Why Old-School Murphy Beds Are Actually an Amazing Idea—Even Today

updated Nov 10, 2020
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Whenever my husband and I show pictures of our new house to people, without fail, one of the first things they comment on is the Murphy bed currently swallowing up one wall in our office. Really, who could blame them? As of now, the built-in bed is, frankly, colossal and doesn’t exactly blend in quietly with the rest of the room. We’ve had more than a few well-intentioned people ask us if removing this decidedly old-school (but genius for small spaces) mainstay is on our list of things to do once we move in, to which I exclaim a resounding, enthusiastic “NO!” 

Guys, I’m here for the Murphy bed… big time. As a former apartment dweller that has spent the past ten years making the most of every corner I’ve had in New York City, I can’t help but applaud the ingenuity and space-saving versatility of the Murphy bed. More than that though, I truly believe that a Murphy bed can actually be a stylish—and dare I say, welcome—addition to any home’s decor.

Credit: Elissa Crowe

First, a little history 101 on the Murphy bed. In case you’re unfamiliar with what I’m passionately extolling, a Murphy bed is a platform bed that literally folds down from the wall. It was originally invented by William Lawrence Murphy in the late 19th century as a way to hide all evidence of his bed in his studio apartment. The reason? Sex, of course (I kid, I kid—but really).

Societal norms at the time dictated that women were prohibited from entering a man’s bedroom, which prevented Murphy from entertaining the young opera singer he was courting (and would later become his wife). They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and that certainly held true here; Murphy designed a way to tuck his bed into his closet when not in use, thus eliminating his “bedroom” all together when entertaining. He patented the idea in 1900 (same year he married the aforementioned opera singer) and launched the Murphy Bed Company shortly thereafter.

Ever since, Murphy beds have become the secret weapon of small-space studio dwellers everywhere. More and more, however, they’re falling into favor with homeowners that just want to be smart about their square footage. Such is the case with our new home. While we don’t need to hide a bed to make our space livable (or acceptable to society, thank goodness), the Murphy bed seems like the perfect way for us to score the office space we desperately need as new WFH-ers while still maintaining a spot for friends and family to crash when it’s safe to visit us upstate.

My obsessive Pinterest-ing of Murphy beds has helped me develop a few hard-and-fast rules when it comes to making this decor marvel work. First, and perhaps most importantly, it’s often best to disguise a Murphy bed. You want to ensure when not in use, it’s practically invisible. Much of the time, the solution here comes in the form of a built-in shelving system flanking the bed. That way, when folded up into the wall, your Murphy bed just looks like a decorative expanse of wall rather than an unsightly jut-out from an otherwise blank space. If you don’t have the means (or desire) to erect an entire surround in order to hide your Murphy bed, you’ll want to instead choose a clever place for it, like behind a pair of closet doors or encased into an armoire. 

Next, ideally, your Murphy bed will make a decorative statement when folded down. Nothing screams “forgotten bed” more than a sad, empty mattress and bed frame that begs to be hidden. Instead, make yourself—or your guests—feel super welcome at bedtime with the addition of cozy sheets, plush decorative pillows, and built-in side tables that can house a water glass or phone charger.

Another great addition? Something to act as a “headboard” for your Murphy bed. Try painting the wall behind the bed an accent color or hanging a decorative piece of art that makes you smile when your bed is folded down. Just remember: Your mattress will eventually fold up to touch whatever piece you’ve hung, so make sure it’s not too bulky or fragile. A simple wall hanging or tapestry, as shown below, is ideal.

Whatever way you choose to style up—and disguise—your Murphy bed, promise me this: iIf you have one in your home, treat it right. Don’t immediately get rid of it. Like William Murphy and his betrothed opera singer, this is a love worth fighting for. At least I think so.