The Bed that Devoured Hollywood: Murphy Beds Have Been Stars for More than a Century
Anyone who doesn’t know about Murphy beds must have slept through the last century. William Murphy invented his first folding bed around 1900 because a standard bed took up most of the floor space in his one-bedroom San Francisco apartment, leaving no room to entertain. Murphy beds caught on immediately because they satisfied a pressing need and because, well, disappearing beds are funny. With the possible exception of Cleopatra’s couch, the Murphy bed became the most famous bed in history as filmmakers in Silent Era Hollywood endlessly exploited the gag of beds suddenly closing and devouring hapless sleepers.
Thanks to today’s tight economy, shrinking homes and multi-generational households, folding beds are serious business. Scores of companies make beds that fold into wall alcoves, hide in custom cabinets and even disappear into ceilings. Other outfits will sell you everything needed to build your own. In Fine Homebuilding # 216, architect Lynn Hopkins wrote an article on building a fold-down bed, so here we’ll offer a taste of what’s available on the Internet:
• Complete plans, materials, hardware and lifting mechanisms to build a Murphy bed that converts into a drop-leaf desk during daylight hours. (www.rockler.com) Rockler is well-known to woodworkers, but beyond that, it’s difficult to distinguish between a plethora of providers and their names aren’t much help: www.murphybedhardware.com , www.murphybeds.com and so on. So here are a few tips.
First decide whether you want the bed to fold vertically–to have the foot of the bed lift into the wall–or horizontally, in which case the bed pivots along its long axis. (Horizontal beds are best in narrow rooms or those with low ceilings.) Second, try to ascertain the level of service the company offers. Most companies selling bed hardware send paper plans or PDFs; better ones offer clear videos with close-ups of installation or companion DVDs. And, of course, determine how long the folding mechanism is guaranteed.
There’s also a crush of companies selling pre-fabricated beds, though you’ll pay a premium to have them shipped:
• You can buy from the firm that started it all. The Murphy Bed™ Company (still run by a Murphy!) offers a wide range of models “raised and lowered effortlessly by a spring-loaded counter-balancing system.” (www.murphybedcompany.com)
• In-law owners with low ceilings and “green” sensibilities may want to look into a Mission Horizontal Murphy bed constructed entirely from FSC-certified woods. (www.wallbedfactory.com)
• Flying Beds manufacturers a wide line of vertical- and horizontal-opening beds set in custom cabinetry; it also acts as a distributor for high-end European makers such as SmartBeds of Italy and LiftBed, the German company whose beds hide in ceilings. The website (www.flyingbeds.com) also discusses the merits of different lifting mechanisms (gas piston, compression coils, sequential cold steel springs, electric motor driven beds) and offers a list of questions that will be helpful to comparison shoppers.
Surely, something to sleep on.
Create Your Own In-Law!
If you’re interested in small-living and second units, please check out my recent book, Outlaws and Granny Flats: Your Guide to Turning One House into Two Homes. The Library Journal named it one of the 10 Best Design Books for 2011. You can get an e-book version on Apple’s iTunes Store, or on the Taunton Press Store. You can also sample In-laws, Outlaws‘ lush color photos at www.cozydigz.com
If you will be renovating a home, there’s no better companion than Renovation 4th Edition, (November, 2012). Its 614 pages, 1,000 photos and 250 detailed illustrations cover home renovation from start to finish and contains lifetimes of practical, field-tested techniques that professional builders shared with me over a 40-year period.
© Michael Litchfield 2012
Promotional literature kit for the original Murphy bed.
An attractive young woman looking into the maw of her folding bed, unaware that she's about to disappear. (Actually, it's a faux-Murphy with storage underneath.)
Rockler Woodworking sells quality folding-bed mechanisms and all other hardware, you provide the wood and the skill to assemble it. This assembly morphs into a desk during the daytime.
Rockler's desk-bed unit in night-time mode.
A Murphy bed in a ship-shape in-law suite built by a pair of sailors in Eugene, Oregon. During the day, the bed hides behind custom made, rift-cut white oak doors. From In-laws, Outlaws, and Granny Flats