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Murphy Bed Company Isn’t Folding Up Yet

When it comes to California closet companies, Murphy Door Bed Co. just might be the original.

The manufacturer of one of the earliest space-saving devices--the fold-into-the-wall Murphy bed--was founded by William Lawrence Murphy about 1900 in San Francisco under the name Murphy Wall Bed Co. of California Inc.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Aug. 09, 1989 FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 9, 1989 Home Edition Business Part 4 Page 2 Column 2 Financial Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Kitchen Products--Murphy Door Bed Co. distributes Cervitor compact kitchen products in the Northeast but does not manufacture them, as was indicated in a July 31 story in the Business section. The products are made in El Monte by Cervitor Kitchens Inc.

Today, Murphy’s grandson, Clark W. Murphy, is president of the company, which decades ago moved cross-country to Amityville, N.Y., and adopted the new name.

The company still has strong California ties. In El Monte, it manufactures space-saving kitchens, like those found in motel rooms, under the Cervitor name. San Diego is headquarters for a five-store Southern California retail chain called Murphy Beds & Custom Cabinets.

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Business is a little on the slow side, Murphy acknowledged, because of weakness in construction and furniture sales. But the company still sells about 5,000 Murphy beds a year.

Its No. 2 market is Southern California, “where real estate is no bargain” and customers want their guest rooms to double as offices or sewing rooms, Murphy said. Los Angeles-area customers often spend $2,000 or more to outfit rooms with Murphy beds that are incorporated into wall systems including bookshelves and drawers. (The leading market, of course, is New York City, with its thousands of dinky studio apartments.)

Until about 1917, Murphy said, most such space-saving beds folded into walls. But in that year, his grandfather’s company received a patent for a bed that folded up into a closet.

In May, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled that any bed that folds into a closet can be called a Murphy bed, meaning that Murphy Door Bed no longer has exclusive rights to the name. But the court also upheld a ruling of unfair competition against Interior Sleep Systems Inc., which did business in Florida and Georgia as Murphy Bed Co. of America Inc. The court said the company could not call its own wall beds “originals.”

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Murphy said he has spent “several hundred thousand dollars” over the past eight years trying to protect the name and plans somehow to continue the fight. Meanwhile, he wonders whether he will ever see the more than $800,000 in damages that Interior has been ordered to pay.

“The decision really hasn’t affected business,” he maintained, adding emphatically: “We still are the genuine, original Murphy bed.”


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