past & present: spool beds + bedding roundup


illustration by julia rothman

Our Brimfield trip was so inspiring that I thought it might be fun to look at a frequent flea market find – the spool bed (named for its resemblance to sewing spools) a.k.a. Jenny Lind beds. Do you have a flea market find that you’d like to know a little about? Leave a note in the comments or send me an email! (amya at designsponge dot com) and I’ll do a little research. Happy flea market hunting!


spool-turned bed at Brimfield – see more finds here

Colonial Furniture
The favorite tool of colonial woodworkers across America was the lathe. In England, 16th century woodworkers left hardly an inch undecorated on furniture pieces and while their American counterparts were more modest, they were still enthusiastic about the technique and turned wood became emblematic of colonial style. Although wood turning had been practiced by the Romans, it was virtually unknown in Medieval Europe and had only been newly rediscovered by those 16th century woodworkers – which explains their ardor for the new style!


spool-turned bedframe, ca 1875 via Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database

Spool-turned furniture in 19th century America
After years of languishing in attics, spool-turned furniture came back in fashion in about 1840 as part of the colonial revival. Only this time, it had a little help from technology. Before 1820, all wood turning was done on a lathe that was operated by a foot treadle – the process was slow and arduous. The new 19th century American-invented power-driven lathe used steam power – the craftsman worked at guiding his cutting chisels. This made it much easier for the colonial look to be mass produced.


[image above, from top: first appearance of jenny lind in america, at castle garden via the new york public library digital gallery and jenny lind in 1850 via the library of congress]

Spool-Turned Beds Named for Jenny Lind
OK – so why are spool-turned beds called Jenny Lind beds? Celebrity infatuation is not a new phenomenon and the “it” girl of 1850 was Jenny Lind.  Jenny Lind was a Swedish singer who made her debut in America in 1851 for a P.T. Barnum production. At the time, Lind was widely popular in Europe and Barnum created a 61-stop tour all across the U.S. for her before ever even hearing her music! Ever the genius promoter, Barnum helped manufactured a Jenny Lind craze – there were Jenny Lind hats, gloves, pianos – even Jenny Lind tobacco – and of course, furniture. The Jenny Lind bed was supposedly the type of spool-turned bed that the singer slept in throughout her tour. A true Jenny Lind bed has square solid corners on the headboard.


woman inspecting a spool bed at the michigan farmhouse auction, 1938 via life magazine

Dating and Placing spool-turned beds

  • The earliest spool-turned beds have long straight lengths of turnings because that was initially the easiest style to produce
  • 1830 – headboards and footboards about the same height
  • 1850s – spool-turned furniture was made with rounded corners because spool-turners developed a method of bending the spool turnings.
  • Midwest and Southern spool beds have a tall-posts (somewhere from 5 1/2 feet to 7 feet high) and were made from maple, walnut, cherry, poplar, cottonwood and mahogany. If the wood had an attractive color, it was left natural but pine and other softwoods were stained or painted.

Facts to Know
Jenny Lind beds were once used at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.

Books to Read
American country furniture, 1780-1875 by Ralph and Terry Kovel

There’s a Bed in the Piano: The Inside Story of the American Home by Myrna Kaye – I used this book for the post on Murphy beds. It gives an inside look into the American home and pays particular attention to the development of furniture for the American interior.  I definitely recommend it!

CLICK HERE for a bedding round-up!

Pretty Bedding!
I couldn’t resist ending this post all about beds with some pretty bedding. I’m in love with the idea of doing a big mix and match with complementary colors – I’m loving grays and blue combos right now. (although those rainbow sheets from Nate Berkus are pretty awesome!) and I have to admit to fantasizing about an all-out girly bed! Ruffles – here I come!

[clockwise from left: waterfall ruffle duvet cover $148, new gate ash cases $70, striped print sheet set $29-119, gray calico $305-385 great plain pillow $195, stixx sheet set $19.95-89.95, felt button cushion $82]


[image above: if…then pillow $68]


[clockwise from left: azure fern sheet set $68-268 john robshaw indigo, tortoise needlepoint pillow $98 ombre ruched pillow $28  trellis sheet set $59.95, diller pillow $49.95 koko – murual throw quilt $162-378]


[image above: nate berkus starburst sheet set $49.95

Barchbo

What a fun post! I grew up in a Jenny Lind bed that my parents found in a barn and refinished and I cannot wait for our child to sleep in it.

