“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”
When Victorian English sonneteer Elizabeth Barrett Browning penned this epistle of love to her beloved husband, poet Robert Browning, in her Sonnets from the Portugese (No. 43), she anticipated by more than a century and a half the sentiments of new brides sharing the conjugal bed with an exhausted or lusty new spouse in Madewood’s Charlet House Honeymoon Suite.
And when she continued, “I love thee to the depth and breadth and height,” she verbalized my dilemma as an innkeeper: Just what kind of bed do brides want? After all, we at Madewood are dream-fulfillers, expectations-realizers, and start-the-clock-to-nine-months-later-facilitators. And brides don’t hesitate to speak up.
The problem is, it’s a Goldilocks dilemma. “That bed’s too narrow,” some newlyweds bemoan. It’s too soft; it’s too high. “It’s too . . . well, you know, when we . . . .”
I thought the elaborately-carved queen-size rice bed with gossamer canopy would be great for intimacy. Until one bride informed me:
“I want to be smothered in love, not smothered. My husband’s a giant.”
I’d been wrong. It’s theoretically possible to be intimate on a football field with the one you love, and brides these days apparently want that kind of space for virtuoso performances on their wedding night.
Today, the King Reigns; so it was time to retire the queen bed like the jersey of a beloved but inadequate player and move downfield, closer to the working fireplace in that room.
Over the years, I’d clipped pictures of exotic-looking beds draped in enough white tulle to give you tullearemia, beckoning lovers into an approximation of a nomad’s tent without the sand underfoot. They were wide, and tall and plush, just what Mrs. Browning would like.
So, I thought, what might a bed for the Brownings at Madewood have looked like when they married in 1846, the year many architectural historians speculate was Madewood’s date of completion? Would the mansion’s architect, Henry Howard, have created an elaborate Greek-Revival baldaquin to shelter their connubial bliss in a room where faux-bois artist Cornealieus Hennessey, an Irishman like Howard, had just dabbed the last bit of decorative finish on the cypress door to their chamber?
Stored in the Rosedale building on the grounds of Madewood was a 1980s four-poster king bedframe, with rice-pattern carving but no canopy. Nice, but no wow factor. It was, however, sturdy, the right size and available at no cost except a new mattress to fill its slatted void.
Several months prior, I’d bought 10 pairs of filmy curtains on closeout at IKEA. I still had the mosquito netting from a bed that had graced our former home in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Tassels from an upscale shop just steps off Venice’s Grand Canal, and others from the LaPlace Big Lots store, would evoke the Moroccan desert experience of my magazine models.
Let’s set up that bed, we agreed, then surround it with a lofty canopy, positively drooling evanescent curtain panels, the whole thing taller, wider and longer than the bed itself, almost like a separate bedchamber, the kind of retreat that another great Englishman, Henry the Eighth, found in the legendary Great Bed of Ware.
A pair of pre-painted porch posts for $120 at Lowe’s, 25 feet of 6″ crown molding, three curtain poles, a run of 1″x4″ boards to make the canopy and a roll of white fabric I found in a closet — and the job was done, including labor, for less than $500, exclusive of a new mattress.
It was just hours before the next honeymooners would arrive, and we hurried to remove all traces of construction, repositioning the other furniture and accessories we’d moved.
A CD fell from under the room’s sound system as we moved it: A Chuck Berry compilation that included the singer’s 1956 hit, “Roll Over Beethoven,” something a guest must have left in the room.
In the new setup, Beethoven would have plenty of room to roll over; but I’d hope he wouldn’t find a surprise in that great expanse and have to “Tell Tchaikovsky to move.”