and reproductions of Williamsburg canopy beds have been available for years. Sometimes the fabric canopy is straight with a valance border, and other times the canopy has a bowed shape.

The history of the canopy

Canopy beds — or tester beds — have been around for centuries, as far back as the 15th century in England and France.

In 17th century decorating, there were many Jacobean designed beds with canopies. and in those days without central heating the fabric, hung on the top and generally at the bed sides too, was used to keep out the cold drafts. The tester or canopy bed was also used in tropical climates: the canopy fabrics were not damasks, heavy velvets or chintz, but were sheer fabrics, oftentimes mosquito netting, to keep out insects.

Every little girl wants a canopy bed, so the story goes. and I have to admit that little girls dig the white painted canopy bed with white organdy top and white ruffled valance. And when little girls grow up, they want canopy beds too. I have planned many rooms with canopy beds, not only in pink and white, but also in green and red and yellow and orange — and in just about every kind of fabric on the market.

I have decorated many beds with canopies of damask designed fabrics or of bright flowered chintz, lined with colorful stripes.

Different ways to use canopy beds

I have seen tent canopy beds of a campaign design for a young boy’s room, the canopy being of bright plaid fabric. And I have seen many charming traditional bedrooms with canopied beds.

One room with a tester bed with a soft pink valance from Heritage’s “Tour de France” collection also featured a cozy corner with a small fireplace. and it was an ideal hideaway for reading or dining as well as restful sleep. The nylon shag carpet was pink touched with brown, and the bedspread was soft rose on white cut velvet.

The wallcovering was a fabric-backed vinyl in the “Helena” pattern. a stylized floral design of rose, pink and gold which created a stripe effect on the walls.

Wood and other materials for the frame

The bed frame of a canopy or tester bed does not always have to be walnut or mahogany. Once I designed an ultramodern room which had a stainless steel canopy bed — the frame was steel and the canopy was of a modern geometric design linen.

The frame of a canopy bed can be painted white and trimmed with apple green, black trimmed with gold, or any colors you wish to coordinate with your decorating scheme.

If you look carefully, you may find a good old tester bed in a thrift shop and can paint and decorate it yourself.

Gallery of vintage canopy beds from the seventies


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About this story

Source publication date: Text: February 13, 1972 (syndicated) - Photos from various home magazines & ads published from 1973-1978

Filed under: 1970s, Featured, Home & garden, Magazines, Photos & photography

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