First used to conceal the intimate sleeping chambers of royalty, canopy bed curtains have a storied history of decadent luxury. In the past, these curtains were marks of opulence and grandeur, traditionally being made of rich silk, brocade, or velvet. But, in current times, the canopy bed has been stripped down. Top designers have opted to take out the curtain, choosing instead to emphasize the bed’s steel posts and overhead framework. While the austere look of the exposed canopy bed imparts modernity and sophistication, here at Chairish, we never shy away from drama. Ceiling-to-floor drapery can transform a canopy bed into a private paradise—a snug room within a room. Discover the alluring charm of canopy bed curtains and the many ways to style them in this all-encompassing guide.
Where did the canopy bed come from?
In its origin, canopy beds serviced medieval noble families in the East, Middle East, and, eventually Europe. (The concept of draped sleeping quarters is believed to have been brought to Europe by the Crusaders.) In the earliest days of European royalty, noble families slept in the great hall, alongside their servants. Thus, canopy bed curtains initially served as a means of privacy. Canopy bed drapery also provided warmth—much needed during winter nights spent in a drafty castle.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, pure opulence remained the crux for European nobility. Royals transported their sleeping quarters to their own private bedrooms—taking a few servants with them, of course—and demanded more luxurious fittings. Tailors responded with curtains crafted of rich fabrics like velvet and brocade. Grand and undeniably costly, a bed’s draperies often totaled more than the cost of the bed itself.
Canopy beds ruled as a status symbol for centuries—even serving as a setting for nobles to host guests at one point. In the 19th century, however, concerns over infectious diseases mounted. Many believed that simply-furnished bedrooms created less of a haven for germs, and, as a result, decadent canopy beds became a thing of the past. With the Colonial Revival in the late 19th century, lacy iterations of the canopy began to surface again. While some colonial revival canopy beds simply had testers (a bolt of fabric stretched across the canopy frame), others featured more frills and lace.
Why use canopy bed curtains?
Whether it’s cocooned in yards of billowing brocade or simply swathed in a gauzy linen sheet, canopy beds enliven any bedroom. They give off an undeniable feeling of romance and create an impressive ambiance.
It’s also worth noting the canopy bed’s protective design. Canopy beds have the added bonus of filtering out noise and light, trapping heat, and blocking out pesky bugs—especially useful in tropical environments where mosquitoes rage.
Style aside, these historically extravagant beds also serve some functional purposes. Whether frilled-out or consciously draped over, canopies define a sleeping zone within a bedroom, adding dimension and the illusion of more space. When the curtains are closed, you’re left with an intimate sanctuary. But when the drapes are pushed back to reveal a made bed, a sense of breezy openness fills the room.
How to find the right canopy bed curtain?
Unless your bed comes coupled with its own drapery, finding the right hangings for a bare canopy bed can be vexing. That said, every bed has drapery styles that will look particularly flattering on it. Here are our best tips for pinpointing your bed’s perfect drapery style.
1. Consider the style of your bed
While mixing design periods is all the rage right now, pairing a lushly layered tester with a wrought iron four-poster bed probably won’t hit the mark (although our eclectic-loving hearts yearn for it!). The half-size, curtained canopy simply wouldn’t fit on a four-poster frame. Not to mention, the bed may not be able to withstand the weight of the drapery.
If you have a streamlined wooden four-poster bed, consider folding a sheer curtain across the upper frames for a laissez-faire bohemian look. Want to follow in the steps of Queen Elizabeth I and King Louis XIV—the OG canopy bed devotees—instead? Look to the Polish bed, a canopy bed with a central circular canopy supported by four curved posts. Because of their unique shape, these chambers require corresponding curtains that match their round shape.
Mid-Century American brands like Drexel and Ethan Allen crafted beautiful canopy beds made out of mahogany and cherry wood. Due to their age, exercise caution when layering heavy fabrics on these beds. Nonetheless, short ruffled canopies and light linens pair perfectly with these beds, emanating a traditional, yet not repressive, vibe.
2. Consider the size of your canopy
If you’re opting for frame-to-floor curtains, allow about five inches of space from the bottom of the drapery to the floor. The extra wiggle room allows you to easily pull back the curtains and prevents your bed from looking smothered. Plus, an oversized canopy that spills onto the floor could be a tripping hazard.
3. Consider your room
If you live in a humid climate or have an unduly effective heater in the winter, you may want to avoid heavy fabrics that trap too much heat. Another element to consider is your ceiling height. While a canopy bed that reaches the top of a ceiling can maximize your sleeping zone, in certain rooms, it can create the illusion of a lower ceiling.
4. Work with what you’ve got
Finally, the number golden rule of design: work with what you’ve got! Below, Malibu-based interior designer Shannon Ggem swathed an overhead light with a translucent curtain to create a canopy bed that looks illuminated from within. The result is a dreamy sleeping chamber that craftily works within the confines of a small room.
What are some drawbacks to canopy bed curtains?
While canopy beds are undeniably transformative pieces, we do have to draw back the curtain and reveal some potential disadvantages to canopy bed drapery. Obviously, with canopy bed curtains, there is a surplus of fabric to keep clean. Plus, canopy curtains tend to collect dust—a potentially pesky problem for those with allergies. That said, some drapes are made of dust-proof materials like microfiber.
While we all love our pets, canopy bed curtains can also offer endless temptation. Not only do curtains attract animal fur, but our furry friends can view canopies as a formidable challenge (read: claw holes, scratches, downed curtains). Similarly, children may grab onto hanging linens, potentially damaging the fabric, the bed, or themselves.
How to hang any curtains on a canopy bed?
While there is drapery perfectly tailored for canopy beds, any regular curtain can be DIY-ed into a canopy bed curtain.
If you can disassemble your bed, take out the canopy rails—the upper horizontal posts of the bed—using a hex wrench or screwdriver. Then, slide the rod pocket of your curtain panel over the rails and reattach the canopy rails onto your bedposts.
If you can’t dismantle your bed, use rope. Measure your canopy rails and cut a piece of rope that’s the same length. Then, slide the rope through the curtain. Tie the rope onto your canopy rails and let the curtain hang. Make sure the knot is secure, do some adjusting to conceal the rope, and, voilà! You have canopy bed curtains! Just make sure that the rope you select can handle the weight of your drapes.
The Final Curtain on Canopy Bed Curtains:
- Ceiling-to-floor drapery can transform a canopy bed into a private paradise—a snug room within a room.
- Canopy beds have a decadent history that dates back to medieval times.
- Canopies define a sleeping zone within a bedroom, adding dimension and the illusion of more space.
- Canopy beds help filter out noise and light, trap heat, and block out pesky bugs.
- Think about the size and style of your bed and dimensions of your room when picking out the right canopy bed curtain.
- Cleaning your curtains is a must, and some curtains collect dust. That said, some drapes are made of dust-proof materials like microfiber.
- Curtains can also lure in pets and children who may try to take them down.
- Install any curtain as canopy bed drapery by sliding the rod pocket of your curtain through the canopy rails. Or, install a rope across your canopy rails and shimmy your curtain through the rope instead.
Lead Image design by Gary McBournie Inc. / Photo by Robert Brantley