I have had the pleasure of importing containers of fine French antique furniture for about 25 years. We go all over the French countryside buying from various vendors, some in old warehouses in the middle of nowhere. Once they arrive on our shores, we prepare them for sale. Many times we modify the frames of antique French beds to fit the American queen and king mattresses.
Louis XV, Louis XVI and Country French
For the most part there are three major styles of beds we buy, Louis XV, Louis XVI and country French. The French predominately used walnut was simply because it was so prevalent in France. Some beds were also carved out of mahogany and rosewood but for the Country French, oak was the most common wood choice. There are exceptions of course, but they are rare.
The French Difference
France differs from both English and American beds in two major ways. First, the French made wider and bigger beds. It follows therefore that the French beds can be converted to queen and King more conveniently. And a few French beds were made very large, perhaps to accommodate larger rooms in chateau or mansions. Secondly, French beds are almost always carved out of solid pieces of wood. One must realize that the carver had a tremendous task while carving a solid piece. A single error in the carving of a delicate bird, flower or ribbon would ruin the entire bed. American carvers liked to carve separate pieces and then apply them to the bed. It was a less problematic way of adding beauty to the bed but not nearly as wonderful as the artistic carving of a single piece of wood. And then of course, the applied pieces would loosen over the years and fall off, another piece carved and applied so that all would not be lost.
The Lure of Antique French Beds
I find it fascinating that during my years of selling antique furniture, clients spend years decorating every other room in their home, leaving the bedroom for the last. When they finally come to fitting their personal bedroom, it becomes such a personal thing. I can see it on their faces, the emotional draw of a beautiful French bed, the joy expressed, never ceases to amaze me.