Why Europeans Slept Inside Boxes

For much of human history, privacy during bedtime was an alien concept. Many poor families lived in small houses, where there was one or two rooms, the larger of which functioned as a bedroom shared by all the occupants of the house. When husbands and wives wanted a little privacy, they had to sleep in a box bed. These were large wooden cupboards with a bed inside and doors that shut others out. Some were free-standing furniture, while others were built into recesses and attached to the structure of the house. Instead of door panels, some were equipped with curtains. Aside from privacy, the small enclosed space of the box bed trapped body heat, keeping the sleeping person warm during winter months. The beds also offered some protection against intruders — especially wolves and other animals — that might enter the house. The box bed eventually became a fashionable piece of furniture, and even larger houses with multiple bedrooms and no pressing need for privacy began to have them. Many 18th century cabinet-makers designed secret box beds disguised as wardrobes or sideboards, or hidden behind rows of bookshelves and drawers. Box beds fell out of use starting from the 19th century with rising concerns over hygiene and stale air.