The Ancient History of the Sleigh Bed

Christmastime is here, and although the weather doesn’t seem to agree, Santa still needs to make his rounds in his sleigh. Lucky for Santa, before his long night out on Christmas Eve, he can get a good night’s rest, too. Did you know that sleighs make for good beds? 

Tiger Maple Sleigh Bed by Kit Clark.

Tiger Maple Sleigh Bed by Kit Clark.

The sleigh bed was born 200 years ago – though its roots go back as far as the Greco-Roman era. It’s a furniture type that derives from the “Empire style,” a neoclassical trend that was popular in the 1800s in France and the United States. The Empire style heavily influenced visual and decorative arts, including architecture and furniture. At the height of its popularity, the Empire style featured highly elaborate furniture, especially cabinets.

Sleigh Bed by ShackletonThomas.

Sleigh Bed by ShackletonThomas.

One aspect of the trend was the Empire Bed, inspired by the beds depicted in ancient Roman art with their curved, sweeping ends. It is said that Napoléon fell in love with the style and required that all of his beds be made to follow it. With such a major proponent, it quickly became popular in France then migrated to the United States.

Gasperetti Sleigh Bed - Maple & Mahogany

Maple and Mahogany Sleigh Bed by Bob Gasperetti.

In America, the Greek Revival was in full swing. The American Empire style featured plainer surfaces and curved and scrolled pillars and feet. The beds featured smooth surfaces, a curvy headboard and footboard, and sometimes curved feet. At the ends, the curves “scrolled” to mimic an ancient scroll, harkening back to ancient Greek ionic columns. With its curved or scrolled ends, the beds took on a look reminiscent of a sleigh, and hence, the Sleigh Bed was born.

Vermont Sleigh Bed by Brookside Woodworking

Vermont Sleigh Bed by Brookside Woodworking

Cribs, couches and beds may all be made in the sleigh bed style. Anything with a headboard and a footboard! The members of the Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers have made many sleigh beds in their day (see the several beautiful examples below) and may be commissioned to make more.


Crowley Sleigh Bed by Clarner Woodworks.

Notice the variety in sleigh beds. Don’t be fooled by the plain surfaces, however, as the sleigh style is one of the most difficult to perfect. Guild member Bob Gasperetti put it best when he said these beds are “graceful yet dominant.” The style is still one of the most popular today.

If you are interested in commissioning a piece from one of our members, click here to connect!


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