The Murphy bed — a bed that folds flat into a cabinet against the wall — was born of necessity, thanks to a prim 19th-century rule that said a respectable single woman could not be found in a man’s bedroom.
Faced with a seemingly insoluble problem — a one-room San Francisco apartment and an infatuation with an opera singer — an Irish immigrant named William Lawrence Murphy (1876–1957) came up with a creative solution: simply make the bed vanish.
In Murphy’s case, the bed went into a closet — et voilà! The room is no longer a bedroom. Okay, it’s still a room with a bed, but that’s just semantics.
We should raise a glass to the enterprising Mr. Murphy and his amorous adventures. He both got the girl (they married in 1900) and secured a series of patents for his invention.
Just five years later, his beds were so common that Charlie Chaplin found himself on the losing end of a Murphy bed battle.
Of course, the ongoing appeal of a Murphy bed has nothing to do with propriety. For modern enthusiasts, saving space is a serious matter. It’s a boon for studio-apartment dwellers, tiny house enthusiasts, those who want part-time guest beds, and anyone who likes the idea of a room that can serve multiple purposes. And for that you can thank old Mr. Murphy himself, that sly fox.
Speaking of the man, Murphy never actually trademarked the name “Murphy Bed,” an oversight his grandson rued. In 1989, the grandkid was running the Murphy Door Bed Company of Amityville and was forced to sue a former distributor of the beds who’d set up his own venture, the Murphy Bed Company of America.
After a bitter fight, the court ultimately ruled that the term “Murphy bed” had become part of the common lexicon, much as xerox and google have become general words. (Though those companies fight tooth-and-nail to retain control over their trademarks, something the young Murphy would admire.)