Q: does anyone have a resource for mattresses? Because of the unusual dimensions, I have had a difficult time finding a source.

PS: Love those Nate Berkus linens @HSN!

Ashley

Thanks for this post. I have always loved these beds but never knew what to call them. Cool history!

kasey

great post! this is one of my all-time favorite beds, 2 twins in a kid’s room is so cute!

Margaret Couch

Hi Barchbo,
I grew up in a spool bed and have found that a local mattress mart maker was able to make a 3/4 mattress to fit as a special order. However bedding is troublesome… especially fitted. Try your local mattress mart maker first. Good luck!

Amy

I actually bought and read the book “There’s a Bed in the Piano” after seeing it mentioned in a past post here on design sponge. It is an excellent resource that explains so much about the history of furniture and interior design.

Thanks for the recommendation :)

amya

Yay, Amy! That’s great to hear! It’s an awesome book, isn’t it?!

design_SMITH

I grew up – and still sleep in – a spool bed (it was my first big kid bed after the crib). I remember being told that my great-grandfather made the bed for his bride, but my dad said that’s not true. Who knows.

Mine is a standard full, but my parents have another that is smaller than a full and larger than a twin. They were able to get a mattress made by a local mattress company for a reasonable price (it’s a guest bed so it’s not super fancy).

robin charlotte humphrey

Thanks so much for posting this article. I just saw the most GORGEOUS version of one of these beds at en estate sale (the poles went high to the ceiling! I was wondering about it’s history. You have inspired me to post the picture I took of the bed on my blog!

carolyn

fascinating! great great post. (and those nate berkus sheets are screaming my name.)

cake.

i love these kinds of posts. it’s always nice to see smarts and beauty combined. :)

R. Pyper

So excited to see this post! After scouring the Internet and thrift stores, I finally bought a Jenny Lind-style bed for my “someday” daughter last Saturday. Thanks for the great post on the timeless design with modern leanings.

Shannon

Great post! Love the history and illustration by Julia Rothman too. Have just been learning to use a lathe- kudos to those medieval craftsmen who did it solely with manpower! Just beautiful.

Sam

I slept in a spool bed growing up…and wrote a book report on Jenny Lind (aka “the Swedish nightingale”) in 4th grade. i think i still have the homemade hand puppet of Lind who “read” the report in front of the class! thank you for connecting two formerly disparate parts of my past!

Gramercy Home

I’m a big fan of “spool beds” painted in fun, soft colors like robin egg blue. Loved the history – thanks!

Anna Holley

Thank you so much for this post & history. I live in the Caribbean, which has really cramped my flea market style (none where I live!) I came across a twin spool bed in a re-sale shop on island and they wanted $100! A STEAL for where I live. I snatched it up….even though my daughter was still several months away from such a big girl bed. The bed came from an old great house on island. I don’t have the heart to paint it just yet. I love it in its original, scuffed up state. I’ve had the bed for almost 2 years now and need a matching one for my son! Not gonna happen where I live. That was a once in a lifetime find for me.

This style of bed will ALWAYS be a classic!

Rena

love the post and how timely. i did not know the history behind the spool bed. I am picking mine up tonight, purchasing it for $40!

Carrie

I love spool beds! I’ve been looking for a king size forever. Does anyone know where to get a king size reproduction? They are so gorgeous!

izzy

i once bought a spool bed at a tag sale for $15.00 in terrific shape. i couldn’t believe my luck until i realized that the mattress needed to be specifically ordered to fit the dimensions of the bed. My $15.00 bed turned into a very expensive prospect!

Katie

My great-grandfather used to make furniture out of spools! This made me laugh, because I never realized it was a trend…just thought my Granddaddy was creative!

amandita

My sister and I shared a room all growing up. We had matching spool beds painted white. Mine was a bit taller as I am the big sister after all.
Sweet memories!

Thanks for the post!

Pink Pig

Nice job on the Jenny Lind story and i love the photo’s. The beds are always found here in the North Country along with Jenny Lind trunks most however are 3/4 beds which need a special mattress to fit.

