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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

Murphy Beds Go From Slapstick to Sophisticated

Just the name Murphy bed makes me laugh. It conjures memories of hilarious scenes in slapstick comedies, where the beds, possessed with demonic intentions, drop into rooms unannounced or swallow up (or discharge) unsuspecting characters at the most inopportune moments.

A bed tumbling out of nowhere into a living room or library seems so funny to me that when a pitch for a new generation of Murphy beds – please call them wall beds – hit my inbox recently, I almost didn’t take it seriously.

I sobered up quickly, however, as I thought about the last two years, when many of us struggled to find ways to make spaces in our homes do double even triple duty. Kitchen tables became classrooms, bedrooms became offices, garages became gyms, and family rooms doubled as daycares. Meanwhile, more grown kids boomeranged home as elderly parents fled senior living centers to move in with their adult children causing beds (we won’t mention patience) to be in short supply. Suddenly, a space-saving bed that cleverly disappears into a wall seems not funny, but ingenious, and quite possibly essential.

“Our company saw a big uptick in sales during the pandemic,” said Gabriella Pomata, spokeswoman for Resource Furniture, a New York-based seller of luxury Italian wall beds, with nine showrooms throughout North America. “The last time we saw a similar spike was during the economic downturn in 2008, another time when grown kids were moving back home.”

The Murphy bed was born out of necessity, albeit a different kind. William Lawrence Murphy invented the first hide-a-bed back in 1900, so the story goes, because he was smitten with a young opera singer and wanted to have her to his place. The customs of the day frowned on a lady entering a gentleman’s bedroom, and he lived in a one-room apartment. Undeterred, Murphy figured out a way to stow his bed in the closet and turn his room into a parlor. The couple married the same year. Murphy patented his invention soon after.

Thankfully, both industry experts and, more important, those sleeping on these beds, attest: We’ve come a long way, baby, from the inelegant aesthetics and iffy inner workings of those turn-of-the-Century beds. And all agree wall-beds today far surpass sofa beds for comfort.

“That bar in the middle of your back!” I tell Pomata.

“One benefit of a wall bed over a pullout sofa is that the mattresses are real,” she said.

I mean, any mattress you can fold in half like a stick of chewing gum is nothing you want to sleep on after the age of 12,” I said.

“Today’s wall beds are perfectly suitable for adults to sleep on every night,” she said.

“In other words,” I said, “now that it’s not your grandma’s Murphy bed anymore, you can put grandma on it?”

“Exactly,” she said.

Christine Salzer, of Greenwich, Conn., recently put a queen-size wall bed in the guest room of her two-bedroom duplex, which she shares with her husband and two children. The move let her use the guest room as an office, too, and freed up her loft, where her office used to be, to create a bedroom for her children ages 2 and 4.

By day, the bed is up, and a desk that is built into the wall bed unfurls into the room. When guests come, which is often, she pulls the bed down in under two minutes. The integrated desk and even the items on it get folded up and stored under the bed. “It was the perfect solution,” she said.

For those looking for a flexible, space-saving sleeping solution, or who want to live bigger in a small space, here’s what Pomata says to consider when choosing a wall bed.

  • Placement. When figuring out where to put a wall bed, choose a wall large enough to fit the bed, while allowing room to walk around it. Figure that, when closed, the bed’s housing will come out from the wall about 14 inches. When opened, the bed will extend into the room as much as 85 inches. Make sure that the bed when it’s down won’t block swinging doors, vents, or windows. Also consider what furniture you will have to move and where when the bed comes down.

  • Framing. To help the bed housing blend into the room, many consumers add built in wall units, cabinets, or open shelves of the same depth on either side. Wall beds often come with these components included. Resource Furniture sells wall beds that have desks, kitchen tables and even sectional sofas attached. These fold up and under when the bed comes down and allow rooms to have two functions.

  • Cost. More than an air mattress, but a lot less than a room addition, wall beds sell for as lows as $1,000 to $5,000 from Costco. Resource Furniture’s luxury Italian beds start at $6,000 and go up to $20,000.

  • Size. Wall beds come in a variety of sizes (twin, full and queen), and orientations; they can either hinge from the top of the bed, so they open longways, or hinge from the side of the bed.

  • Cover ups. The genius of these disappearing beds is that, when done right, you don’t know they’re in the room. They can lie hidden behind sliding wood doors, sliding bookcases, or art canvases.

  • Installation. This is not a job for the inexperienced. Wall beds must be anchored to wall studs and must sit level and flush against the wall to fit and function properly. This may involve removing baseboards. Hire a professional to install it, or you, too, will become the stuff of YouTube comedy.

Photo caption: Not your grandma’s Murphy bed. High-end wall-beds today often have integrated furniture, such as the desk pictured above, allowing consumers to create rooms that serve two purposes. Photo courtesy of Resource Furniture.

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