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What is the point of a headboard for a bed? When invented? Why?

Headboards are ubiquitous in North American homes, and yet, do we really know why we use them? They have a surprisingly fascinating history, and their purpose may be more important than you think.

Bed with headboard

Headboards do traditionally come with footboards, yet these days it is common to buy just a headboard. Some have taken on much more of an aesthetic purpose, rather than functional or structural. Headboards, in ancient times were created for the sole purpose of blocking cold drafts during the night, allowing people during that time to sleep warm and cozy. Headboards date back to the Pharaoh’s in Egypt, where bed headboards, were used to be a sign of social status, The Greeks, updated the wooden and stone headboards with cushions for extra support, thus giving birth to the 21st century bed headboard we know of today. In Egyptian times, the ornate metals used in headboards were really a show of status. The Greeks updated the headboard to create something more comfortable and functional. Now, you can find headboards that do both. That being said, depending on your home, most often we don’t deal with the same drafts because of updates in home building techniques, and the resulting insulation that protects us from the great outdoors.

Generally, you can think of the headboard as a mounted piece of artwork that’s separate from the bed but is also complementary to it in both aesthetics and function. The size will vary widely but generally it’s going to be at least as wide as the bed. Depending on the available space and the overall look you are going for, the headboard can extend all the way up to the ceiling or only a few inches above the mattress. You have to remember, that when it comes to headboards, as with anything decorative, there really are no hard and fast rules – but it’s also good to bear in mind that there may be some guidelines that are good to follow in order to evoke a certain kind of look or theme. Some say headboards just make your bedroom look more put together and grown up. There are many modern approaches to beds that do not involve headboards, and can still look really polished. Japanese Tatami beds have really come into fashion of late.

Japanese style bed and bedroom

Tatami mats have been around since at least the Nara period (710-794), when the word appeared in the oldest Japanese book, Kojiki, or “Record of Ancient Matters”, written in 712. In the Heian period (794-1185), they were placed on top of wooden floors as seating for nobles. There have been many modern takes on the form, creating wooden slatted beds with a very minimal design.

In the Italian Renaissance, on the other hand, beds were a central piece of furniture. The bedroom was not as private as we keep ours today, and was in fact a room for entertaining guests. Therefore, the furniture in the room functioned equally as a status symbol. The bed and headboard had to show the grandeur of the family. The multifunctional bed from Renaissance Florence would have been the only piece required to furnish a room. The dais surrounding the bed served as a seating unit, hinged for access to storage compartments below.

With the Middle Ages came the canopy and fourposter designs. More intricate and elaborate, the bed became the most expensive and important piece of furniture in both rich and poor homes. The Tudor reproduction headboard and base are simply decorated and perfect examples of the era, yet they fit comfortably in a 21st-century setting. In the 13th century the canopy, or tester, was born out of necessity and then popular for its grandeur. The canopy was suspended from the ceiling beams using ropes, and fabric was then draped over to act as insulation against the bitter winter cold. When gentry traveled between their city and country homes, they frequently took beds with them. Portable beds were known as trussing beds. Staff was assigned to dismantle, transport and then assemble them again.

Vintage fourposter bed

The 15th century saw the invention of the fourposter bed. With or without draping fabric, this design became the rock star of the furniture world, with only the truly wealthy owning such a status symbol.

Ash, mahogany and oak were just a few of the timbers used during this time. With reproduction furniture, the harder the timber species, the more expensive the piece will generally be. More intricate designs tend to add to the overall cost, too.

Bedroom in a castle

Upholstered headboards (or stuffers, as they were originally known) became popular during the 17th century, as the demand for comfort increased and draping fabric on canopy beds died out. The bedroom became more private during this time, and the need to show off had moved to other rooms in the home. The choice of fabric is as important as the design of an upholstered headboard. Oils from hair and skin can quickly damage and stain a headboard. Leather is an extremely durable fabric but can be spendy. Some vinyl fabrics look just as good and can cost much less.

