Photo via Life Archives
Consider, for a moment, the heart-shaped bed: the silk-encased booty call of furniture and the very essence of guilty-pleasure design. Ostensibly a clunky relic of the growing pains that accompanied America's sexual liberation, the heart-shaped bed and its brethren shouldn't be dismissed as a relic of a bygone age or fetishized kitsch. Like it or not, so-called "love furniture" is part of America's design legacy. Most of the early practitioners of "boink" beds were average mom-and-pop hotel owners across America. Morris B. Wilkins, now 85, invented the first romantic jacuzzi by setting concrete in a heart shape and adding mirrors, while the first vibrating bed was made in a basement in Glenrock, New Jersey. Now, the rotating, vibrating, coin-operated, velvet-lined love bed continues its scattershot reign on popular imagination in motels across the country.
From the heart-shaped to the vibrating, from the circular to the silken, we've synthesized the genre into eight moments.
1. Our story begins in the hills of Northeastern, Pennsylvania with the couples resort. A direct descendent of the postwar honeymoon hotel—if you don't know the story of America's miniature suburban "homes" for newlyweds to practice being married, then get on it— that had one major improvement: You could go there after your honeymoon. The Poconos, simultaneously secluded and geographically convenient, emerged as America's worst kept secret. The first couples resort, established in 1945 by Rudolf Von Hoevenberg, was a rustic inn that would foreshadow the shag carpets, mirrored ceilings, and Grecian nymphs of future resorts. Said one guest, ''The food was lousy, but it was a legalized orgy.''
2. Not technically heart-shaped, the first vibrating bed still had a lot of love to give. By 1958, a single quarter could buy you a turn on Magic Fingers, America's first foray into mass-produced vibration. The inventor, John Houghtaling, had to test hundreds of motors in his Glen Rock, New Jersey, basement before he stumbled upon the right level of motion in the ocean. Small, affordable, and convenient: Magic Fingers was a small motor that attached itself to any bed frame. All you had to do was turn it on and voilà—15 minutes of personal time. Originally marketed as a therapeutic aide, America seemed to get the *wink* *nudge* and Magic Fingers soon became a staple of motels, vacations homes, and bachelor pads. At their peak, Mr. Houghtaling was selling more than $1 million per year. Now, the inventor lives on a 51-foot boat called Magic Fingers.
3. If Jayne Mansfeld was America's Barbie, then her 40-bedroom mediterranean mansion in Beverly Hills was Barbie's Dream Home. Every detail of Jayne's "Pink Palace"—pink bricks, pink toilets, pink tin walls, pink silk ceiling curtains, pink heart-shaped tub, and a Pepto-Bismol-hued circular bed that Jayne shared with her husband, Mr. Universe—was aggressively prepubescent to the point of hiding the other thing it was: hyper-sexual. Photographed by Life Magazine in 1960, the "Pink Palace" was America's introduction to the interior design with Lolita in mind.
4. In 1958, Morris Wilkins co-founded the Cove Haven Resort—America's most infamous love hotel. More than the specific hotel, however, Wilkins stands out as the inventor of the heart-shaped hot tub, which debuted in 1963 when he, according to the Wall Street Journal, "poured concrete into the shape of a heart, tiled it in red, and put mirrors on the surrounding walls." And just like that, a million x-rated memories were born.
Morris Wilkins is similarly famous for his other invention, a 7-foot-tall "Champagne Glass Whirlpool For Two," but that's another story for another time.
5. It was 1967 and a generation of teenage boys had one thing in mind: Casino Royale, Ursula Andress, and her rotating, round, mirrored pink bed. The James Bond flick, which also stars Woody Allen as James Bond's clumsy nephew, brought the seedy motel into the (slightly less seedy) movie theater.
6. During this time, high-brow Italian brands were also manufacturing their own versions of the love bed. Designed by Luigi Massoni and manufactured by Poltrona Frau, The Lullaby replaced the love bed's signature kitsch with a sleek midcentury design, while trading in magenta velvet for chrome-plated steel and cognac brown leather. Their designs weren't debuted under the guise of a "therapeutic aid" or geographically fetishized within a no-name town. All grown-up after studying abroad in Italy, the love bed now preferred "art object" over "boink object."
7. In 1971, LIFE published a series of photographs documenting America's (gasp!) love affair with the heart-shaped hot tub. Taken at the infamous Cove Haven Resort, the photo features a hot-to-trot couple—their nude bodies strategically covered by bubbles—reposing in the aforementioned hot tub mid-necking with all the necessities: champagne, chocolates, mirrors, shag carpets, and a single weird decorative fern. Morris Wilkins (see above) said that after the photo was published that "we had more reservations than we knew what to do with." By 1980, the heart-shaped tub was mass-produced.
8. The Poconos ain't what it used to be: Mount Airy Lodge closed in 2001. White Pines Resort suspended operations in the 1990s. Brookdale Resort is on the cusp on becoming a time share. Penn Hills Resort shuttered in 2009. Poconos Gardens Lodge was demolished. And Paradise Stream Resort's rebranding insists that the old love hotel is "a hotter, hipper, destination than ever before." The demise of old-school Poconos loves nests could be blamed on the rise of Vegas as a tourist attraction, AirBnB, and/or affordable cruise lines. However, ruin porn pioneers have bravely snuck into all, or most, of the love hotels in order to deify them into blog fodder.
· Better in the Poconos: The Story of Pennsylvania's Vacationland [Google Books]
· The Lonely Heart-Shaped Tub Club [Wall Street Journal]