past & present: murphy beds + spring bedding


murphy bed illustrations via murphy bed company history

After my very first past & past column back in August. I had some requests to address the history of the Murphy bed. It’s only taken 6 months and some nudging from Grace – but here’s some insight into the Murphy bed!


image from the Decorator and Furnisher, vol 17 (Jan. 1891)

The practice of hiding the bed became a 19th century art form and practical solution to the lack of space. The parlor was the defining room from 1850 – 1900 and signaled the social circle to which the family belonged. The parlor’s decorations illustrated the social refinement of the family and was where all the best things would have been displayed.


parlor cabinet/bed opened and closed, 1870 in the Decorative Arts collection of the Brooklyn Museum

For middle class families, the folding bed would have allowed a single room to serve as both the parlor and the bedroom. (Even before the advent of cabinet bed, the parlor would have been the sleeping place for the head of the household. In the mid-19th century propriety suggested that the bed and bedroom should be kept out of sight.)


convertible bed in the form of an upright piano, 1865 in the Decorative Arts collection of the Brooklyn Museum

My favorite convertible bed is the piano above. This piece would have allowed one to have the ultimate status symbol – a piano – and an extra bed all in one piece of furniture!


the piano bed opened, Brooklyn Museum

Ok – so at this point you’re probably wondering why you still haven’t heard of a Mr. Murphy. Well, there was indeed a Mr. Murphy who was born in California in 1876. When this Mr. Murphy was newly married and living in a one-room apartment, he wanted a way to hide the bed so that the young couple could entertain. A Murphy bed is technically a bed that seemly folds right into the wall via a cabinet or closet. Mr. Murphy patented his bed in 1900. (You can still buy your Murphy bed from the “Original Murphy Bed Company“!)


an inebriated charlie chaplin battles the murphy bed in one a.m.

Perhaps the reason the Murphy bed stills hold such fascination is the bed’s comedic potential. One surefire way to get a laugh? Fold someone into a Murphy bed! From early Charlie Chaplin (watch Chaplin battle the Murphy bed in the 1916 short One A.M.) to Popeye’s battles with a tiny mouse in Shuteye Popeye (1952) – a Murphy bed gets laughs. The bed even has dramatic potential – James Bond was shut up in a Murphy bed in You Only Live Twice (1967) (watch Sean Connery’s close encounter with a Murphy bed in the movie’s trailer here).

Books to Read

  1. There’s a Bed in the Piano: The Inside Story of the American Home by Myrna Kaye – this book gives an inside look into the American home and pays particular attention to the development of furniture for the American interior

Facts to Know

  1. The word “Murphy” was also a slang for sleeping. The word probably derived from “Morpheus” – the Greek god of dreams and sleep.
  2. 19th century Americans weren’t the only ones who liked to hide their beds in the wall! For example, in 17th century Holland, the bed was commonly placed in an alcove and hidden behind a curtain.

CLICK HERE for a great roundup of modern murphy beds and beautiful spring bedding options after the jump!

modern murphy beds + spring bedding

If you are space-challenged, the murphy bed may seem like the perfect solution – here are a few options! If like me, your bed is in full view, I found some floral spring bedding to make everything look pretty!


[murphy bed with drop-down table $2324]

There are plenty of companies who will sell a ready-made Murphy bed. If you’d like to try your hand at building your own, Moddi Murphy Bed offers plans for building a bed using basics from the hardware store and Ikea – all for less that $275 (not including the mattress) .


[from left: double bed ottoman $1455, ottoman bed $429.99]

19th century Americans may have hid their Murphy bed in a wall cabinet but in the 21st century, we have the ever-present ottoman!


[clockwise from left: jade sheet sets $109-169, bow and berries sheet set $68-268 petal print sheet set $29-119  vine pillow $40 carnations pillow case $35 fern $60-144]


[from left: Nicola Underwood Rose Sham $68 Liberty of London for Target Garla Quilt & Sham $14.99 – 59.99 (available March 14)]

Finally, I just couldn’t resist including some pretty floral bedding! I’m a firm believer that flowers make anything better! Is anyone else super excited for the Liberty of London for Target to be released?!

alexson @ bigger, better, best

I adore the piano bed! That is just awesome.
I grew up sleeping in a Murphy bed, but I never folded it up because that thing weighs about 500 pounds. You’d need to be extra hearty to shove it up every morning!

Emily

I have always had an affinity for Murphy Beds because they are so fantastically secret with such an efficient purpose. What a fun post to scroll through!

