An open Murphy bed turns a living room into a bedroom in seconds. (Mentis Photography / Higgins Design Studio via Associated Press)

An open Murphy bed turns a living room into a bedroom in seconds. (Mentis Photography / Higgins Design Studio via Associated Press)

Pandemic-era design solution from the past: the Murphy bed

The beds that emerge from a wall to instantly transform a living room into a bedroom date from more than a century ago.

  • By Melissa Rayworth Associated Press
  • Friday, January 28, 2022 1:30am
  • Life

By Melissa Rayworth / Associated Press

When the vast majority of your life is happening within the four walls of your home, every square foot counts. So the past two years have inspired some serious, space-saving creativity.

“Everybody all of a sudden was just surrounded by their environment, just sort of thinking, ‘If I’m going to be spending this much time here, I really want it to be great quality space,’” said interior designer and HGTV host Vern Yip.

Oddly enough, one popular strategy for creating multipurpose spaces at home in 2022 is an innovation born more than a century ago: the Murphy bed, a fully made bed emerging from a wall to instantly transform a living room into a bedroom.

New Jersey-based interior designer Karen Topjian remembers seeing Murphy beds in old black-and-white Hollywood movies and thinking they looked wonderfully glamorous. It seemed almost magical, she thought. Unlike a sofabed that requires moving cushions and some degree of assembly, Murphy beds have the superpower of transforming a space with just a single motion.

Of course, the spring-loaded metal bed that nearly destroyed Charlie Chaplin in his 1916 short film “One A.M.” appeared pretty uncomfortable. Even the World War II-era models probably weren’t especially cozy, Topjian said, no matter how chic they looked in the movies. But technology has improved dramatically.

Today, she said, high-quality Murphy beds open easily and can be outfitted with high-end mattresses and lush bedding.

So when a client with a New York studio apartment challenged her to create a space where he could eat, sleep, live and work, Topjian designed a Murphy bed built into custom hardwood shelving, giving the compact living space plenty of storage and flexibility.

And the appeal of Murphy beds is moving beyond those who live in apartments. As the pandemic lingers, even people with larger homes are facing “small-space living issues,” said Heather Higgins, another New Jersey interior designer.

Whether elderly relatives are moving in or adult children are returning home, many people are puzzling over how to add extra sleeping space to existing rooms. Depending on the circumstances, a Murphy bed can be the solution.

Among its best uses:

Making guests at home — without sacrificing a room: Interior designer Gonzalo Bueno has a meticulously planned home office in Dallas. Behind his desk, a dramatic black-and-white painting extends from floor to ceiling, flanked on both sides by built-in shelving.

For 90% of the year, he said, his office is laid out in exactly this way. But when relatives visit from Mexico, his desk is moved forward and that painting is pulled down to reveal a Murphy bed.

It’s a better option than even the highest quality sofabed, he said: “This is a queen-size bed — a real bed. So it’s heaven” for visitors. “But for my 90% of the year, it just looks like a beautiful built-in with an art piece.”

Bueno created a similar design for clients who needed a playroom for their children and a guest room for visiting grandparents. They didn’t want older relatives sleeping on a sofa bed, but also didn’t want to lose an entire room to a queen-size bed. One end of their playroom now houses a Murphy bed concealed within built-in storage.

Murphy beds can also be practical for single parents whose children don’t live with them full-time. Bueno has a client who uses a spare bedroom primarily as a meditation space. But when his child lives with him, a Murphy bed is kept open and the room feels entirely like a bedroom.

Hybrid homes: Higgins said the pandemic is inspiring some city dwellers to shift to a smaller apartment so they can afford a second space outside the city. In cases like this, a Murphy bed can make the city space more manageable.

Topjian recommends mapping out the room with the bed open to make sure it won’t feel too crowded. Make sure any furniture you’ll need to shift out of the way isn’t too heavy or awkward.

If you’ll be using a Murphy bed as your primary sleeping space and opening it frequently, it helps to choose a lightweight memory foam mattress rather than a conventional model. And look for a good-quality one that lowers slowly and “makes a soft landing,” Topjian said.

Make sure your Murphy bed comes from a reliable manufacturer, the designers emphasized. The name was once trademarked, but has been used by a wide range of retailers since 1989.

Home office in a spare bedroom: For those who have converted a spare bedroom into a work-from-home office, it can be challenging to create a space that looks professional on video calls while still keeping a bed there.

“People are paying a lot of attention to what their background is” on video calls, Yip said. “That little portion of your living environment that you’re sharing now with the rest of the world — what does it say?”

A Murphy bed can offer the elegant appearance of wooden doors, rather than a view of a bed laden with pillows and blankets.

Beyond creating a work-friendly Zoom background, that can also help you concentrate.

“You wouldn’t want to be working all day seeing a bed next to you,” Bueno said. “It will just be too too tempting.”

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Life

Photo by Gina Shields of GM Photography
Whidbey Island to salute the fallen for Memorial Day

All are invited to honor those who have fallen at three events on Whidbey Island.

Collection of  colorful flowers and ornamental plants in pots against the wooden wall on a corner of town street,Japan
Thrillers, fillers and spillers: Show your style with striking containers

Get into the spirit of summer by breathing new life into your old pots with fresh arrangments of foliage and flowers.

Sarah McLachlan performs during WE Day in Toronto on Thursday September 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Scottish band Nazareth will rock Everett and Sarah McLachlan will open Chateau Ste. Michelle’s summer concert series.

Tony Cladusbid, co-owner of the Beaver Tales Coffee franchise, watches over the canoe racing at the Penn Cove Water Festival on Saturday. (Photo by Sam Fletcher)
More than coffee: Swinomish Native shares family history and wisdom

Tony Cladusbid is the co-owner of Beaver Tales Coffee in Coupeville. He recently changed his name to honor his heritage.

2024 Toyota Venza Limited crossover (Photo provided by Toyota)
2024 Toyota Venza Limited crossover

The car is a safe choice that’s still eco-friendly to help ease a guilty conscious.

Pet detective Jim Branson stops to poke through some fur that Raphael the dog found while searching on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Everett, Washington. Branson determined the fur in question was likely from a rabbit, and not a missing cat.(Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Lost a pet? Pet detective James Branson and his dogs may be able to help

James Branson, founder of Three Retrievers Lost Pet Rescue, helps people in the Seattle area find their missing pets for $350.

Cast-iron sign offers 3 simple steps for safety in case a train’s a comin’

Advising people to stop, look and listen, this old sign is more instructive than newer X-shaped railroad crossing signs.

2024 BMW i5
2024 BMW i5

BMW’s beloved 5 Series has been around for over 50 years. Now… Continue reading

The Solterra is Subaru’s first all-electric compact SUV. (Photo provided by Subaru)
2024 Subaru Solterra is updated with no increase in pricing

Improved charging ability, added EyeSight features and a new steering wheel are among the upgrades.

Whidbey Renaissance Faire volunteers pose in their costumes. (Photo by Bree Eaton)
Faire thee well: Renaissance is coming to Whidbey Island

The volunteer-run fair May 25 and 26 will feature dancers, a juggler, ‘Fakespeare,’ various live music shows and lots of food.

From a 17th-century warship to ABBA, Stockholm’s delights span the ages

The city — known for Nobel prizes, “Pippy Longstocking” and a very tall city hall — sits on 14 islands connected by 54 bridges.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.