Maybe the kids have flown the coop and you want to use the bedroom as an arts room, but don’t want to lose the bed. Or perhaps you’ve started a home-based business, and really need to turn the guest room into an office – but still need to accommodate Aunt Edna’s bi-annual visits. What’s the creative home handyperson to do?
Wall beds (also referred to as Murphy beds, after the inventor of the first modern wall bed) provide a convenient, affordable way to extend the usable floor space of any room. As the name implies, a wall bed is just that – a bed that is stored against a wall. Placing a bed, horizontally or vertically, into a cabinet and securing the cabinet against the wall is not too complicated. If you’ve ever built a hutch, corner cabinet or similar large scale piece of furniture, then you likely have the skills to build a wall bed.
Essentially it involves building a frame (to hold the mattress), building a cabinet, into which the frame and mattress fit, and attaching a set of legs to the box. The legs typically fold up against the side or end of the frame, or in more elaborate cabinets, are integrated into the face panel. A pair of metal springs or a piston lift enable you to easily and safely lower or raise the bed frame into the box. A latch holds the mattress frame securely in the cabinet in the closed position, and mattress straps keep the mattress taut against the mattress frame. Fitting the hardware to the mattress frame and the sides of the cabinet is likely the most time consuming part of the project.
The cabinetry that surrounds the bed can be as simple or ornate as you would like. The least expensive option, and perhaps the option of last resort, is to build the entire wall bed out of melamine. A more attractive option is to use a combination of AA grade plywood and solid wood to match the other furnishing in the room or in the house. You can add side options (bookshelves, or other cabinetry) or incorporate halogen lighting into the top of the cabinet frame. The side options can be added at a later date. While you could build separate doors for the cabinet for a more formal look, typically the face panel on the mattress frame serves as the door to the cabinet. The face panel can be something as simple as a sheet of plywood, or as elaborate as a frame and panel affair.
You can mount a single, double (full) or queen sized mattress into a wall bed, and have the bed open horizontally or vertically. If you need to purchase a mattress do so at the start of the project, so you can verify the dimensions of the frame and cabinet. Cabinets are typically 16″ to 18″ deep, and approximately 88″ (7′ 4″) high. Note that wall beds don’t use box springs – the mattress frame usually incorporates a plywood base or wooden slats on which the mattress rests. As well, pillows are typically stored in a closet or chest of drawers, and not on the mattress when it is closed.
Some companies such as murphybeds.com, sell complete wall bed kits (without the mattress). Expect to pay upwards of $2,000 for a basic melamine bed system with a wood tone finish. Hardware kits, which include the spring mechanism and legs and start at about $350 are also available at murphybeds.com or leevalley.com. A piston lift kit is slightly less expensive. If the kit you select doesn’t come with a wall bed plan, then it’s a good idea to purchase a plan, leevalley.com. The plans will give you the construction details required to build a basic bed, and you can easily customize the design to suit your specific needs.
If there is a wall bed retailer in your locality, visit the store to get a better idea of how they are constructed. Before building, purchase a plan and spend some time reviewing it. And give yourself time – building a wall bed is not a weekend project, but then again, it is well within the scope of any woodworker with intermediate level skills.