You can tell a person's age by the associations they make with the Murphy bed – whether it's Charlie Chaplin or Laverne and Shirley battling those unpredictable springy adversaries.
Only the blissfully young will associate "Murphy" with a bed that does what it's told. Because the space-saver, invented in 1900 by William Lawrence Murphy of San Francisco, has made great strides since the days of the Hollywood lampoon.
Far from locked up behind cabinet doors, today's most functional Murphys pop up into alcoves, flip horizontally and double as desks or dining tables.
California Closets, the veteran small-space outfitter popular in dense urban markets where "studios" are not just for artists, customizes a range of wall beds that slip into clever cabinetry with slick Perspex doors or shelving units designed to resemble rosewood, walnut and wenge.
And they don't take 500 pounds of person-power to stow away. Driven by demand for condo-friendly furnishings, manufacturers such as California Closets and the original Murphy Bed Co., now headquartered in Farmingdale, N.Y., have improved on Murphy's patented mechanism with adjustable levers and dampers that control even California kings – and offer online tech support to boot.
The century-old "Murphy in-a-Dor Bed" [sic] has been eclipsed by "panel" models with drop-down legs, systems that support floating bunk beds and "piston lifts" that work like Japanese automobile hatchbacks.
The Toronto-based designer Manny Machado makes a queen-size Murphy that lowers onto an integrated three-seat sofa in a range of upholstery with remote-control lighting and under-bed storage. It sells for upward of $6,000 without the mattress.
Resource Furniture, with outlets in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal, sells the Lamborghini of Murphys: the Italian brand Clei, whose beds are integrated in high-spec cabinetry with invisible Polyzene cams that glide like knives through butter. Clei's "swivel" model pops up, then revolves back into the wall like a bookcase in a Scooby-Doo plot. The oak shelves are so steady, you don't even have to clear them before lowering the bed. For this, the company charges $9,500. Not your mother's hide-a-bed, to be sure, whose springs remind you just how long it takes a guest, like fish, to smell.
If you're short not just on space but funds, you could have a go at a DIY Murphy. The online company Moddi sells an instruction booklet for $8, using parts you can buy at IKEA for under $300. And where there's a will, there's Costco, whose double melamine wall beds, by the Canadian manufacturer Bestar, are just over $1,000.
Any customer, it must be said, should do his or her due diligence.
"Make sure the bed has an adjustment on the mechanism to be able to tighten the springs," says John Lynch, whose Vancouver business Instant Bedrooms sells Murphys starting at $1,500.
"After a year or so, all springs lose some tension and need to be tightened. If the springs are stretched out, this could cause the bed to fall out of the cabinet."
Lynch has fitted his beds with a built-in box spring of beechwood slats – a wise alternative, he says, to a standard box spring. "This is great for circulation under the mattress."
If you're eyeing a less expensive model, he advises, keep in mind that plywood veneer is stronger than particleboard melamine and will stand up to decades of wear. As long as you keep the slapstick to a minimum.
Editor's Note: Resource Furniture sells Clei's "swivel" model starting at $9,500, not $15,000 as stated in an earlier version of this article