Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bed Canopies


The idea of the bed canopy had its origins in the Middle Ages, when cloth canopies (known as "baldachins") draped the thrones and altars of emperors and religious authorities. Such baldachins symbolized power and authority. Wishing to assume the perceived authority associated with the baldachin, kings and queens followed suit and began holding court beneath what was to be called the "canopy of state".

The first bed canopies were in fact cloth canopies that covered what was then known as the "state bed", which was situated in a great hall and served as a place for royal sovereigns to greet visiting people of note. Thus, bed canopies had their origins in royal symbolism, but they served practical purposes as well.

In drafty medieval European castles in particular, bed canopies afforded both privacy and warmth, since it was traditional for servants to sleep in the great hall of the castle, along with the lord of the castle and the lord's family. Even when conventions dictated that the lord's sleeping quarters be moved to separate areas of the castle, servants still shared the lord's sleep chamber (for reasons of safety and availability).

As with the conventions of today that signify wealth and power, it was not long before the tradition of the canopy bed expanded into 16th century European households wishing to emulate royalty and nobility, eventually making its way to the New World.

Today, the canopy bed still evokes images of its noble origins. While the idea of a canopy bed may at first seem strictly traditional or romantic, there are different varieties of canopy and fabric that can easily combine to fit almost any decorating style. As a result, the look can be as over-the-top ornate or as crisply tailored as suits you.

Photo of Canopy Bed inside Pavlovsk Palace, St. Petersburg provided by creative commons license and courtesy of Erwyn van der Meer.


If you are lucky enough to have an especially spacious bedroom, a canopy is a great way to create a cozy retreat-within-a-retreat. The bed canopy I designed in the picture to the left is an example of a very elegant, rich design that suited this particular home's traditionally elegant style to a tee:

I've included it here because it has a lot of the elements that make for a cozy escape:
  • A beautiful oil painting hangs over the headboard and is situated where the homeowner will get maximum viewing enjoyment.
  • Swing-arm lamps and an art-light over the painting are practical and provide many options for ambient and task lighting. It's a good idea to include such lighting inside your own canopy, as you'd be surprised how dark the space can be (even with lamps on the nightstands). This is especially true if you elect to have drapery panels on the corners of your canopy and a "roof" panel.
  • A fabric panel behind the headboard enhances the "cocoon" feeling. This particular panel has discreet slit openings, allowing the mounting hardware for the lamps and art light to remain hidden from view.
  • A starburst "roof" panel in a coordinating blue silk fabric (right below) affords a lovely view from inside the bed, serene and yet visually stimulating.
In addition, this bed has only two side fabric panels because the homeowner wanted the intricately carved posts of this "rice bed" to remain visible. The number of panels that you choose for your own bed depends on how elegant you want the finished look to be, as well as how "enclosed" you want to feel. Do, however, remember to consider the sight lines within the bedroom when deciding whether you want two panels, panels on all four posts, or no panels at all. Just as a four-poster bed can be "too much" in a too-small room, so can side panels at the foot of the bed take up visual space and block your views.

Also, note that the finished height of your canopy need not be limited by the existing height of your bedposts. Many four poster beds these days come with a removable finial that unscrews from the main post. For this canopy, we simply removed the finial, inserted an additional 6-7 inch post segment that was stained in a polished cherry finish to match the rest of the bedframe, and screwed the finial back into place. A couple of tips to consider when deciding the final height:

  • You want to be sure that the finished valance at the top will not be hanging so low that people will be brushing their heads against it when getting in to bed. Eventually such contact will soil the fabric (and if your valance is trimmed, perhaps damage the trim).
  • You also want to be sure that the bottom of the finished valance does not hang so low that your view of the headboard and any artwork is cut off from a standing position.


If your bedroom is not large enough to accommodate a full canopy like the one pictured above, or if you just prefer something less elaborate, there are several alternative canopy styles from which to choose.

