Remember when a ``bedroom suite'' consisted of a dresser with a mirror, a bureau, perhaps, and two night tables that flanked a bed frame and a headboard? Things have changed. Many rooms have grown smaller and space sparser, with little or no interior architecture to please the eye. Acquisitions of clothes, sports gear, and other possessions have increased in volume, but closets have not increased in size.
Bedroom furniture, the better to serve today's storage and decorating needs, has changed, too, in both proportion and configuration.
The bed-wall arrangement is one practical outcome, for it uses vertical space that once went unused. With its stylish bulk, it adds the architectural enrichment that many boxlike modern rooms lack.
What does the bed wall involve? It usually includes a bed frame, a storage headboard, and two tall pier cabinets or armoires on each side of the bed, plus a connecting light bridge. Pullout shelves and trays, as well as an adjustable light source in the bridge, eliminate the need for night tables and lamps.
Bed-wall systems come in every style category, from art deco to cherry Colonial, from robust 17th-century English to eloquent 18th-century Italian and sleek contemporary.
Some are towering in height, others are not. The arrangement of drawers, shelves, hanging space, and display areas varies with each system. Prices range from $499 for simple, smaller-scaled versions to $4,000 or more for elegant deluxe combinations offering every convenience that can be designed into them.
The tall pier cabinet, or armoire, for instance, can be fitted with wood or glass shelves, lights, pullout trays, writing surfaces, shelf dividers for shirts and sweaters, and hanging rods for clothes.
Interiors are planned to give as much storage flexibility as possible. Bill Faber, director of design for Henredon, comments, ``When you have a master bedroom that is only 12 by 14 feet in size, how in the world do you store all your possessions and still find a place to lie down? You literally have to run your storage up the wall. A triple dresser, a favorite horizontal piece, steals 76 inches of wall space.''
A bed-wall system, he points out, can cluster a queen-size bed and all major storage on one 10-foot wall and still leave room for a desk, a pair of chairs, or a modest-size entertainment center.
``Light bridges, pier cabinets, and storage headboards now account for 50 percent of our sales of contemporary bedroom furniture,'' says Frederick B. Starr, president of Thomasville Furniture Industries, ``which indicates the changing functional needs of consumers.''
The difference in price between the traditional bedroom suite and the bed-wall system is minor. In one Thomasville collection the usual double dresser, queen headboard, two mirrors, and two night stands offer 45 cubic feet of horizontal storage space; the suite retails for $3,200. A bed-wall combination in the same group, with 56.4 cubic feet of storage, costs $3,576. When space is available, says Mr. Starr, many consumers purchase the bed-wall system first and later add a dresser or bureau.
Boyd Furniture offers a casual-contemporary Hunt bedroom group of 32 pieces in oiled oak, giving an option for literally wrapping furniture around a room. ``The bedroom that sells best, however,'' says company president Robert M. Clark, ``is the one with the pier-wall configuration.'' The starting retail price is $2,100.
Stanley, along with many other companies, shows a bed-wall combination made up by stacking modular pieces of various heights and widths. They can be combined in numerous configurations.
Milo Baughman, designer at Thayer-Coggin, makes sure every element that goes into his bed-wall systems can also be used in dining and living rooms. Open and glass-front storage units of various heights are interchangeable.
Renee Martin Smith, interior designer at Drexel Heritage, manufacturer of numerous bed-wall systems, says: ``These units are the answer to the home decorator's dilemma of increasing needs and decreasing space in the bedroom. Most homes and apartments built in the last 10 years lack such architectural extras as the built-in shelving and capacious closets that are an integral part of many older homes. These wall systems provide those advantages, with the added plus that the components can be taken with you when you move.''