Want to go for a sleigh ride?

By Deanna Schiavone

This week we will be looking at an Empire style sleigh bed. This bed is also known as a “French” bed because this style originated in France. It has a bead carving on the side rails and equally proportioned scrolled foot and headboards with a shaped flattened foot. It is made out of mahogany and has some existing veneers – decorative covering of fine wood applied to coarse wood.  It was made in the 1830s.




Empire style originated in France and takes its name from the rule of Napoleon I in the First French Empire.1 This style flourished from 1800-1815 in Europe but lasted until the 1830s in America. The style reflects the military, utilitarian, over-the-top décor of the French Empire. The pieces were created in the hopes that they could be easily disassembled during war campaigns but also show the grandeur of the French Empire. The items reflected a classical influence and especially focused on arts and architecture from Imperial Rome.2

This sleigh bed emulated many of the characteristics of the Empire period.  The headboard and footboard are scrolled to emulate ancient scrolls of ancient Greek ionic columns.3 The head and footboards also had a graceful arch with low side rails that matches beds from Ancient times.  The low side rails are carves to have a flowing effect. These beds were originally styled as daybeds for individual use.4 The foot of the bed is flattened which emulates the American take on Empire style. Other American features are the plain surfaces of the wood and the equal sized head/footboard. The bed is made of mahogany, which was the most commonly used wood for this style.

This bed belonged to Timothy Tillson. Timothy F. Tillson was born in the town of Hurley in 1798. He owned a farm that he lived on for nearly 60 years and was married twice.5 Tillson was a member of the executive committee of the State Agricultural Society representing Ulster County.6 Also, he was the father to Oliver J Tillson, the cartographer and fruit farmer.

This Empire period sleigh bed, along with other HHS Permanent Collection pieces, will be displayed in a newly re-furnished Deyo House in this upcoming season! Visitors will be able to see pieces of furniture that haven’t been displayed in years, if ever. Be sure to keep our opening day on your calendars, May 7th!

1 Gontar, Cybele. “Empire Style: 1800-1815.” Heilbrunn: Timeline of Art History.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York, 2004. Web. 5 April 2016.

2 Erlam, Linda.  “Empire Style in 19th-Century Furniture.”  SFGate. SFGate: San Francisco, n.d. Web. 5 April 2016.

3The Ancient History of the Sleigh Bed.” Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers. Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers: Vermont, 2015. Web. 5 April 2016.

4 LaFon, Michele. “History Lesson: The Sleigh Bed.” Designers Call. Storm Interiors: Los Angeles, 2012. Web. 5 April 2016.

5 Sylvester, Nathaniel Bartlett.  History of Ulster County, New York: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers.  Philadelphia: Everts and Peck, 1880.

6 Transactions of the New-York State Agricultural Society for the Year…, Vol 15. C. Van Benthuysen, Printer to the Legislature: Albany, 1856.

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