For example, a coronet bed drape (also known as a "crown canopy") like the one pictured to the left is a really nice idea for a sofa or daybed or for use in a room that's too small for the full canopy treatment. The coronet is grand but does not overwhelm the room and is perhaps less claustrophobic than a more enclosed style. Coronets can either be covered with fabric (left), or they can be showstoppers in themselves, designed to be seen (as in the more extended crown canopy pictured to the right). If you elect to go with the decorative coronet, they are readily available for purchase online.

Another easy option is a cornice board or shelf canopy over the headboard. In the picture below and to the left, the "cornice" is actually crown molding with pleated drapery, thus incorporating the canopy's structure into the room's existing architectural design.

An alternative would be to upholster the cornice in batting and fabric, with the fabric again draping down behind the cornice. This design is similar to a window treatment. In fact, if you have windows flanking your bed, you can even incorporate your window treatments into the bed cornice design so that it's one continuous designer treatment.

Other options would be to hang a piece of fabric from a drapery holder attached to the wall above the headboard and then drape the fabric over the sides of the headboard. Or, you could even suspend fabric panels from the ceiling, a good option if you don't have a four-poster bed but want the look of one.


  • Some four-poster beds come with a canopy frame already included, but if yours doesn't, that doesn't need to be a stumbling block for you. You can build a simple canopy frame to attach to the posts yourself (it will be covered with fabric anyway and so does not need to be furniture grade).
  • Do consider "merchandising" the interior of your canopy. Artwork or a starburst or other framed mirror would make a sparkling statement.
  • If you have a roof panel above the bed, attach a piece of inexpensive lining fabric or an old sheet to the top of the canopy's "ceiling". It will not be visible from the room, but will serve to protect the top of the canopy from dust.
  • If you do elect to have a top panel above the bed, attach the very middle at a slightly higher point than the edges (which would themselves attach slightly lower on the canopy frame). This avoids the illusion that the middle of the panel is "sagging" and will therefore feel less claustrophobic.
  • For the inside "lining" fabric of the canopy, choose a pattern and/or color that you can easily live with--remember, it's what you'll see before you go to sleep and what you'll wake up to every morning. An overwhelmingly busy pattern or bright red, for example, may grow tiresome more quickly than, for example, a tranquil blue.
  • If you intend to make the canopy yourself (complete with valance and "ceiling" panel) and you don't have an air compressor, seriously consider investing in one or borrowing or renting one. It will save you a LOT of time and effort.
  • If your side panels are on rings or removable rods (or are otherwise moveable), consider switching out your fabrics in the summer months or removing them altogether (leaving just the valance and roof panel). While richly-hued, heavier fabrics are delightfully cozy in winter, try something light and airy in the summer, like mosquito netting or a diaphanous tulle.
  • You can save money on your canopy by using bed sheets, lining fabric or even an inexpensive silk. Some Dupioni silks are an elegant steal (check out the Zimman's website, which has over 140 colors of Dupioni silk that you can purchase online for $16.00 per yard). Also, at least one bedroom in the historic Governor's Palace in Colonial Williamsburg features an opulent, billowy canopy of simple cloth panels in plain white, so you'd be in good company.


I hope I've shown you some options for a canopy that suits your particular style and captures the mood you want to create. A bed canopy can be visually arresting; provide a warm cocoon to escape to at the end of the day; or soften the hard lines of a metal or plain bedframe, making even the most austere bed assume a regal feel.

You spend one-third of your life in bed. With a little effort and imagination, you'll want to spend even more time there!
Copyright 2010 - All rights reserved - Pamela Yeaton

Introducing PDQuick! and IMHO!

We all lead hectic lives these days, so there may be times when you're looking for quick decorating tips and observations instead of a longer post on a designated theme. With that in mind, I am introducing a pair of "bite-size" brands that are designed to alert you to the subject matter and length of a particular blog entry. While my "full-size" blog posts will continue to be designated by the paperwhite flower and leaf you see to the left, these two new brands will have a different look.