Rosevera Givanna Upholstered Headboard, King, Natural

Today, what could the function of a headboard be? Let’s look at these 5 factors that could make you want a headboard in your home:

1.Put-together look

Most headboards and footboards today are often more of a decorative piece of furniture that enhances the overall aesthetic of a bedroom. A stylish headboard can make an entire bedroom seem cozier and more comfortable than just a bare wall. Cozy bedrooms naturally make it easier to get comfortable and fall into deep, quality sleep.

You may not realize it, but your bedroom is likely the place in your home in which you spend most of your time. Sometimes, it only takes one piece of furniture to give a room an exceptional look. If the bedroom looks like it has been unchanged for years and has become a bit dull, getting a new headboard is one of the easiest ways to reinvent the look of both your bed and the entire bedroom. A headboard plays a great role in adding the defining finishing touch to a bed. The best thing about headboards is that even the simplest style can suddenly make your bed  more inviting: the visual backdrop allows it to stand out from the starkness of the wall. Transitioning from a room without a headboard to one with one, can immediately elevate the space and make it feel grown up and put together.

By making a careful selection of the type, texture, and color of the headboard fabric, a headboard helps to integrate the décor plus key interior design elements of your bedroom. With your bed being the natural focal point in your bedroom, a headboard stands out immediately to make a massive visual statement and create the room’s stylistic tone.

With lots of headboard materials (including wood and metal), colors, and styles to select from, you can choose something that blends perfectly with the current décor or add in an amazing textual contrast or color. Also, it adds height dynamic while occupying very little space of its own, which makes a small room look bigger with marginal design effort. The headboard size is something you should pay great attention to and make sure you get the right kind. There are some headboards, like this one, that are completely decorative, but can add a really beautiful touch to your room:

Bed with interesting headboard

2. Comfortable backdrop for your head

Have you ever been sitting in bed, leaning against the wall behind you and find your bed slowly drifting away from the wall just by the force of your body? Have you ever woken up, brought your coffee back to bed and wanted to sit and enjoy the morning paper in bed? A headboard secures the bed to the surface behind it, and especially padded ones can provide an extremely comfortable way of sitting up and enjoying your bed as a space for reading or watching a movie.

Remember to ensure that the headboard should be sufficiently high to support your neck and head without being excessively high. It should also not be too big so that it begins to interfere with other items such as overhead cupboards or pictures. Your spine and neck will thank you for the added support. There are even some options of headboards today that have a slanted pillow effect, providing real back support from the base up. “Lumbar support” can refer to anything that provides extra support to the lumbar region, which most people just call “the lower back.” The lumbar region is generally the five vertebrae in the lower spine between the sacrum and diaphragm. Correct posture keeps this area aligned in its natural curvature and there are plenty of products out there to help: back braces, pillows, chairs, car seats, and, of course, beds.

3. Protection from Drafts

While this may seem like an outdated concern for many, it actually can still be relevant in many cases. Depending on your home, when it was built, and with what materials, as well as where you are located, you may need that added protection from drafts. For those in the southern hemisphere, certainly it would not be a concern. However, for those of us in the north, where temperatures go below zero degrees Celsius or less, protection from cold air at night can be essential. Many cities and rural towns have old homes, where drafts are still common. If you are trying to save on that heating bill, or find ways to stay warm without just turning up the heat, the  headboard and baseboard, especially if insulated with cushion, can act as vital protection in the bed.

Grey headboard for bed in green bedroom

4. Keeping the Pillows on the Bed

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night, only to find that your pillow is in the floor, and your neck feels so stiff you can’t move it? Well, join the club! But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Headboards are a really excellent and easy solution to this problem. A headboard, especially with side panels, will secure your pillows in place, and stop them from falling to the floor midway through your sleep. In most cases, the pillow has fallen into the space between the wall and the bed, which a headboard would have prevented. We cannot rule out the other possible scenarios mentioned, but a headboard will at least keep your pillows in place. And not only does it help to keep your pillows in place, but a headboard will also help to keep your bedsheets firmly tucked in to prevent any mid-sleep sheet suffocation dramas.

