History of the Murphy Bed: The Evolution of Sleeping in Convertible Spaces
William Murphy was a young man in San Francisco at the end of the 19th century when he started working on a fold out bed for his meager one-bedroom apartment. He was trying to find a way to use his small space to more efficiently “entertain”. Turns out, Murphy was courting a young opera singer at the time, and rumor has it he was attempting to legitimize their frequent liaisons without compromising the honor of his fiancée.
Happily, the couple were married in 1900 – the same year Mr. Murphy applied for his first Murphy Bed patent.
You can read more about Murphy bed history in the Smithsonian Magazine Blog..
In fact, “convertible” beds were around long before the Murphy Bed. According to the Encyclopeadia Britanica, the term “Trundle Bed” has been around since the 16th century, describing all sorts of non-standard small beds. In just one example, the blog Design Boom, tells us: “…the Emperor Napoleon often made the effective use of daybeds with overhanging tent-like draperies in striped materials creating a regal environment” when visiting the Provinces. Leave it to Napoleon to mix comfort with conquering.
The blog Suite101 highlights an article by Marie Brannon that originally appeared in Antique Furniture magazine entitled “Early American Folding Dual-Purpose Furniture” with the sub-heading “Space-Saving Folding Beds, Tables, Chairs and Desks Were Necessary.” She writes: “American colonists were thrifty souls who found it necessary to conserve space by finding furniture that doubled itself in function while remaining attractive”. Thrift, ingenuity and good taste – further testimony to what made this country great. You may read more at Suite101.
It wasn’t until just after World War II that we see our first references to the sofa bed. Simmons came out with a model that started at just $79. In the 1970’s, Boston-based William Brouwer, convinced that other types of convertible beds (Murphy Beds and Sofa Beds) were ungainly, less than comfortable and difficult to operate, adapted the Japanese Futon concept for the US. Taking them off the floor, he designed an award-winning three-piece bed frame that also worked as a sofa – with about twice the padding of the Japanese model.
It wasn’t until 2005, however, that the convertible bed, well, entered the 21st Century. Zoom-RoomTM was introduced in the U.S. as the first electronic, remote controlled, retractable bed that was, in all ways, light years ahead of a Murphy Bed. By pressing the button on the remote control, the unique mechanism and specially designed mattress glided effortlessly into living rooms, home offices, guest rooms, or anywhere a better convertible sleep solution. Unlike the Murphy Bed and other wall beds that pull down, the Zoom-Room had no doors or obvious panels.
Instead, it went from a horizontal bed position into a vertical position inside a specially constructed high quality cabinet, making it completely undetectable. An impressive example of modern technology, it was also the ideal complement to another high tech appliance that was captivating the nation – the flat screen TV – that fit perfectly into the Zoom-Room center shelf. Unlike the Murphy Bed, whatever was put in front of the unit stayed in place when you operated the bed.
Until recently, the Zoom-Room required a custom cabinet to house the wall bed mechanism and mattress. In 2009 Zoom-Room introduced “The Standard”, it’s first line of high quality, prefabricated cabinets, bringing the cost of this remarkable design solution within reach of millions of Americans searching to maximize space without sacrificing décor.