Buyers are waking up to the utility of daybeds

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A colonial-style daybed crafted from plantation-grown hardwood, with bolster pillows and a twin mattress, $2,640.

In homes teeming with technological toys, the daybed is almost anachronistic. Yet it's been inching its way back into the design lexicon for the last few years.

Often deeper than a sofa or slim as a twin bed, the daybed is more a generous settee than a one-sided chaise. It's the ultimate piece of cocooning furniture.

A full realization of what the daybed could be came to the fore outdoors, where it can take on a seductive look.

Recently featured in Gump's catalog (www.gumps.com) was the glamorous Sulu canopy, a four-post daybed crafted from Philippine mahogany with gridlike insets of woven abaca on the sides and front base. Fitted with a thick mattress and appointed with back cushions and throw pillows, it's topped with a billowy sheer cotton canopy, and the look can evoke South Beach to South Seas.

At $999.99 (reduced from $1,995), the Sulu is a more affordable version of the glam canopied four-post that Richard Frinier designed for Dedon in 2003. That romantic piece, with its Moorish-style weave of Hularo, a resin fiber, was designed, as Frinier said, "with the same comfort level as an indoor bed."

The fact that such sophisticated daybeds are available for furnishing outdoor rooms attests to their trend status.

"The reason . . . daybeds are so popular is because they do double duty," says Tom Delavan, editor at large for Domino magazine. "By definition, a daybed is a bed and seating."

"They're really great for studio apartments, where there's no room both for sofas and beds," Delavan says. Affordability is another selling point, at just under $400 for the low end to about $2,500, with an average between $1,000 and $1,500.

And with styling that ranges from simple to sumptuous, streamlined to cottage-style to baroque, daybeds easily move into family rooms or dens, sunrooms, home offices, guest bedrooms, even living rooms.

From retailers such as Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn, West Elm and Horchow Home, you'll find cottage country with beadboard panels and wood finials, slipcovered models that feature machine-washable covers, classic curvy sleighs, bamboo look-alikes, midcentury modern styles that often are upholstered, and canopied versions that resemble scaled-down four-poster beds.

The range of current styles may surprise those who recall Grandma's uncomfortable Victorian-inspired metal daybeds or unadorned pieces that were no more than mattresses on casters. But the design roots are rich.

"The trundle gave daybeds a bad name," Delavan says. "The metal trundle apparatus often was visible beneath the mattress and not only was unattractive, it looked flimsy."

Today's trundles are more cleverly hidden, more integral to the overall design or totally covered with skirts. Gliding or pop-up mechanisms are smoother, too.

Actually, it wasn't until the industrial age that significant distinction was made between beds and sofas. "The couch or sofa as we know it really is a Victorian invention," Delavan says.

Primitive daybeds were no more than slabs of stone or wood, but sometimes they were embellished with carving. Early primitive Egyptian models were made of palm sticks or palm-leaf wicker laced together with rawhide.

In first-dynasty Egyptian tombs (about 3100 to 2890 B.C.), craftsmanship often featured wood frames standing on carved animal legs, gazelle-like hooves, or lion paws. Veneers included inlays of ivory or ebony, and bases were woven with leather strips.

In ancient Greece, daybeds were an integral part of socializing. Drinking, game-playing, even eating centered on a piece of furniture called the kline, a daybed. Around the eighth century B.C., the Greeks took to reclining while dining, a practice widely documented in art. The daybeds were dressed with plush embroidered mattresses.

The Romans borrowed daybed designs from the Greeks, but also fused Etruscan and Eastern motifs. One elegant Pompeian daybed from the first century had turned legs and decorations of bone. Simple construction often was elevated with expensive fabrics.

Examples of Italian daybeds from the Renaissance were tented in striped fabric.

An appealing feature of daybeds is that they can be chameleons.

"A lot of the daybeds are not upholstered, which means if you want to change the look, just change the bedding - seasonally or at your whim," Delavan says.

And that means the old-fashioned daybed may never go out of style.