Sun rises again for the versatile daybed

Modern styling transforms a once-quaint piece of furniture into a double-duty dream

October 07, 2007|By Elaine Markoutsas | Elaine Markoutsas,Universal Press Syndicate

In state-of-the-art homes teeming with technological toys, the notion of a daybed is almost anachronistic. Even the word seems oddly old-fashioned.

But despite its quaint label, the daybed has been inching its way back into the design lexicon and retail stores for the last few years. Often deeper than a sofa, or slim as a twin bed with or without sides, it's more a generous settee than a one-sided chaise.

Designed for more than sitting, it beckons. Whether you sit, sprawl or flat out nap on it, the daybed is the ultimate piece of cocooning furniture.

The full realization of what the daybed can be actually came to the fore outdoors, where it can take on a seductive, exotic look. Recently featured in Gump's catalog was the glamorous Sulu canopy, a four-post daybed crafted from Philippine mahogany with grid-like insets of woven abaca on the sides and front base. Fitted with a thick mattress and appointed with back cushions and throw pillows, it's topped with a billowy sheer cotton canopy, and the look can evoke South Beach to South Seas.

At $1,995, the Sulu is a more affordable version of the glam canopied four-post that Long Beach, Calif., designer Richard Frinier designed for Dedon in 2003. That romantic piece, with its Moorish-style weave of Hularo, a resin fiber, was designed, as Frinier said, "with the same comfort level as an indoor bed." With gauzy fabric panels that envelop it, the daybed, appropriately named Daydream, retails for $9,000.

That such sophisticated daybeds are available for furnishing outdoor rooms attests to their newfound trend status.

"The reason I think daybeds are so popular," says Tom Delavan, editor-at-large for Domino magazine, "is because they do double duty. By definition, a daybed is a bed and seating."

Versatile enough to take the place of sofa beds and even sofas, daybeds are especially useful with trundles or storage tucked beneath.

"They're really great for studio apartments, where there's no room both for sofas and beds," Delavan says. Affordability is another selling point, at just under $400 for the low end to about $2,500, with an average between $1,000 and $1,500.

And with styling that ranges from simple to sumptuous, from streamlined to cottage-style to baroque, daybeds easily move into family rooms or dens, sunrooms, home offices, guest bedrooms and even living rooms. A mix of materials, from dark woods such as mahogany to maple, makes daybeds fit both in casual and dressy environments.

From retailers such as Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, West Elm and Horchow Home, you'll find cottage country with beadboard panels and wood finials, slip-covered models that feature machine-washable covers, classic curvy sleighs, bamboo look-alikes, mid-century modern styles that often are upholstered, and canopied versions resembling scaled-down four-poster beds. Ballard Designs has a handsome black honey- finished English Colony daybed with caned sides.

The considerable range of current styles may surprise baby boomers who recall Grandma's uncomfortable Victorian-inspired metal daybeds or plain unadorned pieces that were no more than mattresses on casters. But the design roots are rich.

"The trundle gave daybeds a bad name," Delavan says. "The metal trundle apparatus often was visible beneath the mattress and not only was unattractive, it looked flimsy. It also added a [visual] heaviness to the lower half."

Today's trundles are more cleverly hidden, more integral to the overall design or totally covered with skirts. And gliding or pop-up mechanisms generally are smoother.

Actually, it wasn't until the industrial age that significant distinction was made between beds and sofas.

Primitive daybeds were no more than slabs of stone or wood, but sometimes they were embellished with considerable carving. Early primitive Egyptian models were made of palm sticks or palm leaf wicker laced together with rawhide. In first dynasty Egyptian tombs (about 3100 to 2890 B.C.), craftsmanship often featured wood frames standing on carved animal legs, gazelle-like hooves or lion's paws. Veneers included inlays of ivory or ebony, and bases were woven with leather strips.

Beds found in the tomb of Tutankhamen (1336-1327 B.C.) were made of gilded or gesso-coated wood, some with sides in animal shapes.

In ancient Greece, daybeds were an integral part of socializing. Drinking, game playing and even eating centered on a piece of furniture called the kline, a daybed. Around the eighth century B.C., the Greeks took to reclining while dining, a practice widely documented in art. The daybeds were dressed with plush embroidered mattresses.

The Romans borrowed daybed designs from the Greeks, but also fused Etruscan and Eastern motifs. One elegant Pompeian daybed from the first century had turned legs and decorations of bone. Simple construction often was elevated with expensive drapery or cushion fabrics.

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