My first bite-size brand, "PDQuick!", will contain shorter hints, suggestions and advice about how to enhance your surroundings, find or make accessories for your decor, and so forth:

Look for the PDQuick! graphic on the Paperwhite Design blog from here on out.

My second new brand, "IMHO!", will be used to alert you when I will be offering my opinion on a matter related to the content of this blog. Be looking for the "IMHO!" graphic:

As you know, in "Internetese", "IMHO" is shorthand for "In My Humble Opinion". I considered omitting the Humble, but decided against it.

Look for these new additions to the Paperwhite Design brand, along with my "regular" entries, and let me know what you think!
Copyright 2010 - All rights reserved - Pamela Yeaton

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ornamental Fireboards and Firescreens*

With all the modern-day conveniences of today's more decorative varieties of fireplaces (including wood-burning, gas, gel alcohol, pellet, electric, etc.), it's easy to forget that our ancestors actually put fireplaces to work, using them to heat and light their homes and cook their food. Before the 18th century, as a matter of fact, fireplaces were huge compared to today's standards. At that time, homes typically comprised only one room for all household activity (including meal preparation), with the fireplace the central part of the room and daily life.
By the 18th century, however, colonial houses were becoming more spacious, having multiple rooms with different designated functions. Kitchens were moved to separate buildings and there was a greater understanding of fuel efficiency in fireplace design. One result of this evolution in design was the development of smaller fireplaces with more decorative appearance (including decorative fireplace tools and accessories).
However, as fireplaces still constituted the sole source of heat for the household, firescreens and fireboards were used in historic times not just as decorative items but also to prevent hot embers from flying out from the hearth and burning down the house. They also literally shielded fireside dwellers from the intense heat.

Today, the fireboard is far removed from its utilitarian origins. However, today's fireboards can still serve the very important function of looking beautiful while screening the charred depths of the unlit fireplace from view. While it can be difficult to find the exact fireboard you want, given the variables of size, shape, design theme, taste and cost, that doesn't mean you can't be creative and make your own.

The following are some examples of both the freestanding and “attached” fireboards that I have designed. Both types will serve the purpose and look beautiful, but freestanding styles are probably more practical if you plan on displaying your fireboards year round and need to move them out of the way when the fireplace is in use. Attached styles, on the other hand, have a uniquely “built-in” look with the additional bonus of completely covering the firebox.

Dining Room Fireplace

The fireboard in the picture to the right was actually made from a wall plaque purchased from an online furniture and home décor site. The plaque was simply screwed to a wooden stand that was then stained with a cherry finish to match the finish of the surrounding furniture. The freestanding style (as well as the subject matter of the picture itself) suit this colonial-themed dining room perfectly while blocking the opening of the sealed-up firebox.

Living Room Fireplace

In this next example (left), I found this beautiful freestanding fireboard in a home decorating and furniture store. It was actually being sold as a fireboard and I knew it would be perfect in the homeowner's living room. Unfortunately, it was much too tall and would've blocked much of the beautiful mantle without serving the purpose of screening the unlit firebox. No problem. I merely removed some decorative fretwork from below the main display panel, cut down the support pole in the back, and reattached the panel to hang just above the beautiful tripod base. The result is a lovely focal point that makes f or a standalone piece of art in this traditional living room.

Master Bath Fireplace

The next two examples were made for the bathroom and bedroom fireplaces in a client's master suite. As such, I felt it important that their styles be similar but not identical. The picture to the right shows the master bath fireplace with the attached fireboard in place. As with the dining room fireboard above, this fireboard originated as a wall plaque (though this one I found on clearance at a discount home store).

The original plaque was what I'd call a “brown paper bag” color, but what appealed to me was its high-relief detail. Given its “good bones”, all that was needed was to attach the plaque to a larger sheet of plywood (in order to match the size of the fireplace opening), paint the entire piece a nice shade of green ("Georgian Green" from Benjamin Moore), and then highlight the onlays and trim in gold leaf. The board was then attached to the metal frame of the firebox underneath with several small magnets placed on the back of the board.

