Murphy beds are making a comeback a century after invention

When Raman and Marlene Sidhu moved to a home in Huntingdon Valley in 2014, the previous owner had used one bedroom as a dedicated office with custom bookshelves lining one wall. But the couple wanted more flexibility, and chose to create a combined office/guest room/prayer room, instead.

A Murphy bed, which folds up vertically against a wall when not in use, made that task easy.

“It added valuable space to the room,” Raman said. “We have guests about four or five times a year. We also follow the Sikh faith and wanted the flexibility to have space for prayer.”

They hired Rick Sicinski of Proper Cabinetry in Northeast Philadelphia to remove the existing cabinets and build a Murphy bed within custom cabinetry and shelving that would match the woodwork elsewhere in the house. The bed sits behind faux doors that, when pulled down, reveal the queen-size bed. The total cost was about $4,000 for the custom cabinetry, hardware kit, and Casper mattress.

A Murphy bed, also called a wall bed or hidden bed, is named for William Lawrence Murphy, who invented the concept about 1900. It’s believed that he lived in a one-room apartment, at a time when social customs dictated that a lady shouldn’t enter a gentleman’s bedroom. So he stowed the bed in his closet when a woman visited.

More than a century later, the pandemic helped fuel demand for Murphy beds as so many people suddenly needed a home office.

Queries for queen Murphy beds jumped 2,081% on the architecture and design site Houzz from April to June 2021 versus the same time frame in 2020. This type of furniture is a great way to have more flexibility within a home’s existing footprint, said Mitchell Parker, senior Houzz editor.

When the sleeping side of a Murphy bed isn’t in use, the wall side can come with cabinets and shelving — or even attached desks, sofas and dining room tables — for space-saving function.

Closet Factory, a company that designs, manufactures and installs custom home organization systems, started selling wall beds about five years ago. Most sales are to customers who need a home office and steal the space from a guest bedroom, said Charles Palko, the store’s Philadelphia regional general manager.

“A couple times a year they need it to be a bedroom,” he said. “Grandkids come, visitors come or kids come back from school.”

While Palko won’t give specific sales figures, he said Murphy bed sales doubled in each of the first three years they sold them, and increased by 50% in each of the last two years. Beds come in twin, full and queen sizes and start at about $4,000 for a basic cabinet and can reach as much as $20,000, depending on added features, such as desks, shelves or wardrobe systems.

In Airbnb’s, Murphy beds can increase revenues because the more beds you have, the more you can charge for the rental, said Tina Delia of Delia Designs in Center City.

“Before, [owners] might have reached for a sofa bed or futon but some of the Murphy beds can include other applications and function,” she said. “For example, it could have a dining table on the back of it so it could be used for dining and then you put that away and pop open the bed.”

Designs have evolved in the last few years, and beds now have less ornamentation for a cleaner look, she said. But not all Murphy beds are alike. As with any furniture, the type of wood, intricacies in design, and hardware will make a difference in look, durability and cost.

Delia encourages clients to consider whether the bed is made of particle board or solid wood and has spring-loaded or pressurized pistons — pressurized offer a smoother operation. Does the company deliver the bed and install it, or is that your responsibility?

Lancaster Handcraft in Landisville began specializing in custom, Amish-made Murphy beds in 2011. Owner Andrew Collier said sales have been growing exponentially ever since. His 2021 sales of about 250 beds doubled the 125 beds he sold in 2015. He now delivers nationwide.

Customers can design their own furniture, including bed size, wood type, finish, design style, hardware and cabinetry. Costs range from about $3,600 to more than $5,000. Collier touts the quality of his beds, handmade by Amish artisans who’ve been making furniture for several generations, using solid wood and gas-pressured pistons.

In just about all Murphy bed sales, mattresses are sold separately so the buyer can choose the type that’s preferred. Palko recommends an inner-spring mattress, without separate pocketed coils, that’s eight to 10 inches thick. He advised against getting a 100% foam mattress because it doesn’t work well standing vertically.

Not everyone is a fan of the Murphy bed. While designer Christina Henck likes the idea of a space-saving bed that folds into the wall, for now she’s recommending sleeper sofas to her clients.

“There are cheap, basic Murphy beds and then there are very high-end Murphy beds, but furniture manufacturers have not tapped into that mid-range market,” said Henck, founder and CEO of Henck Design in Manayunk. “There are many furniture vendors who make custom sleeper sofas with upgraded cushions, any fabric you want, any length, depth or height. We don’t have that flexibility as it relates to Murphy beds.”

The Sidhus remain pleased with their own decision to use a Murphy bed to make over a room.

“It functions very nicely as my everyday office and then a guest room when we need it,” Marlene said.

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