The bed is one of the earliest pieces of furniture. It was originally nothing more than a pile of straw or leaves placed on the floor. Then during the Stone Age, this pile of straw was placed on a stone shelf to get it off the ground and reduce drafts. Today, beds are made from many different materials – cherry wood, pine, beech, oak, steel, rattan, MDF, etc. Today, the bed is just one piece of an entire bedroom furniture package.
Furniture made from real wood is very expensive today. This is true even of beech, which was originally a cheap softwood in the 1600s. This is also true of cherry wood and pine in the 1800s. Modern bedroom furniture made from any of these three woods are considered relatively high-end today.
Today’s discount furniture is made of plywood or medium density fiberboard (MDF). Plywood is made from thin sheets of cheap low quality wood glued together with their grains at right angles to each other. This “sandwich” gives surprising strength to what would otherwise be wood that is too weak to be used for furniture. Fiberboard is slightly different. While it is also made from cheap wood, this wood is first processed into a powder. Then this powder is compressed together with a plastic (resin) under high pressure and temperature.
Up until the mid-1600s, furniture in the West was made from hardwoods like oak. Oak was widely available at that time, and oak was hardy against the elements and made very sturdy furniture. Oak furniture for the masses was crude and rough-hewn while that for the nobility was well-made and finely finished.
Unfortunately, oak became overlogged and other woods like beech had to be used. The old furniture makers were probably not unhappy. This change more or less coincided with the growth of the middle class. Using an easily worked softwood like beech enabled the craftsmen to greatly increase their productivity. They made more money selling many cheaper beds to the middle class than they did selling one expensive bed to their feudal overlords.
Today, even bedroom furniture made from softwoods like pine or beech are rather expensive. Unless, of course, you are willing to buy them used in a garage sale or on eBay. If the thought of sleeping on a bed with an unknown history makes you feel creeped out, you can try waiting for an end-of-season clearance sale. You can frequently find some pretty good discounts.
But why buy expensive wooden beds and wardrobes? Because they last so much longer than those made from plywood or MDF. Solid wood can last for decades, even softwoods. Hardwoods like oak can easily last a hundred years with only minimal maintenance. Unfortunately, an oak or teak bed is very expensive and something of a status symbol today.
As you can see, the bed has come a long way from pre-historic times. From a pile of straw on the floor, it became a pile of straw on a stone shelf. Then humans learned how to make wood furniture, and we had oak beds and wardrobes, then pine and beech, and today there are metal, plywood and MDF furniture for the bedroom.