The History of the Humble Headboard

Most of us have one, but how many of us have ever given much thought to why we have headboards? I didn’t either until I was looking online as I want to buy a wooden one to replace my old fabric model and my granddaughter asked why I needed one because I actually didn’t really know!

I suppose these days, most of us buy one for aesthetic reasons, as an attractive headboard can change the entire look of a bedroom, but after a little research, I found history shows headboards were initially invented for a practical purpose.

Ancient Egypt

Archaeological findings in ancient Egypt suggest that the people of these times used headboards to create a barrier against drafts. The first headboards were made of wood, which would be a better barrier against the cold compared to brick or stone. Like many models of wooden headboards available today, the earliest boards were made with a thick pillar at each end, which created a space between the wall and the sleeper; which caused the cold air to drop to the floor rather than onto the occupant of the bed.

A headboard was not widely used by everyone in these days, to own one was a statement of social status, with the wealthy having headboards adorned with elaborate designs. More impoverished members of society would usually go without, or make a barrier between the bed and the wall from whatever they had available – usually straw or hay.

Wikipedia Reconstruction of a Neolithic bedroom

Ancient Greece

Historical evidence shows the ancient Greeks had headboards with more cushioning than the first models found in Egypt, for more support and comfort. Drawings found show ancient Greek headboards carved in silver, gold or ebony, which were likely created more for show than the original headboards that were designed for comfort.

Middle Ages

It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that we see significant changes when it comes to headboards. This was probably down to the popularity of four-poster canopy beds, which again showed wealth and social status. In the Middle Ages, the bed was often the most costly piece of furniture in the home, and the rich were keen on elaborate headboards which demonstrated their high status in society.

There are headboards from this era still in perfect condition today, which shows just how well made they were, and how much money the owners would have spent on them at the time.

Victorian Times

Queen Victoria’s bedroom at Brighton Pavillion

A few hundred years later in the 19th century during the Victorian period, comfortable plush cushioned headboards were no longer fashionable, and durable metal headboards replaced them as the preferred style. Metal Victorian headboards were usually made from iron. However, this trend did not last due to the First World War, when all metal became a precious commodity as it was needed to produce weapons, rather than fashionable items for the home.

Iron bed factory of 1910

Modern Headboards

These days most of us are fortunate enough to live in a home where we do not need a headboard to keep us warm. But I think a headboard still has a practical use helping to keep pillows in place, and also as a barrier for comfort when sitting in bed reading or watching TV.

I am having trouble choosing which to buy for my bed in Spain, as modern headboards are available at affordable prices in many styles and materials, with fabric, wood and metal being the popular choices. Many manufacturers make beds with the headboard attached, but if like me you are more likely to want to change the look of your room more often than you need to buy a new bed, buying a separate bed and headboard is a practical idea.

If you do not currently own a headboard, you might be surprised at just how much difference this simple piece of furniture can make. Not only aesthetically, but also to help you feel cosier, and get a quality night’s sleep, which is when all is said and done is the most important factor we should be considering when deciding on bedroom design.

So, there is my answer for my granddaughter – to help me be more comfortable in bed and to make my room look nicer!