I mentioned last week that one of the designs I'm building this summer incorporates a Murphy bed, and I've spent the last week working out how to make it happen. What's a Murphy bed, you ask? You've seen them; they were a staple of physical comedy for a while. A Murphy bed is simple a bed that folds down put of a wall of a cabinet.

Here's some footage of the great Charlie Chaplin wrestling with a Murphy bed from the film, "One A.M.":


Turns out that while Murphy beds aren't incredibly common, there is apparently still a strong market for them, and there are a number of companies that offer direct sales of Murphy bed kits and full bed sets. Most are designed inside cabinets that are secured to the wall of your home--negating the need for major renovation of the structure of your house--and the kits themselves are relatively inexpensive: about $300 for the mechanism (which leaves you to build the cabinet and bed on your own).

Create-a-bed (http://www.create-a-bed.com) and Hiddenbed (http://www.hiddenbedusa.com) are two sources if you're looking to make that extra bedroom or small studio apartment more flexible.

The major trick to a Murphy bed--and the source of most of the comedic hijinks--is the lift-assist mechanisms. Beds are heavy, and it would take a lot of effort for one person to fold one back into a wall or cabinet. (I imagine the idea would be even less common if you had to lift the full weight of a bed each time you opened or closed the thing!) To make it easier to handle the weight of the bed, these mechanisms incorporate either springs or pistons to help do the work. In essence, the concept isn't any different from those struts on the sides of a hatchback trunk lid--they help lift the heavy weight of the lid (and to hold it in place above your head); in the case of a Murphy bed, they help lift the bed up into its hidden position.

Here's the trick, though: those springs and pistons are carefully calibrated for the weight of a bed. This is to prevent people being sucked up into them the way we see in movies. (It's still a little funny to watch, even when you know it's coming!) So the question for us is this: do we put a real bed into the flats onstage and buy one of these kits? And that leads to more questions: Can the flats handle the weight and stresses involved in this? Do we want to wrestle with the weight of a real bed during load-in and strike? Do we risk buildings lightweight fake bed and put one of these kits on, hoping for the best? Or do we spend some time doing some force calculations, buy our own springs, and hope it works?

Those are the questions I'm wrestling with today. I'll need to make some kind of decision by lunch time. Stay tuned to hear what we decide to do.

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Comment by Carl Clark on June 14, 2013 at 10:10pm

For Kim's bed in "Bye-Bye Birdie", we used the Murphy bed approach on a two-sided 8x8 rolling wall so it wouldn't take up so much room backstage.  One side was Kim's bed room and the other side was part of the back door of Maude's Roadside Retreat.  We made a simple 2x4 bed frame hinged to the wall right at the base of the headboard, balanced by counterweights inside Maude's trashcans on a small platform on the backside.  Wheels mounted inside the nightstands and under the platform.  Worked great, quick change, easy to move, looked pretty realistic but was light weight with only a foam pad atop a 3/8 plywood "mattress" supported within the 2X4 frame.  Snaphooks held it against the wall when it traveled.

Comment by Kelly Wiegant Mangan on June 3, 2013 at 11:11am

Lucky Duck!  Yea, the Drowsy Chaperone bed is an adventure of it's own!  

Comment by Rich Dionne on June 3, 2013 at 11:09am

Whoa--Kelly, what you're describing is significantly more complicated than what we have to do--for which I shall be forever grateful! Fortunately for us, no one has to ride the thing. I will take a look at the idea of having the nook move with the bed to provide offstage access...

Comment by Kelly Wiegant Mangan on June 3, 2013 at 11:06am

We had a "nook" as well -- actually it was essential to the balance of the pivot point.  The technicians were only offstage assisting the stop and start of the move, really -- and to help the actors get into place offstage for the "oh, look, two people in the bed! moment" -- they basically rode the thing down in a shoulder stand position.  So ours was a bit like a giant "L" -- equal distance needed off stage as on for the contraption to work.  The "nook" traveled to the floor behind the wall when the bed was "put away".

Good luck with everything -- and let us know how it goes!

Comment by Rich Dionne on June 3, 2013 at 10:56am

Thanks Floyd and Kelly!

As always, the particular requirements of this production mean special choices for us... :)

I've decided to go with a single-pivot, located close to the floor. Because of the rest of the design, it will be actor-driven--with no ability to assist from offstage. (The bed, when down, reveals a "nook" with a shelf and some track lighting--no room for a technician.) I'm hoping it won't be too heavy; we'll see.

Comment by Kelly Wiegant Mangan on June 3, 2013 at 10:20am

Hey Rich -

We did a really low tech murphy bed for Drowsy Chaperone last summer.  Our version used no real standard murphy bed hardware, but rolled on a center pivot and was technician powered.  Probably pretty complicated to describe on this post, but not a complicated build at all.  E-mail me at Mangank@bgsu.edu if you want to chat about whether or not this method might work for you.

Comment by Floyd Nash on June 3, 2013 at 7:24am

Try contacting the set designer at Florida State University.  I know that they used a murphy bed in their production of DROWSY CHAPERONE.  

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