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Are Murphy Beds Comfortable?

Comfortable Murphy bed with close-up of woman lying on it

When it comes to getting a good night's rest, the quality of the bed and mattress is essential. But what about fold away beds? Are Murphy beds comfortable? They are certainly convenient when you're tight on space. But reviews are mixed. You can get a good night's sleep on a Murphy bed. But you can also have a terrible night. That's because not all wall beds are made the same. Learn what to look out for when purchasing a convertible bed system here.

Murphy beds have been around for a long time. In fact, the term "Murphy bed" is coined after inventor William Lawrence Murphy who patented the innovative wall bed design in 1908. The first Murphy bed was invented out of necessity. According to legend, Mr. Murphy was dating a young opera singer in their hometown of San Francisco. Because Lawrence lived in a one room apartment with limited finances, he needed a way to convert his bedroom into a suitable parlor for courting. And it needed to meet the customs of the day in terms of respectability. That meant no bed could be visible while entertaining the young lady. But he also didn't want to give up his own comfort or a good night's sleep. His solution was the now iconic bed that folds away into a cabinet or wall. He called his invention the "In-a-Door" bed.

The innovative pivot and counterbalance system used on this bed provided dependability and ease of operation that we still use today. In time, all wall beds became known as "Murphy beds" in honor of the man who first created them.

Are Murphy Beds Comfortable?

Mr. Lawrence Murphy cared very much about the level of comfort obtained from one of these wall beds because he invented it for himself. As a result, most modern-day Murphy beds are indeed comfortable. The key is in the mattress. The design of the Murphy bed allows for a thicker, more luxurious mattress than possible on a sofa bed or fold up cot. That's because the Murphy bed mattress as designed by Lawrence Murphy doesn't need to fold in half or in thirds. The entire bed frame pivots on one end taking the mattress with it. That means the mattress remains flat while in storage. And there's no bar running under the center of the mattress either since the frame doesn't need to fold in half.

Over the years, changes have been made to Mr. Murphy's original wall bed concept. Some are improvements such as the use of compressed air pistons to raise and lower the bed instead of springs that can snap. However, some beds have deviated from the original design to the point where comfort is sacrificed. This is usually done in the interest of saving money and space. Proceed with caution when buying your Murphy bed. Remember that you usually get what you pay for. Good Murphy beds are not cheap. Upfront, they cost more than a traditional bed. And built-in storage to surround the bed adds more to the cost. But a quality unit will probably last forever.

Types of Wall Beds

Technically, a Murphy bed is any bed that can be folded into a cabinet. There are three types of convertible beds that fit this description. Vertical Murphy beds and horizontal Murphy beds are the same product. The only difference is which side of the bed is attached to the cabinet/wall. The entire mattress platform pivots out of a cabinet. It moves from its vertical storage position against the wall to a horizontal position for sleeping. These beds don't fold in the middle. A third type of bed known as a cabinet bed is also sometimes referred to as a Murphy bed. Cabinet beds are stored in a freestanding cabinet, and most do not need to be anchored to the wall like a regular Murphy bed. The cabinets are shorter — more like a credenza — to keep the center of gravity lower. That way it doesn't need to be attached to the wall. However, the mattress needs to fold to fit into the smaller cabinet.

Vertical Murphy Bed

Vertical Murphy beds are attached to their cabinet and wall at the head of the bed. This is the traditional style of Murphy bed you may have seen in movies. Grab the bed at its foot to lower it for sleeping. Unlike what you may have seen in some comedies, the bed will not close back up by itself with someone sleeping in it. In fact, once the bed is open, it feels and functions like any other regular bed.

Guest room with open vertical Murphy bed surrounded by built-in storage
This guest bedroom also serves as a home office. The queen size vertical Murphy bed converts the space with ease while the floor-to-ceiling built-in cabinets, shelves, and drawers provide enough storage to support multiple uses.

Horizontal Murphy Bed

Horizontal Murphy beds are wall beds that are attached to their cabinet on one side rather than at the head of the bed. The bed pivots out of its cabinet sideways instead of from head to foot. Use this style of bed in a narrow room where you prefer to keep the bed pushed up against a wall. The advantage is that it doesn't need as much space to pivot. The disadvantage is that you can't get into the bed on both sides since one end is pushed up against the cabinet. However, horizontal Murphy beds are just as comfortable for sleeping as vertical Murphy beds. They come in a full range of sizes from twin to king. Full size and queen beds are the most popular.