For the gold highlights, you can either use real gold leaf sheets (which can be quite messy and expensive) or do what I did and use liquid gold leaf from a craft store (very inexpensive and simple to use). It's also worth noting that I had originally intended to use a “burnt umber” wash to “antique” the entire fireboard as a final step, but ultimately decided against it. Sometimes you just need to go with your instincts and know when enough is enough.

I'll be honest and say that when I originally bought this plaque, I had no particular use in mind for it. I just knew it was pretty and had potential and was reasonably priced. I'd think of something to do with it. If you keep an open mind when you're out and are prepared to buy when the opportunity arises (however unexpected), you can come up with some really unusual and inspired ideas that no one else will have.

Master Bedroom Fireplace

Finally, the fireboard below is from the aforementioned master bedroom. In this case, the entire fireboard was made from scratch (but was as simple as can be). The main piece is made from plywood (with subtle raised panels added for depth). I then purchased the onlays from an online supplier of architectural moldings and attached them to the plywood according to the manufacturer's instructions. After painting the entire structure in a rich shade of chocolate brown, I highlighted the onlays with liquid gold leaf. As with the bathroom fireboard, this one was attached to the firebox frame with magnets.

These particular onlays come from a company called Decorator's Supply, but you can also find a beautiful selection of architectural moldings and wood carvings from Enkeboll Designs or White River Hardwoods. All three of these suppliers sell to the trade and to individual consumers. There are also many more online resources if you are willing to do your homework. Or, if money is a little tight, you can also find onlays at any home improvement store (just be aware that the less expensive onlays are made from pressed composite materials and don't have the high-relief detail of the more expensive products).

Additional Options

I've provided just a few examples of how you can create your own fireboard, but there are almost limitless other materials you can use for such a project, including:
  • a framed mirror
  • a large decorative tray
  • an old piece/section of iron gate if you like the design
  • a piece of wood or medium density fiberboard (“MDF”) upholstered in your favorite fabric, covered with wallpaper, or decoupaged
  • a framed poster
All will give you a custom, designer look.

So there you have it. It takes a little more thought an d ingenuity if you want to create something that's special and custom suited to your décor. But it's worth it in the end, because it will be uniquely yours.

*It is important to note that this blog refers to fireboards and screens that are strictly ornamental, which are not intended for and should not be considered as a substitution for the fireplace screens that are utilized today for safety purposes.
Copyright 2010 - All rights reserved - Pamela Yeaton

Saturday, February 13, 2010

My Mission Statement

Welcome to the Paperwhite Design blog! If you're reading this, then we've found each other, and that's a very good start. Let me explain a little bit about myself and the purpose of this blog.

I've had a passion for interior decorating and design for most of my life. I think it was a natural offshoot of my love of fashion. I mean, it seemed only natural that if I loved to put together beautiful outfits and to surround myself with gorgeous fabrics then I would want my home environment to reflect that feeling too, right?

Part of that passion has entailed reading whatever I could get my hands on (or cursor) about design, absorbing it, and then putting it all into action with a whole lot of trial and error. It really gets the creative juices flowing (and, admittedly, sometimes the frustration). But after years of doing this (as well as consulting work), I came to the conclusion that it would be even more fun if I could share my passion and ideas with others through a blog and maybe make their journey to beautiful design go a little more smoothly. And thus was born “Paperwhite Design”.

What I hope to do here is share ideas and have some fun. Where possible, I'll also provide a resource guide so you'll know where to find some of the materials referenced in my posts (especially for craft or design projects). Some of my blog entries will have helpful hints or brief observations about decorating, while others will be centered around a designated theme (and longer in length). I hope that all of them will be useful to you in one way or another.
Finally, I welcome your comments and feedback and would love to hear from you. If there's a topic you'd like to see covered here, let me know. I intend to blog regularly, so keep watching this space! Bye for now.
Copyright 2010 - All rights reserved - Pamela Yeaton