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
- 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
- The word “Murphy” was also a slang for sleeping. The word probably derived from “Morpheus” – the Greek god of dreams and sleep.
- 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) .
19th century Americans may have hid their Murphy bed in a wall cabinet but in the 21st century, we have the ever-present ottoman!
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?!