The Secret History of Home Goods: 10 Curious Things About Duvets

The Secret History of Home Goods: 10 Curious Things About Duvets

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Carrie McBride
Nov 7, 2014

When I was growing up our family used blankets and quilts on our beds in the winter so when I was introduced to the concept of a duvet in my twenties it seemed so civilized (and, fancy). You know the basics: a duvet is a fabric sack typically filled with down or feathers, often encased in a removable cover, but if you're the inquisitive type, these ten tidbits may intrigue you:

1. 'Duvet' comes from the French word for 'down'. They may have originated in China, but became popular in Germany and Scandinavia in the 1700s.

2. If you're using a duvet and a top sheet - you're doing it "wrong". Duvets are intended to be used with just a bottom sheet and pillows.

3. The duvet's popularity took off beyond Europe in the 1970s after Sir Terence Conran began selling them at the Habitat shop in London. Conran's team marketed them as "the-10-second bed" because the lack of a top sheet made the bed very quick to make up.

"In his Chelsea flat, she recalled vividly, he'd had the first duvet she'd ever seen. It had been called a Puffin Downlet, an exotic piece of bed-furnishing at a time when no-one knew how to pronounce 'duvet', or had yet decreed that the term 'continental quilt' was destined to become obsolete. This was an era when people used their wedding present bedlinen till it wore out, and replaced it with pastel sheets only if they were really artistic and daringly experimental with colour co-ordination. The only function of beds was to accommodate sleepers in inhospitably chilly rooms, so Heather knew instinctively that only the dangerously louche and decadent made their beds into such tempting nests as Iain had. The room had been the warmest in the flat, and there had been covers for the duvet in stylish maroon and chocolate colours; his cleaning lady had hated changing them, struggling to match corners with corners and complaining that the zip-openings had been too small."

- excerpt from the novel Seven for a Secret by Judy Astley

Sir Terence had to overcome a long-held skepticism about duvets by the English. In their book The Smell Of The Continent: The British Discover Europe, authors Richard Mullen and James Munson described the attitude of 19th century British travelers upon encountering duvets in European hotels:

Then there was the detested duvet, known as 'feather mattresses', 'fedder deckers' or 'that stuffed, pillow-like thing which is to do duty for blanket and coverlet'. When the Hills, father and son, arrived in France, they found 'a large down mattress, or bag filled with down. I was not sure whether it was meant for us to lie on it, or it on us.' Duvets were widely denounced as 'those stuffy, fluffy, soft slippery coverings which always fall off a German bed when an Englishman tries to sleep in it'.

- source

4. In many countries, it is customary to air out a duvet by hanging it out the window, either on a daily basis or when changing the sheets.

Airing a duvet in Denmark
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

5. Some employers, especially in the UK, offer "duvet days" as an official HR perk: a day off work with little notice to relax, sleep and try to regain work-life balance. BBC News describes a duvet day as "a snooze button for life."

6. In Australia duvets are commonly called "doonas." (And, yes, Aussies take "doona days".)

7. In Scandinavia and other European countries, it is common for couples to use two duvets on one bed to eliminate blanket tug-of-war. If you and your bedmate like different temperatures at night, you can even buy duvet inserts with different weights on each side.

8. You can buy a duvet for your dog.

9. The TLC show Say Yes to the Dress once featured a bride named Duvae. Her parents explained why the name was perfect for her: "she's our comforter".

10. In his book, Help, I'm Trapped in My Duvet: The Most Ridiculous Emergency Calls, author Howard Lester describes a real 999 (the UK's version of 911) phone call where a duvet plays a central figure:

A woman rang 999 in a panic, thinking she had been kidnapped - turns out, she'd just woken up under her duvet.

The mystery caller rang 999 and whispered as she told the operator: "I can’t see anything, I think I’ve been kidnapped. I’m wearing a blindfold…

Operator: "Are you moving?"

Caller: "No I’m lying still. Wait, I’m trapped."

Operator: "Are you ok? Can you sit up?"

Caller: "Oh, yes, hold on a minute. It’s just my duvet. I woke up with it covering my head and thought someone had done something to me."

BONUS:

In 1991 Pauline Webber, Senior Conservator at London's Victoria & Albert Museum took part in a staff exchange with the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan. She mentioned, but did not embellish upon, this odd anecdote from her stay:

Taiwan's food was exquisite but on one occasion I was startled when live prawns started to leap out of a boiling pot and fly across the table. I was similarly startled on my arrival, to find a mattress-less bed over which lay a duvet filled with Peking ducks - not just the feathers!

- V&A Conservation Journal

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