ImSoVintage

I always loved spending the night at my grandparents home and sleeping on the Jenny Lind bed. This has brought back such sweet memories for me.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

ChemNerd

Great article! We have a family spool bed that’s been passed down for generations. Never knew the history behind it all. Now searching for bookcase, cabinets and/or sideboard to go along with it in a guest room–any design ideas? Most of what is out there today is either modern or country!

Pencils

ChemNerd–you can get great, solid pieces of furniture on Craigslist for so much cheaper than retail, you just have to watch. And older stuff is so much better made than most modern retailed furniture–unless you can afford thousands for a chest of drawers. Don’t go for a matchy-matchy look, or you can paint pieces and not feel guilty when the didn’t cost much. Whatever color you want: bright, pretty, antiqued, do an undercoat and rub off some of the top layer to get a two-toned vintage look. Then put great pulls or knobs on, there are so many out there these days, from colored glass to wood to metal. I’m dying to try a Union Jack paintjob I recently saw online on a chest I already have.

Sarah

Great information! Thanks so much. I have an antique twin spool bed, but it is the frame only. Can you tell me if I should use a box spring as a base for the mattress? What do people use? If I just put a mattress on it, which would look best and show off the spools, it would fall through!

Lori

@ Carrie – Garnet Hill, Leonards Direct & ebay seller romike205 all do reproduction spool beds in king size!!! Various prices and woods but they are all beautiful….

Jennifer

I own 2 true Jenny Lind beds….one was my grandmother’s that was left to me and the other is one that I purchased off my sister’s mother-in-law. I need to find bedding for both beds. I cant seem to find sheets to fit the mattresses! any suggestions on where to find them?

Contract Beds

I have been looking all over for bedding like the starburst sheets for ages !! Thank god i stumbled across this site !! Some lovely items !

Marney Simmons

I have two 3/4 size spool beds dating from 1830s, both lovingly hand finished natural wood that I would like to sell. I have the right size mattresses for both and some flannel and cotton sheets that go with them. Also, specially-cut sheets of 1″ plywood for under mattresses because the springs make the bed way too soft and hard on the back. The plywood gives lots of support while the mattresses comfort a sleeping body. My guests say they have slept like babies on these beds. Price: $750 each

Warren Harthorne

I grew up on a twin spool bed in Maine and have the head and footboard in my attic. It originally had ropes instead of springs to support the mattress and the original mattress was small compared to todays mattresses. I made side rails that are offset to accommodate a modern box spring and mattress. If anyone is interested, I can drag it out for a photo. I am not sure what to do with the bed, I re-finished it years ago and it is in good condition.

marissa

I was just gifted an awesome spool bed this afternoon from a generous woman from my local freecycle.org group for FREE! It looks so classic and boy’ish in it’s original distresed state, but i’d like to sand and stain in a rich ebony and design my son’s room in a vintage baseball theme since he’s our baseball star in the family :-) This was a great post to stumble upon! Really awesome history on the spool bed! I am trying to determine if it is a true Jenny Lind bed since it was described above as true beds having “square corners”. I cannot locate a maker on the bed, is that pretty indicative of really early/original models? It looks to have been previously stained also. Can anyone tell based on the picture here: http://i17.photobucket.com/albums/b57/blessedsiah/DSC00457.jpg

stacy

Marissa – I have the EXACT same bed, but mine was my great grandfathers! I would LOVE to paint it teal for my daughters room, but I don’t have the heart to touch it! It was my bed growing up too. My husband HATES it and wants me to get rid of it, but I don’t have the heart for that either!

I’d love more info if you ever find it! stacyjotiffany@hotmail.com

maisi

I’ve always wanted to know this! I slept in a Jenny Lind crib and never knew why it was called that or who she was!! Great explanation!

Sue

As a child I remember seeing these beds a lot more. I am searching my memory to figure out which of my relatives had one of these beds. They are so pretty.

Kathy Allen

While coming to research my bed, lest to me by my parents, I’m so happy to learn the history! When I was packing it to bring home (to my house of history) :) my dad said “mama wanted the newest style even though we couldn’t afford it, but I still spent the $8. Because I knew it would last”. It must have been a baby making bed since 3 children and one grandchild was conceived on that bed. And it’s not EVER getting a makeover. It’s an original, baby teeth marks & all – stay!! :)

sharon p. maxwell

I would love to get a price..i have a jenny lind bed dresser and mirror,chest of drawers and night stand ..all the same spindle style..please advise

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