At first, the idea of a gap between a headboard and a mattress may seem like an unintentional design flaw. However, the actual reason for the gap is much more functional. The gap is actually there to help with applying and removing fitted sheets. The gap gives you room to properly maneuver your hands when applying or changing your bed linens and other mattress accessories. Nobody wants the frustration of having to wiggle in tight spaces when changing sheets. Unfortunately, this advantage in ease-of-use can be a disadvantage when you sleep.

If you sleep with your head close to the headboard, your pillow might slide into the gap overnight, whether due to you moving around or due to gravity and the weight from your body. While this might seem like a minor annoyance, that minor pain can get real old, real fast. There are headboards without the gap, so don’t worry. In addition, there are removable small pillows that can be added to the space to stop anything from falling down into that black hole.

Top view of bed with headboard in bedroom

5. Filling Space

If you are one of the lucky ones, and you are dealing with the problem of having a bedroom that is so large that you need to think of ways to fill the space, the headboard could be just the solution for you. There are a side selection of statement headboards on the market, that create a sense of grandeur and fill the room, leaving the wall looking 3-dimensionally textured, as opposed to flat and blank.

On the other hand, if you do need more storage space, a headboard can also be the right solution. If you are tired of tripping over things such as books and cosmetic products lying around the floor, a headboard that features built-in storage features can come in handy for you and become the centerpiece of your bedroom. Though not for everyone, if you are a bit short of space in your bedrooms, a headboard can be an excellent tool that pairs as a storage unit. A headboard can come with built-in drawers, shelves, or a bookcase to help you save space in your bedroom.

However, the priority should be your sleeping comfort. You do not want the extra storage units on the headboard to interfere with your rest.

Allewie King Size Modern Platform Bed Frame with Deluxe Wingback/Upholstered Bed Frame with Headboard/Wood Slat Support/Mattress Foundation/Burnt Orange

In the end, there are psychological benefits to having a headboard behind us. Feng Shui Master Consultant Alan Stirling said: ‘In feng shui terms, headboards exist to provide long term security, stability and confidence in our daily lives.  Having support behind us began when we lived in caves; and as such is intrinsic to the human psyche.  The bedroom is the place where we go to unwind and relax, unlike how it was used in the Renaissance period. It is private, and safe, and a place for us to turn off and just get cozy. There is a huge importance of feeling protected in this space, and the headboard can function as a sign of security and safety: protecting you back from the elements, and providing support.

On the other hand, there are some arguments for doing without a headboard. If you are going for a more updated modern, or minimal look, finding a bed frame without a headboard can create the simplicity you are looking for. They can also take up a lot of space, so if you are dealing with a smaller bedroom, you may not need it. For the same aesthetic purposes, you can use a piece of beautiful art on the wall, that can sufficiently fill the space above the bed, and create that warm atmosphere without taking up additional floor space. If you have a tighter budget, going without a headboard might be the right choice for you. Headboards can be expensive and they are not a necessity. When you add up the cost of your bed frame, mattress, covers, pillows, and headboard, things can get pricey fast. In addition, if you have a tighter budget, going without a headboard might be the right choice for you. Headboards can be expensive and they are not a necessity. When you add up the cost of your bed frame, mattress, covers, pillows, and headboard, things can get pricey fast.

There are many kinds of headboards, from wood, padded, to metal, and even wicker. There are some that sit above the floor, and just attach to your bed frame. There are some that are structural, part of the frame including a footboard. There are some that are floating, and are wedged between the bed and the wall. If you want to find out about all of the different types of headboards, and get a complete buyers guide, check out our article on the 23 Types of Headboards!

The decision of whether to use a headboard can be influenced by so many factors, but at the end the day the question is: do you like it? If it suits your aesthetic tastes, and will function the way you want, it is probably a good choice. It is no longer a necessary staple for a bedroom, as it was back in the day, so the decision is really up to you. Knowing that it is something invented so far back in human history, in ancient Egypt, and has survived this long, means it has clearly benefited many people over millennia. If you choose to stick with tradition, and get yourself a fourposter bed, or if you choose to take inspiration from the Japanese and buy a tatami style frame, make sure you prioritize your comfort!

Related: Is It Okay to Have a Bed WIthout a Headboard?