Wall beds: Space saving DIY

When you can't move to a bigger place, save space James Bond-style and hide a bed behind a wall

You need more space — now. But at the moment, a major home addition or moving to a new roomier house just isn't in the cards.

The most obvious solution is to create a multifunctional room, an area that can double as a home office and a guest room or can serve as a rec room as well as a bedroom. And what's increasingly making this possible is a century-old product that's finding a new generation of fans: the Murphy bed.

Or as it's alternatively referred to these days: the wall bed, hide-a-bed or concealed bed

Before we delve into the advantages and practicalities of installing a comfy bed that folds or swings into a cabinet or other encasement against the wall, it's necessary to set the historical record straight. Not all Murphy beds are equal, or even necessarily Murphy beds. Just ask the makers of Kleenex or Band-Aid, who wrestle with similar authenticity problem. Today's confusion was spawned 110 years ago when future entrepreneur William L. Murphy moved from a small northern California town to a one-room apartment in San Francisco. Wanting more space to entertain, he started experimenting with folding beds and applied for his first patent in 1900. A few years later, the Murphy In-a-Dor Bed Co., as it was first known, started churning out beds that were built into an alcove closet and swung out from the door jamb. The product gained such popularity during the first half of the 20th century that the term Murphy bed became part of the vernacular in reference to wall beds, even those manufactured by Murphy's growing legions of competitors.

Gene Kolakowski, vice president of the Murphy Bed Co. in Farmingdale, N.Y., who's been with the company for 35 years, said Murphy Bed has sued rival manufacturers many times for improper use of the company's trademarked name.

"It's a very irksome situation. But we found that the only people who benefited from the lawsuits were the lawyers," he said.

Even issuing cease-and-desist letters to alleged violators hasn't been fruitful. "These companies may pack up and disappear. But then the same people turn up somewhere else a few months later."

This isn't to say that faux Murphy beds are necessarily of dubious quality or durability, but if you want an authentic Murphy product with its time-honored, heavy gauge steel frames and spring-loaded lowering mechanism, it's critical to check out the credentials of the company you're working with. Kolakowski says that the company works with about 20 authorized distributors around the country, but if there's any doubt about a bed's bona fides, check with the headquarters (

Authentic Murphy beds come about 90 percent assembled in a carton weighing 150 pounds. About one-third of buyers acquire the bed and the folding mechanism along with the hideaway cabinetry. A queen bed mechanism with mattress starts at $940. Compatible cabinetry constructed from melamine laminate starts at $795. The other two-thirds of buyers have the cabinetry made elsewhere or make it themselves

Indeed, it's the elaborateness of the encasement that drives up the price of any wall bed unit. Flying Bed Co. in Denver specializes in creating high-end cabinetry for wall bed mechanisms, relishing the opportunity to hide a bed behind a wide variety of unexpected furniture pieces, including armoires, bars and entertainment systems.

"Our goal is that when you walk into the room you will not find my product. It's so deceptive you don't know the bed is there," said Flying Bed President Ron McKey. His beds, including cover-up furniture, range from $3,000 to $37,000, though the median cost is about $8,000 for a lighted shelving unit that conceals the bed.

At Crooked Oak, a custom furniture builder in Broadview, Ill., cabinetry for wall beds made of melamine laminates start at about $2,000, including installation. But if you want a desk and built-in entertainment center surrounding the bed encasement, the unit can cost upward of $15,000. Joel Schellhase, co-owner of Crooked Oak, says that safety is a big reason to hire professional assemblers and installers. "It's not like the cabinetry alone is so difficult to build. But because the whole mechanism could fall on your head, there is a risk."

Still, more people are pursuing the do-it-yourself option. Rockler Woodworking and Hardware based in Medina, Minn., sells metal components and detailed plans for building and installing your own basic piston-controlled wall bed mechanism and cabinetry for $300. (This does not include mattress or wood.) Customers receive an instructional DVD that walks them through the assembly process. Scott Ekman, Rockler's vice president of marketing, says it takes an average DIYer about 20 hours to build the bed and cabinetry, including applying a basic finish. The demand is rising for the do-it-yourself option with sales of the hardware kit up 50 percent since 2006, Ekman said.

"We literally have had grandmothers, pregnant women and men in wheelchairs build their own Murphy beds and then call to tell us how thrilled they were with the results."

Total costs including veneered plywood and standard mattress come to about $800, less than half of the cost of a comparable pre-built bed, not including shipping costs.

DIY wizardry

The Murphy Bed Co.'s tips on putting together your own bed cabinetry:

Get the necessary measurements so the bed fits properly inside the cabinetry. At the Murphy Bed Co., cabinetry for a queen must be 66 inches wide, 90 inches high and 20 inches deep.

While any standard mattress will work on a Murphy bed frame, avoid pillow top mattresses, which create extra depth requiring deeper cabinets. Keeping the sheets and a blanket on the mattress should not affect the mattress's ability to fit into the cabinet.

Although original Murphy beds are mounted to the floor, increasingly wall beds are designed to connect to the wall or the surrounding cabinetry. They typically operate with air or gas pressured piston mechanism. Floor mounted beds, while offering grounded stability, can potentially damage floors. If using a wall-mounted system, it's important to locate the wall studs and then attach the bed's back panel to the studs using a drill.

If you have a room with lower ceilings, horizontal wall bed systems will work best if there's enough wall space horizontally. This is a good choice for twin or double beds.