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Murphy Bed John Gruen

Want to offer your guests a good night’s sleep but don’t want to dedicate a room to be used solely as a guest room, especially if it’s a small space? Then a Murphy bed may put this question to rest. Murphy beds, which fold up into a cabinet when not in use, are named for their inventor, William Murphy, and were first patented more than a century ago. Murphy beds can be purchased as full units—or, with the necessary wood and hardware, you can build your own.

Read on to learn how to buy and install an easy-to-assemble Murphy bed or plan your own, DIY style.

Murphy Bed Dimensions

Murphy beds can save floor space while making the overall area more versatile, but they do take up some room. Expect the cabinet to be about 18 inches deep, and somewhere between 4- and 5-feet-wide, depending on the mattress size.

Because the cabinet stands about six-and-a-half-feet-tall and opens in an arc, you’ll need to make sure it can open and close without hitting a ceiling fan or light fixture. You’ll also want to make sure there’s at least 2 to 3 feet of space to walk around the foot of the open bed as well as space along at least one side of the bed.

While in many cases Murphy beds are installed as free-standing cabinets, their size makes them conspicuous. One option is to install the bed in a closet. If you have a closet with a 5-foot-wide opening between the jambs of the doors, you can probably fit a Murphy bed in it.

Most Murphy beds fold up on hinges at the head of the bed. However, they can also be hinged along one side of the bed, folding in and out so that the bed runs parallel to the wall. This can be a better use of some spaces.

Murphy Bed Kit

The fastest route to fashioning a spare room with a Murphy bed, complete with its cabinet, is to buy one that’s ready-to-assemble. A reasonably skilled DIYer with a cordless screwdriver, level, and basic hand tools should be able to tackle the installation.

The first step is to build the cabinet. It’s easiest to do this on the floor, then raise it into place. A critical step with all Murphy beds? Fastening the cabinet securely to studs. Beds weigh a lot, and the opening and closing mechanism exerts a considerable amount of force doing its job. You don’t want the unit detaching from the wall.

Being square and plumb are also key components for the functionality of a Murphy bed. First, check the floor for level. If it’s good, then installing the sides plumb should make the cabinet square as well. You can check this by measuring the cabinet diagonally from corner to corner. If the measurements are equal, it’s square. If they’re off, you may have to shim one side up a bit.

With the cabinet fastened to the wall, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to install the hardware and bed frame.

DIY Murphy Bed

Two advantages to building your own Murphy bed? Control over the design and the cost. Of course, that’s balanced by the amount of time it will take to plan, design and build the unit. When designing your DIY version, remember to make the bed frame an inch wider and two inches longer than the mattress, so there’s room for your fingers when making up the bed.

In addition to design, you’ll also need to determine the style of hardware you want to use when it comes to the opening and closing mechanism. You can choose between springs or gas pistons—similar to those used on pickup truck caps or tonneau covers. Some carpenters prefer the springs because they seem to last longer than the gas pistons. If you’re building your own bed, you’ll also need to select the strength of the springs or gas pistons needed, based on the weight of the bed frame and mattress.

The bed frame needs to be stout enough to support a mattress and sleepers, yet relatively lightweight for ease of folding. Most carpenters build Murphy beds from ¾-inch hardwood plywood. Birch is a good option since it’s readily available and tends to be less expensive than other hardwoods. If you go this route, you’ll want to finish exposed edges with wood strips glued and nailed in place or with iron-on edge banding.

Whether you buy or make a Murphy bed, you’ll be glad for the extra sleeping space when you have guests, and for the extra floor space when you don’t.