Living in large urban cities with limited space poses a challenge — how to fit everything you need into a small apartment. And although this sounds like a uniquely contemporary problem, the fact is that people have been dealing with this challenge for longer than we think…
During the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century a larger share of the population was living in urban areas than ever before, and many lived in dense urban living arrangements that were established to accommodate an array of incomes. These ranged in size and amenities and included tenements, boarding houses, and efficiency apartments, among others. These servant-less and service-less living units ranged in size from several room apartments to a single multipurpose room that included kitchen and sanitation facilities.
Many of the new objects that emerged in response to these new housing situations took the form of patented products, including disappearing folding beds, portable and collapsible, sliding, folding, grooved, or built-in furniture.
Convertible furniture was not entirely new to nineteenth century society — table-chairs, chair-ladders and so on had been in use for centuries. During the Rococo and Louis XVI periods, an interest in movable, multi- functional and mechanical furniture was evident, and pieces such as the roll-top desk, and adjustable and fold-down card tables were admired for their ingenious qualities. However, in the nineteenth century, especially during the second half, multipurpose furniture was new to the mass market.
• Some of the most common examples of innovative furniture from the nineteenth century were simple folding and hiding beds. One of these makers was Levi Boyington from Chicago, who sold the "patent automatic cabinet folding beds" in New York. These beds came in a variety of designs, including "bureau, bookcase, dressing case, sideboard, cabinet, and writing desk styles." In 1897 Sears Roebuck sold seven different examples of a bed in a case: two in the mantel style, which were made to look like fireplaces; one as a dresser topped by a mirror, two which looked like mirrored cabinets; and two which looked like plain cabinets.
• More elaborate examples, such as Charles Hess's patented "Wardrobe, Piano and Bedstead," which was also known as the "Convertible bed room piano" would, in effect, turn the parlor into the bedroom.
• Other pieces — although they did not have a double function — had false-fronts, which made them appear to be other things, such as beds concealed as wardrobes, pianos, closets, and desks, among other things.
• Today folding and transforming beds are still available. Some interesting examples include the Cabrio In by BonBon Compact Living Solutions, a folding bed that turns into a desk when not in use.
• And manufactured by the same company, the Doc Sofa/Bunk Bed, a couch that amazingly turns a couch into bunk beds.
~ Natalie Espinosa