One of my most frequent thoughts at open houses, right up there with “If I go back for another glass of boxed wine, will the agent call the police, or merely ask me to leave?” is “This bed is inappropriately large for this space.” Look at enough houses and you’ll learn that only the very largest have bedrooms that can accommodate anything larger than a double without seeming cramped. And yet, everyone insists on having a huge bed anyway; in fact, it seems like the smaller the bedroom, the larger the bed. Is it overcompensation, like a short man wearing an extra-tall top hat? I don’t get it. But we’ve all been to bedrooms where couples have to walk sideways to get into their California King, or the door only swings halfway open because they’ve crammed a queen size into a tiny bedroom.
Although we think of it as a prerequisite for adult life, the bed is actually a fairly recent invention. Up through the Middle Ages, most people slept on narrow benches that served as couches during the day, or on the floor in piles of hides. Then rich lords began sleeping on larger beds. Some of these had cloth walls that pinned to the floor and ceiling so that they were essentially little rooms-within-the-room (fond memories of my childhood bed tent), while others just commissioned huge 8X8 mattresses filled with pea shucks. These lordly beds inspired the excesses of the 17th century which, not even joking, is known in bed expert circles as “The Century of Magnificent Beds.” Louis XIV of France had over 410 different beds, some decorated with pearls, others with gold or red velvet curtains. Many of that century’s royal beds are still preserved in museums, and the first thing that comes to mind when you see one is the size; most of them are tiny by modern standards. A few are monstrous, but the vast majority look about the size of a twin, or even smaller.
The big bed, the King size, was invented in the 1950s, in (duh) America. Everything in that era was oversized – the cars, the houses, the beds. The problem is, that era is over. Huge cars are a relic now, and the size of the average house is rapidly shrinking. So why haven’t beds shrunk along with them? Probably because beds aren’t just furniture; they’re also a status symbol of some sort, a signal to others about what kind of person you are. A lot of “Big Bed” people want to convey an image of the Lady or Gentleman of Leisure. Which is ironic, since the sort of people who a) display status symbols and b) can afford oversized beds, are almost pathologically incapable of leisure. But maybe that’s the point – like the person who defies the cramped dimensions of their postage-stamp sized bedrooms by cramming a stupidly large bed in there, maybe an uptight Type A personality makes up for their inability to relax by dropping a grand on a huge puffy sack of feathers. Others want their big bed to convey that they’re a Sexual Dynamo, which would make sense if sex was anything like Greco-Roman wrestling. A big bed makes sex better like a huge plate makes a piece of pie better. It just doesn’t work like that. So I guess that leaves the practical – sleep.
Okay, sleeping in a big bed can be comfortable – but it’s not worth all the space it takes up. I mean, you’re giving up a huge portion of your bedroom space for something you’re only going to use while unconscious. It just doesn’t make sense. That’s why, about seven years ago, I went bedless. That’s right – I have no bed. And I’ve never regretted it. In that time I’ve slept on a Japanese floor futon, a Korean yo, and various sleeping mats, all of which I rolled up, stored away, or flung into the corner when I got up each morning. My back is fine – sleeping on the floor is actually good for you, and bedframes were only necessary when everyone’s floor was crawling with vermin – my living space looks huge, and no one has backed out of a sexual encounter over my lack of a headboard. Even now that I live in an apartment with a very large bedroom, I still can’t bring myself to get a freestanding bed; it just seems wasteful. And it is wasteful – even literal kings didn’t sleep in king size beds. This is only going to become more obvious as people further migrate from the sprawling suburbs to the dense city centers, and micro-units and tiny houses become more popular. We may be close to a future where the twin-plus bed – or any bed at all – joins the McMansion and the Hummer on the list of obsolete and vaguely embarrassing luxuries.