Kay Wade

Love this history of design and functionality. Today Murphy Beds can be as stylish as the person who uses them fit any decor and not just be a bed but can transform an entire room. From Modern to Cottage to European every style and design element is an option if you buy a custom bed. They are especially great for studio’s that require multiple uses of the space. You can add an entertainment center, desk, or storage cabinets and drawers to the design. All built in’s provide greater space utilization, especially for todays multiple use rooms. Very few people need a guest room most of the time. Being able to use that space for an office, crafts room, or entertainment space the rest of the time is smart space useage.

TERI REES WANG

I would love to see a double decker wall bed. Often a tiny city apartment needs to be as convertible as a cruise ship cabin, or train sleeping suite.

Tina

My old apartment had kitchen cabinets from The Murphy Bed Company. They were enameled metal cabinets with black pulls. They had to have been ancient, but were in excellent condition. I would kill to have them in my house. Great article, thanks.

Stan Williams -- The Elegant Thrifter

I love this feature. In my first “real” New York City apartment, I had a Murphy Bed installed. The apartment was a Deco dropped living room studio in Chelsea where I emulated the detail of the rest of the apartment for a cabinet/storage/bookshelf that hid the Murphy Bed. I always loved it when guests would ask where the bedroom was, and I’d just go over and open the double door and pull my bed down. The other plus: Rarely did I have to make my bed because after strapping down the pillows and bedding, it sort of just made itself!

Stan

Lydia, Clueless Crafter

I’ve had a blast hanging out on Wallbedfactory.com’s site. We are in the midst of property showing this week, trying to see if a nyc home will be ours. The murphy bed w/drop table in a simple prairie style design is ideal for close quarters.

evalyn

I used to have an apartment with the dropdown table inthe kitchen. Such a space saver! Fold up the table and double your floor space.

Georgie

Very, very fascinating- thanks for posting! That piano bed is amazing!

C.Alicia

Thanks so much for this! I’ve been contemplating Murphy beds for a few months for space saving reasons, but I never realized the cool factor!

laura fenton

In 2004, I had a Murphy bed installed in my old apartment, which was a TINY studio. (I actually went out to the Original Murphy Bed Company’s showroom on Long Island.) For any skeptics out there, the bed was completely comfortable and it made my small apartment livable.

Cara

I am also SUPER excited about Liberty of London @ Target! The teapot, bike, piggy bank – I need them all!

Brett

This is great! I had a murphy bed in my NYC studio for years. I couldn’t afford (and didn’t really want) the cabinetry that they’re usually concealed in, so I just bought the bed frame mechanism and installed hospital curtain tracking on the ceiling to conceal the bed when it was folded up. I assembled and installed the bed myself and was amazed that it only required 4 bolts in the floor. The whole thing was surprisingly easy. I still can’t believe these beds aren’t more of a staple for NY’ers!

folksmith

i have always wanted a murphy bed. just think of the space you could have if you could hide your bed! can’t imagine how in tune the piano would be. thanks for the information.

Pam @ Design Fanatic

I love Murphy beds! The piano bed is a new one for me. We used to own a one bedroom craftsman style bungalow with a bed that pulled out of a wood bench in the living room. When the bed was put away, it rolled under a raised walk in closet in the next room. It was pretty cool.

Meredith

I had no idea Murphy beds had been around so long. I really thought they’d just been invented about the time my grandmother was young, because her home is the only place I’ve ever seen one in use. I’ll definitely be reading that book. And the ottomans – fantastic! They’re exactly what we’ve been looking for for our own home!

Heather

My first tiny studio apt in Chicago had a Murphy bed, oh it was the best thing ever! To have a full size bed and a full size livng room whenever I needed it was great! And never making the bed? Fantastic! It scared the heck out of my cat when I pulled it down, but that was the best thing ever for a tiny living space! Mine was very much like those in the first two images.

Colleen

Another great version of the Murphy bed is the Zoom Room (www.zoom-room.com) which is a bed that slides out electronically! Pretty cool. I think Hafele makes a variety of hardware for creating a murphy style bed, if you are interested in designing your own.
Great historical examples!

Goannatree

This is awesome. I know totally have ideas on spare room/study! oh and maybe one in the lounge too for when the whole family come to stay. Ps: I love the 19th century periodical research! It sends me to happy places!

Richard Rothstein

I work with period furniture and reproductions — wall beds pack so much more interest than any other kind of furniture. You immediately think of comedic moments (a la Chaplin) and of course historical relevance — it’s interesting that the ONE thing that doesn’t always come immediately to mind (when thinking of the antiques shown here) is the practical nature of Murphy Beds. Thanks for posting the images!

Jane

My parents have a Murphy Bed. It’s more Ikea minimalist than some of the turn of the century ones featured and it’s not bad for sleeping.
It’s my mom yoga/houseguest room.

