How to Add a Murphy Bed

Make a single room serve multiple purposes with a convenient foldaway bed

By Mitchell Parker  /  Courtesy Houzz.com

Whenever I visit my parents’ home, it’s comforting to know they have a spare bedroom to sleep in. But, shamefully, I visit them only one or two times a year, which means that entire guest bedroom is empty and unused for about 360 days a year. My poor father has put his home office in a walk-in closet off another spare room. 

If they had a Murphy bed in that guest room, things could be a whole lot different. My dad could have a real home office, or my mother could have her own TV room. Why didn’t they think of this before? “It’s a pretty old idea, but interest has made a big comeback,” says architect Cary Bernstein. “The flexibility of any kind of foldaway or convertible furniture allows space to have multiple functions.”

But make no mistake: Today’s Murphy beds are a far cry from decades past. Units today are customizable, comfortable and work seamlessly with any home style. If you’re considering adding a Murphy bed, here’s what you should know

Project: Adding a Murphy-style or convertible bed.

Why: To increase floor space or have a room serve multiple purposes.

Considerations: The biggest thing to know with Murphy beds is that you’ll need to add a foot or two of thickness onto a wall to accommodate the fold-up mattress and housing mechanism. So the first thing to plan is where that foot or two will come from. Remember that the slimmer you go on the wall, the thinner your mattress will be, which will compromise comfort. 

You’ll also want to plan for a space about 5 to 6 feet out from the wall for when you pull the bed down, unless you’re adding a horizontal bunk bed–style unit. 

Next, think about the purposes you want the room to serve. Is it going to be a guest room and home office, or a TV room, playroom or yoga space? Many Murphy bed units can be customized to serve multiple purposes themselves by folding up to reveal a sofa or small desk.

For this project Bernstein’s clients wanted a room that would serve as a multipurpose space for playing and accommodating the occasional guest. “They didn’t need a room with a spare bed in it all the time,” she says. 

She created custom casework to act as a headboard and store things like bed linens and toys. Because a section of wall 1 foot to 2 feet deep is being created, most people surround the bed with built-in storage.

After you decide where your bed will go and what purposes the room will serve, you’ll want to consider the quality of the mattress, which can vary, just like with any mattress. 

(Don’t confuse these units with fold-out couches. Murphy mattresses are typically much more comfortable because they don’t have a fold bar in the middle.) Testing quality “is something you’ll really want to do in person,” says Bernstein. “Nobody can sit on it for you.” She also recommends testing the unit to see how easy it is to pull down and back up.

You can purchase just a fold-up bed or a unit with casework around it, or work with a designer or an architect to build a completely customized version. Working with a professional to customize the unit and casework will allow you to integrate your bed and storage with other cabinetry in your home or the floor and other materials.

The Mission Murphy Bed 

Cost: This depends on the system, the size, additional shelving and cabinets, who will install it and more. You can get a simple Murphy bed that folds out from what looks like a large cabinet (like the one seen here) for around $2,500; you can get semicustomizable prefab versions from manufacturers starting at $5,000. Bringing in professionals to help integrate completely one-of-a-kind custom designs into your home will cost more.

Who to hire: Many manufacturers have a network of skilled local installers who can help you set up a Murphy bed after it’s delivered. Otherwise, talk to your general contractor or home repair person about installation. 

If you’re going with a completely customized unit, Bernstein recommends looking for designers who have experience designing custom cabinetry with integrated equipment (appliances, Murphy beds etc.). The designers should also have good relationships with capable cabinetmakers and contractors. 

Bernstein does not advise taking this on as a DIY project.

Resource Furniture makes customized Murphy beds and works with clients to analyze their space and help homeowners, architects and designers decide on which system suits the needs and space. 

“Maybe you have a guest room with a bed just sitting in there, and you’d really like to use the space as a TV room or home office,” Laura Anderson, a PR manager at Resource Furniture says. “We have bed systems with desks on the sides or sofas in front for a living room. These kinds of things really help you get the most out of a space, give it more than one function and maximize square footage.”

Units come in all different configurations, materials and finishes. Some fold down vertically, other sideways. And some spin around on an axle, allowing you to have display shelf storage on one side and a fold-down bed on the other — without the need to remove all the stuff from the shelf every time you want to put the bed down. An example is shown here.

The bed folds up, and the piece spins around to reveal display shelves. This unit starts at $7,200.

In this microunit in Harlem, New York, space is coveted. It’s hard to tell a bed is hiding against the wall.

The bed comes down on top of the sofa. The sofa cushions become pillows. A unit like this starts at $5,300.

For this pied-à-terre, Resource Furniture created something that would allow the client to use the space for a children’s playroom, but also as an extra bedroom when a grandparent or caretaker stayed over. When the bed is down, the space becomes a spare bedroom.

When the bed is up, the space is designated for play. This unit starts at $5,300.

How long it takes: If you’re doing a larger construction project, then your Murphy bed will just be part of that schedule and will be built onsite by your cabinetmaker or installed by a contractor. 

If it’s an independent project, the length of time will depend on a variety of factors, like how long it takes to design and build the casework with your designer if you’re doing a custom job, or how long your prefabricated unit will take to be delivered. 

Units from Resource Furniture typically take about 12 to 14 weeks, because they are custom made in Italy based on each homeowner’s specifications. Once delivered, they can be installed in a day. 

First step: Measure your space, decide which wall can accommodate the added thickness, then think about what purposes you want the room to serve. Consider contacting a professional designer to help you integrate a custom unit with the rest of your home.