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Bed Basics

Murphy Beds: What to Know About Buying One

Small Apartment with Murphy bed in built in storage unit
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When it comes to punchline-worthy beds, few draw the laughs quite like a Murphy bed. These sneaky sleep setups can be stowed away vertically as part of the wall (thus the alternative name of wall bed) and can be pulled down when needed for sleep. But for the right room or person, a Murphy bed is a seriously inventive multitasking sleep solution.

If you’re considering a Murphy bed, here’s everything you need to know, including what kind of mattress works best for a Murphy bed and how they came to exist.

Who Invented the Murphy Bed?

Imagine you’re William Lawrence Murphy, a respectable young gentleman living in San Francisco in the late 19th century. You are not a man of extraordinary means, so your living quarters consist of a single room with a chair, dresser and, of course, your bed. (This should be pretty familiar to anyone who’s ever lived in a city studio.)

Worried that his cramped quarters might cramp his dating prospects, Murphy, “a tinkerer [and] inventor,” according to Gene Kolakowski, who ran the Original Murphy Bed Company in Long Island back in 2010, figured out that if he could somehow disappear the bed, it would be like she was “coming into my living room.” It would only “be a bedroom when she leaves!”

So he figured out a mechanism that would allow him to stow the bed in his closet, turning his bedroom into a more respectable parlor. Murphy’s ingenuity paid off. He married the woman for whom he’d first stowed the bed in 1900, according to Smithsonian Magazine, then he secured a patent for his wall bed in 1911.

Though the impetus for inventing the Murphy bed was propriety, these days it’s about space, convenience and, yes, style—essential considerations for any home design.

Why You Might Want a Wall Bed or Murphy Bed

The fold-up bed has come a long way from the mattress on a basic metal frame concealed behind a door, which Charlie Chaplin made famous with his slapstick antics of getting spun around and swallowed up by the unwieldy contraption.

“They have really developed in the last few years,” says Pamela Ferguson, a Melo Park, CA-based Sleep Expert® at Mattress Firm. “There are many options to choose from these days: wall beds, cabinet beds, table beds, even functional desk beds. All are available in a variety of finishes and with different hardware,” she explains.

“People often ask if there’s a difference between a Murphy bed and a wall bed,” Ferguson says. “Often the names are used interchangeably. The original, traditional Murphy bed was designed to be stored in a closet but has since morphed into an armoire-style bed that is anchored to studs in the wall—versus, say, a cabinet bed, which is mobile, meaning it can be placed against a wall or in the middle of the room.” No matter what you call it, it can be a game-changing space saver.

What to Consider When Buying a Wall Bed or Murphy Bed

As with any big home décor purchase, you’ll want to think about why you’re buying it, who’s using it and how often, what features you’re looking for and, of course, the style. Here are a couple of things to think about.

Material

“Something to keep in mind is that while you can buy a fold-up bed on many online sites, if you don’t purchase through a sleep specialized company, you’ll have to find someone to assemble it—or put it together yourself,” says Ferguson. “Also, many of the beds from non-specialty outlets tend to be made from pressed particle board with a laminate veneer, rather than a real wood like birchwood or oak. And while they’re a fraction of the price, they aren’t built to last, or for frequent usage. A cheaper bed like that might be okay for someone using it 3 weeks out of the year.” If you plan to use the bed more regularly, it’s worth investing in something sturdy.

Lifting Mechanism

There are basically two different options for lifting the bed: piston or spring. “Pistons are best—meaning they make the lift easier—for beds that are part of a heavy piece of furniture, like a desk bed or table bed,” Ferguson says. “Pistons primarily assist with models that are super heavy, with a lot of weight involved. Springs are used for lifting beds that are lighter. For instance, some companies make fold-up beds that attach to the wall and open up closet style. The mattresses on those are usually on an aluminum frame, which is also light and great for someone with back problems or older people. Springs make it easier to open and close the bed.”

How Long You Plan to Keep the Bed

Most fold-up beds must be attached to studs in the wall. (Studs are already in walls, and the installation crew will be able to find the studs and attach your bed.) While those are great if you don’t plan on changing your room décor in the near future, “the beauty of a mobile style like a cabinet bed is that you can move it around if you decide to redecorate your room.”

Vertical or Horizontal Bed

Something else to factor in is figuring out whether a vertical or horizontal bed will best fit into your room. “Of course, the original Murphy model was vertical, which makes it a great option for smaller rooms with high-ish ceilings,” says Ferguson. Just make sure there’s enough space to accommodate the bed when it’s pulled down.

Horizontal Murphy beds are better for rooms with lower ceilings and less floor space, she says. Before choosing either one, figure out how much space your bed can occupy, as well as the style of bed that best works with your room’s decor. Beds are available in sizes ranging from twin to queen. (Ferguson says that a king size is a rare ask, and many manufacturers don’t even make them, given the sizing and weight.)

Which Type of Mattress Is Best for a Wall Bed?

Ferguson shares that nearly all memory foam or innerspring mattresses will work with a traditional wall bed or Murphy bed. Since these mattresses remain intact and aren’t folded, as with a sofa bed, you can choose based on your desired material. The only type of mattress you can’t use on a fold-up bed is a futon or air mattress. So unless you’re in the market for a new mattress, or the bed size is different from what you already have, your own mattress is probably fine. “The only restrictions are that the mattresses can’t be more than 10 or 12 inches deep, depending on the model you’re buying, and they must weigh between 50 and 85 pounds,” Ferguson advises. And ditch the base: You won’t need a box spring as Murphy beds are self-supporting.

The one exception, according to Ferguson, are cabinet beds, and for those you’ll need a tri-fold memory foam mattress, which is thin enough and pliable enough to fold up and fit in the cabinet.

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Are Murphy Beds Expensive?

Murphy beds can cost more than their traditional base counterparts, says Ferguson. “Price ranges can vary quite a bit, from around $2,900 to around $10,000, depending on what are called the side piers (for example, the storage and shelving parts of the bed model).

What Kind of Room Is Best for a Murphy Bed?

A Murphy bed can be incorporated into any room and any type of home décor. “It just depends on the measurements you’re working with—the size of your room and the bed,” says Ferguson. “The beds vary in height and depth, depending on the model and the manufacturer.

“Fold-up beds are a lifesaver for urban dwellers who are moving into a small space or living in a single-room studio apartment where the living room/dining room/home office/bedroom is all one room,” says Ferguson.

“They’re also great for empty nesters who have a big house and want to turn a spare bedroom (or two) into a home office, or a craft room, or even a yoga studio or a gym, yet still have a bed for the kids or other family members when they come to visit. That way you don’t have to offer your loved ones a lumpy cot or air mattress to sleep on. And you still have a super comfortable bed that doesn’t take up the bulk of the room!”

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