Murphy beds range from slapstick to sophisticated

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Just the name Murphybett makes me laugh. It brings back memories of slapstick comedies where beds fall into rooms unannounced or unsuspecting characters are swallowed up at the worst possible moment.

A bed falling out of nowhere in a living room or library strikes me as so odd that when a proposal for a new generation of murphy beds – please call them murphy beds – hit my inbox recently, I almost didn’t take it seriously .

However, I quickly sobered up thinking about the last two years when many of us struggled to find ways to double or even triple use spaces in our homes. Kitchen tables became classrooms, bedrooms became offices, and family rooms became daycare centers. Grown children boomeranged home while elderly parents fled retirement homes to move in with their adult children, leading to bed shortages. Suddenly, a space-saving bed that disappears into a wall appears ingenious and possibly indispensable.

“Our company has seen a sharp increase in sales during the pandemic,” said Gabriella Pomata, spokeswoman for Resource Furniture, a New York-based seller of Italian Murphy beds with nine showrooms across North America. “The last time we saw a similar surge was during the economic downturn in 2008, another time when adult children moved home.”

The Murphy bed was born out of necessity, albeit of a different kind. William Lawrence Murphy invented the first hide-a-bed in 1900, so the story goes, because he was in love with a young opera singer and wanted her to live in his home. The customs of the time frowned upon a lady entering a gentleman’s bedroom, and he lived in a one-room apartment. Undeterred, Murphy found a way to tuck his bed away in the closet and turn his room into a drawing room. The couple married in the same year. Murphy patented his invention soon after.

Luckily, industry experts and sleepers alike agree: we’ve come a long way from the frumpy aesthetics and questionable inner workings of these turn-of-the-century beds. And everyone agrees that wall beds today far surpass sofa beds in terms of comfort.

“Today’s wall beds are perfect for adults to sleep on every night,” said Pomata.

“Now that it’s not your grandma’s Murphy bed anymore, can you put grandma on it?” I said.

“Exactly,” she said.

Christine Salzer of Greenwich, Connecticut, recently placed a queen-size Murphy bed in the guest room of her two-bedroom duplex that she shares with her husband and two children. The move has enabled her to use the guest room as an office as well, freeing up her loft that used to be her office to set up a bedroom for her children aged 2 and 4.

During the day the bed is raised and a built-in desk spreads out in the room. When guests arrive, which she often does, she pulls the bed down in less than two minutes. The integrated desk and even the items on it fold up and stow under the bed. “It was the perfect solution,” she says.

High-end murphy beds today often have built-in furniture like these shelves and this desk that allow consumers to create spaces that serve two purposes. (Photo: resource furniture)

For those looking for a flexible, space-saving sleeping solution, or wanting to live larger in a small space, Pomata has the following to consider when choosing a wall bed.

Placement: Choose a wall that’s big enough for the bed and has enough room to walk around it. Imagine that the bed’s enclosure protrudes about 14 inches from the wall when closed. Some hang from the top of the bed, others from the side, but whether it’s a double, double, or queen, the bed can extend up to 85 inches into the room. Make sure swinging doors, vents, or windows are not blocked. Consider what furniture needs a new home when the bed falls.

framing: In order for the bed body to fit into the room, many consumers add built-in walls, cabinets or open shelves of the same depth on both sides. Murphy beds are often supplied with these components. Resource Furniture sells wall beds that have attached desks, kitchen tables, and even sofas. These fold up and down when the bed is lowered, allowing the rooms to have two functions.

Costs: More than an air mattress but much less than a room addition, Costco wall beds sell for $1,000 to $5,000. Resource Furniture’s luxury Italian beds range in price from $6,000 to $20,000.

cover-ups: The genius of these vanishing beds is that when they’re made right, you don’t know they’re in the room. They can be hidden behind sliding wooden doors, bookshelves or art.

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

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