Karyn

The first time I ever saw a Murphy Bed it was the most ingenious thing I’d ever heard of. I was 10. It still holds my interest all these years later. I’m so glad to have learned something more about them today. Great post.

das.

Interesting topic. People in the old days were really smart and I cant find these in HK nowaways…

nemo

awesome post and believe me when i saw Mr. Charlie it bring a sweet smile on my face……

issy

thanks for the informative piece on the murphy bed. and yes, i can hardly wait for liberty of london to arrive at target! it looks like many products will be on-line, so let’s hope it isn’t a repeat of the orla kiely debacle when everything sold out in the first days.

Martrese

I purchased a full size Murphy bed for my 375 sq. ft. studio in the West Village. My then boyfriend actually closed it (accidentally) with my cat inside! Poor thing was trapped in there ’til I got home from work.

Kirsten

Thanks for the murphy bed article! I LOVE murphy beds, I hope to have one someday as soon as I buy a house. Ive seen them make a comeback on hgtv. I’d love to see more articles on this in the future.

Jessica:Frilla

I love this post! It would be fantastic if all furniture had a duel purpose like the piano bed. Makes me want one even though I have no need for it.

shanne

The dutch name of a walled-in bed, with curtains or doors, is a Bedstede. This made it easy to get warm at night and you didn’t need a extra bedroom.

In the 16th and 17th century the bedstede was to small to lay down in (they associated laying with death) so they slept sitting down.

There are some bedstede with a “drawer” for the kids to sleep in.

If you google the name you can still find some very modern versions of a bedstede….

Tamara

We have an Original Murphy bed in out living room in Brooklyn. Its our “guest room”. Its amazingly comfortable. I never saw one in real life till we moved in. Its the most talked about thing in our place!

Murphy Bed Designer

This is such a fantastic article. Love the history and pictures. Amazing how Murphy Beds and walls beds have changed in that many now do the whole room to match yet the basic bed is the same. Nice job!

debbie

I’m looking for a queen set for a murphy bed wher the top sheet has a fitted style sheet at the foot. Also a blanket simalarily constructed? Or do I have to make my own. the concept makes great sense to me! Know where I could find such things???

Patti

I need a new bed frame for an antique Murphy bed. Does anyone have a source?

Great article – thanks!

gene

I have been hunting a part for a 1898/1900 Murphy bed. My wife and I purchased it a while ago. Bought it at an online/open auction. SOOOOOO I came across this board and see all who LOVE them. I have been admiring them for 20 + years. So we bid a high enough bid as to win this one and was amazed when we saw that the winning bid was 1/3 rd less than the max bid. So if you want one keep trudging along and maybe ……… OK I will describe it and the part I need. It is a large side by side, Book shelf on left and drop down secretary desk on right with 1 drawer over double doors. All hardware is ornate, even the metal pins that hold the shelves. It sits on the most elaborate mechanical platform i have seen in 30 years of antiquing. It is 72″ tall 64″ wide and 27″ deep the bed is located on back of the side by side. You pull it out from wall spin it around push it back and then pull the bed down. All in one motion and no moving from corner if you have it placed there. IT IS AMAZING!!!!!! The beds head board has half inch steel pins in the sides with steel 3″ rollers. It was missing 1 roller. I have turned one out of wood until I locate an original one ??????? If not I will have one machined. The all experts appraiser said in his 30+ years he has only heard of this bed, never even seen a photo.WOW!!!!! And just think ……It cost us 375.00 and the only thing it needs is the orinal missing roller.Thanks and if anyone knows of antique parts for this bed please email me at genedavis50@hotmail.com

Shorty

I already have a gutted 1903 upright piano I have been using as an entertainment center for years. Ipods have made that obsolete. I see re-purposing in my piano’s future!

Bob Dolan

I recently received a Murphy styled bed made by Ames and Frost Co., Chicago, ILL”S with two patent dates on an inside lower head slat. They are dated Nov. 28 1882 and Feb 23,1886. Apparently Ames and Frost patented a dovetailing machine in 1872. the bed is very simple with a woven metal mesh with a tensioning adjustment. It measures 74″ tall by 55″ wide and 24″ deep. It has a single mirror when folded into itself with no other frills. I haven’t seen any other beds that old and can’t seem to find out anything about Ames and Frost furniture. This bed came with a short box spring beneath the mesh to add mid support to the bed and it also came with a heavy cotton tick mattress that is about 48″x68″x 5′. I don’t know if the springs and mattress are original but I think not. Any feedback would be appreciated.

LEAVE A COMMENT