Oh, we think we're so clever with our storage ottomans and Murphy beds. As it turns out, double-duty furniture has a long and rich history. Pianos turning into beds, bookshelves turning into tables, even, incredibly, a sofa that transformed into a bathtub. A cousin of campaign furniture, metamorphic furniture was designed to change functions and often involved moving parts. It became particularly fashionable in the 18th century partially as a way to save space, but also as a display of ingenuity and engineering. Here are some fascinating examples from the past:
This piano bed (also shown top) was manufactured in Boston in 1885 and is currently housed at the Brooklyn Museum. Pianos were common fixtures in homes at this time and having one that folded out into a bed allowed for guests to stay overnight or to accommodate larger families.
To reach books in his library Benjamin Franklin tweaked the design of his armchair so that a set of steps pivoted upward for climbing, circa 1760-80. (Hammacher Schlemmer sells a version of this design.)
Flip this mahogany settee onto its side to reveal iron ladder steps used to reach books. Metamorphic Settee with iron ladder steps. France, circa 1795.
This fur-covered armchair transforms into a prie-dieu, a private prayer chair for the home. France, late 18th-early 19th century.
An iron and oak bookcase on casters can be converted to a table. Ohio, circa 1900.
This chair was built in three hinged sections which could then convert into a long chaise. France, late 18th century.
This chair has a hinged back which can be folded down to become a table. Massachusetts, 1650–1700.
Another example of a chair that can become a table, this one by flipping the seat backwards onto the floor. France, early 19th century.
Unexpected overnight guests? No problem. This Edwardian-era chaise opens up to become a bed. England, circa 1901 – 1910.
At a time when daily bathing was becoming more common, Chicago-based Bruschke & Ricke introduced their space-saving heated sofa-tub. It didn't quite catch on. According to the Chicago Tribune: "Unfortunately, the heater had a tendency to ignite turning a relaxing soak into an exciting incendiary event."