Den/office combo with horizontal Murphy bed surrounded by built-in bookcase
This combination den/home office also serves as a guest bedroom on occasion. Because the room is narrow, a horizontal Murphy bed was chosen to a comfortable provide queen size sleeping space in the room for up to two guests.

Cabinet Bed

A cabinet bed is not a wall bed. Thus, it is not a true Murphy bed. However, some people include it in this category because the mattress does fold into a cabinet. The advantage of this type of convertible bed is that the cabinet doesn't need to be attached to the wall. Use one if you are renting and don't plan to stay long. Because this bed has a folding mattress, it can never equal the comfort of a true Murphy bed. This fact doesn't change whether you use a foam or coil spring mattress. They will both have to fold up, causing possible discomfort for the sleeper at the crease.

Cabinet bed that folds out of a freestanding credenza style cabinet
A cabinet bed is not a true murphy bed because the mattress needs to fold to fit back into the cabinet.

Wall Bed Construction

Cabinet

Murphy beds consist of an open cabinet that attaches to a wall. The cabinet can be as simple as a box. Many, however, include elaborate built-in shelving, desks, and storage to surround the bed. The cabinet and the storage are always anchored to the wall studs for support.

Slatwood Frame

A wood platform as big as the mattress forms the bottom of the Murphy bed. One side of the platform is finished like a cabinet door to camouflage the bed when it is closed and stored away. The other side of the platform is covered by a European style slat wood bedframe. This bedframe supports the mattress. The individual slats are bowed slightly to makes the bed springy, allowing them to perform like a box spring on a traditional American bed. The slats absorb your body weight and increase the bed's comfort beyond what a mattress alone can do. Larger wall beds like king and queen will usually use two sections of slat wood frame side by side to support the mattress. This is like a king size box spring setup. It makes it easier to get the beds through doorways and allows them to be installed in smaller spaces. The mattress, however, is always a single piece that sits on top of the slats. This is essential to its comfort.

Piston Versus Springs

The platform pivots out of its cabinet at either the head or the side depending on which style of bed you've purchased. The pivoting can be handled by pistons or big springs. The springs are the older, original technology. They are still in use today but can be dangerous if they snap due to metal fatigue. For this reason, many manufacturers have moved to pistons. Pistons are a safer alternative that use compressed air to raise and lower the bed. Both springs and pistons make it equally easy to operate the bed. Slide-out bed legs support the unit once it's open and complete the bed.

Murphy Bed Mattresses

Choosing the right mattress is key to Murphy bed comfort. Don't skimp on your mattress quality, especially if you plan to use the bed every day. Because Murphy bed mattresses don't need to fold, they can be thicker than those used on sofa beds or other types of hide-away beds. This is also part of the reason they are more comfortable than the other options. The final thickness of the mattress also depends on the depth of the cabinet that it pivots into when closed. Standard Murphy bed cabinets are sixteen-inches-deep and can accommodate mattresses that are eight to ten inches thick without problems. If you want a thicker mattress, be prepared to pay for a deeper cabinet. However, be forewarned. Custom cabinets can greatly increase the price, especially if they are accompanied by elaborate custom built-in storage.

Thickness isn't the only determining factor when choosing your mattress. Even more important than thickness is the weight of the mattress. The pistons that control the up and down movement of the bed will have weight restrictions. These restrictions can vary by manufacturer. Be sure to check the specs that come with your wall bed for requirements, but a general rule would be about 48-pounds for a full-size mattress and 61-pounds for queen. Unfortunately, a lot of the solid memory foam mattresses will be too heavy. A combination of foam on top of coil springs is usually the best choice for a Murphy bed mattress. And be sure to replace your mattress peridically as it wears out because no bed is comfortable if the mattress is shot.

Be sure to choose a comfortable wall bed that fits your space.

Always test out your chosen Murphy bed before buying. Is the Murphy bed comfortable for you? If it is, chances are it will be comfortable for your guests as well. And check the specs. Every bed should provide dimensions when opened or closed along with weight or depth restrictions for mattresses. Measure before you buy. And don't forget to check clearance restrictions for your doors and stairways. Avoid the frustration of getting your new Murphy bed home and finding it won't go through the door or up the stairs.

A good quality murphy bed is an investment piece for your home. It adds a lot of versatility and functionality to any space to the point of creating "two rooms in one." And the custom storage options available for Murphy beds can't be beat. When you need a convertible bed for limited space but don't want to sacrifice comfort or a good night's sleep, go with a Murphy bed. Chances are, you won't be disappointed.