There's something mythic about a four poster bed. I blame fairy tales. Within every sane adult female, there's a little girl who secretly believes that she's a princess. And, like Sleeping Beauty, she wants to sleep in a four poster bed. Irish princesses liked four poster beds too.
In Standish Hayes O'Grady's translation of the 12th century manuscript Acallam na Senórach (Colloquy of the Ancients), Credhe's fairy mansion was described in detail: "Four posts round every bed there are, of gold and silver laid together cunningly; in each post's head a crystal gem: they make heads not unpleasant [to behold]." With such a weight of cultural conditioning, what hope have any of us?
The greatest and most mythic of contemporary Irish four posters were designed by Joseph Walsh and first made in his studio in Riverstick, Co Cork, in 2010. The Enignum Canopy Bed is massive and magnificent, its curved frame rising from the base and doubling back over the bed like a scorpion's tail. Organza silk drapes are suspended elegantly from the sculpted wood.
Walsh intended the bed to be a cocoon, which is what the traditional four-poster is all about, but he has achieved its extraordinary shape by layering and bending wood. And, if the bed has the look of bog oak, weathered over millennia, this is not entirely accidental.
"The natural world around us consists of layers and these layers which record time," says Walsh. "In this concept, I wanted to explore layering in the natural world around us, how these layers have recorded time and how time has shaped them."
The original Enignum (2010) was commissioned by the Kalgoris family of NYC, who have since donated it to the National Museum of Ireland. Other versions of the design have emigrated. Each is one of a kind and their price is calculated on application, but one version at least was previously reported in the high gloss fashion press as costing €144,000! Of the two to be made in 2020, one will travel to Shanghai and the other will go to a Westmeath castle. It will be the first Enignum to be commissioned within and to remain in Ireland.
Twentieth century four posters, in contrast, were a sore disappointment. They were old, their mattresses were lumpy, and their fusty drapes were laden with dust.
"My parents had one!" says Mary Ryder, interior designer. "It was a horrible-looking thing in carved mahogany with heavy red tapestry drapes. The best thing about it was that it was very high off the ground so all of us kids could get under it when we were playing hide-and-seek."
Now the four poster bed is undergoing a phase of reinvention and the one on display at Ryder's South Dublin showroom, Curated, is quite unlike its ancestors.
"The old ones had swags and tassels and heavy carving," says Ryder. "The modern ones are quite minimal. They're neatly proportioned and they're not as high off the ground as the old ones that you had to climb into. These ones, you can sit on to them. It's a modern concession. But you can't just flop down on to it, like you would with a very low bed."
Even a contemporary four poster demands a bit of ceremony from the user.
"People have always been captivated by their grandeur," says Ryder. "We associate them with the poshest suite of a country house hotel, where you feel like you're being treated like royalty."
Four posters are known as canopy beds in the trade, but it's a bit of a misnomer as most of those who own them leave the plain wood or metal frame bare.
"If you want a sense of enclosure, that's when you have the fabric. In the old days, people used heavy tapestries to keep out the cold, but then central heating came along and they got lighter and lighter. And then they disappeared!"
Ryder has a canopy bed (with no drapes) in her own apartment and dresses it with crisp white linen bedclothes. "There's something about them," she says. "They bring a sense of occasion about going to bed."
While a contemporary four poster bed will take up no more floor space than a standard five or six-foot bed, they do require a higher-than-average ceiling.
"The designs are neat, not clunky. They look fine in any good-sized bedroom, but you do need the ceiling height," says Ryder. "That's the only caveat." A typical bedroom ceiling is 2.45 metres high and this doesn't offer quite enough clearance for a bed that's between 2 and 2.1 metres in height. It will fit into the room, but it will look cramped. You need about 5cm or 6cm of space between the top of the frame and the ceiling.
Curator is the supplier for two types of four-poster bed. One is called the Metal Frame Canopy Bed (from €1,690) and is available as a double or a king-size bed. The frame comes in a choice of polished chrome, polished brass or black steel and the headboard in dark oak, weathered oak velvet.
The other is the Wood Canopy Bed (from €2,320) which is only available as a double but comes in a choice of eight wood finishes and any RAL colour. Even gloss.
"If - God forbid - your little princess wants a pink bed, we can do that," Ryder admits reluctantly. "But we do try to discourage it." Both come with or without a headboard.
"They've made a comeback, that's for sure. If you're buying a luxury bed, you're not paying a great deal more for a four-poster. There's not a great deal of difference between it and our other beds, so you get a lot of design presence for the price tag."
Less expensive four posters are beginning to come on the market, but they're still not super-affordable. The Classic Four Poster Canopy Bed from Get Laid Beds costs €727 for a standard double. The Jaipur 4 Poster King (150cm) Bedstead from Meubles costs €998.
There's better choice when it comes to children's beds, and the Lifetime Four Poster with Canopy Bed (single) from Jellybean costs €977. You can buy cheaper, but they have a flimsy look about them and you won't feel like a princess in a flimsy bed.
See curated.ie, jospephwalshstudio.com, getlaidbeds.com, meubles.ie, and jellybeangroup.com.