By Keelan Happel
When you hear the words “Murphy bed,” do flashes of Uncle Jesse’s top floor suite from the popular TV sitcom "Full House" come to mind? Or maybe you’re old-school, and think of Charles’ basement bachelor pad on "Charles in Charge."
Yes, many people think of silly old sitcoms when they think of Murphy beds, but this functional furniture isn’t just for those who can’t seem to let the 80s and 90s go. Murphy beds are also a practical space-saving solution for modern homes.
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Where Did Murphy Beds Come From?
Murphy beds are used for space-saving purposes, much like trundle beds, and are popular where floor space is limited, such as small homes, apartments, hotels, mobile homes and college dormitories. In recent years, Murphy bed units have included options such as lighting, storage cabinets, and office components. They have seen a resurgence in popularity in the 2010s due to the weak economy, with children moving back in with their parents, and families choosing to renovate homes rather than purchasing larger ones.
In 1989, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the term “Murphy Bed” had entered common usage so thoroughly that it was no longer eligible for trademark protection. Today, Murphy beds are also referred to as “fold away beds” or “wall beds,” and they’re great for quickly transforming an ordinary room into a functional bedroom. But who came up with the idea?
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The bed is named for William Lawrence Murphy, who applied for his first patents around 1900. According to legend, he was wooing an opera singer, but living in a one-room apartment in San Francisco, and the moral code of the time frowned upon a woman entering a man’s bedroom. Murphy’s invention converted his bedroom into a parlor, enabling him to entertain. Earlier foldup beds had existed, and were even available through the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog, but Murphy introduced pivot and counterbalanced designs for which he received a series of patents, including one for a “disappearing bed” in 1912 and another for a “design for a bed” in 1916.
Murphy beds were a common setup for comic scenes in early cinema, including in silent films. Among the films which use Murphy beds as comic props are Charlie Chaplin's "One AM," several Three Stooges shorts, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," the James Bond film "You Only Live Twice," Mel Brooks' "Silent Movie," "The Pink Panther Strikes Again," "The Great Muppet Caper," and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"
Why Get a Murphy Bed?
If you’re lucky enough to have an extra room in your home, it’s often reserved as a home office, playroom, study, etc. But you don’t have to sacrifice a whole room to a singular purpose. Why not get the best of both worlds? By having a space-saving solution like a Murphy bed in your home, you open up opportunities for bonus space. Rooms can be utilized as both guest bedrooms for out-of-town guests that may only come a few times a year, and whatever else you may need (a home office, playroom, library, etc.).
Murphy beds can be purchased, or custom built, for all mattress sizes. Murphy beds can also be installed vertically or horizontally, so don’t worry about ceiling height or taking up too much square footage if you’re thinking of getting a Murphy bed. By installing the bed horizontally (and depending on your room shape), you can take up less space to allow for more activity and walking room when it’s folded out.
Another big selling point for Murphy beds is that they can be made extremely attractive. When folded up, cover that wall space with beautiful trim work or art that can easily be removed when need be. You can customize the wall unit that surrounds the bed with bookshelves, cabinetry, or even a desk, allowing the space to be a home office and extra guest bedroom.
Most Murphy beds do not have box springs. Instead, the mattress usually lies on a wood platform or wire mesh and is held in place so as not to sag when in a closed position. The mattress is attached to the bed frame, often with elastic straps to hold the mattress in position when the unit is folded upright. Piston-lifts or torsion springs make modern Murphy beds easy to lower and raise.
Since the first model several other variations and designs have been created, including sideways-mounted Murphy beds, Murphy bunk beds, and solutions that include other functions. Murphy beds with tables or desks that fold down when the bed is folded up are popular, and there are also models with sofas and shelving solutions.
Be Careful with Murphy Beds
Caution is necessary when using Murphy beds. If it’s not installed properly, it’s possible for a Murphy bed to collapse on someone when they’re trying to pull it down from the wall. In 1982 an allegedly intoxicated man suffocated inside a closed Murphy bed, and two women were entrapped and suffocated by an improperly installed wall bed in 2005.
In the popular PC video games "The Sims 2" and "The Sims 3," Murphy beds have the potential to kill playable characters, an allusion to the real hazards of pulling them down.
Whether you call it a Murphy bed or a fold-away, as long as you’re careful, there’s no denying that these are one of the most practical home solutions of all time. Who knew Uncle Jesse would never go out of style?
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