Wall beds open up the options for those with limited space

Concealed pull-down beds are giving more and more rooms a double life. Shrinking living spaces may demand quick convertibility - and that's what these beds deliver.

Dens, family rooms, living rooms, bedrooms, and one-room apartments often include these out-of-sight sleep units, which can be lowered into place at the flick of a wrist. When not in use, they fit flat up against the wall. And unlike standard sleep sofas, the mattresses never need folding.

The Murphy door bed, manufactured continuously since 1900, is probably the oldest and best known of all such beds. William L. Murphy, founder of the company, applied for his first patent for a space-saving folding bed 84 years ago in San Francisco and began to manufacture his invention there. During the 1920s and 1930s, after moving his company to New York City, he sold thousands of his pivotal door beds that swung around from a dressing closet and then lowered into sleeping position.

Volume dropped markedly during the building boom that followed War World II, when mortgage money was easy to obtain and living space was not at such a premium.

During the 1970s, the recession, oil embargos, and high interest rates once more focused attention on how to make the most of limited space and on the expanding concept of the multipurpose room. People felt less inclined to move on to larger houses and decided to make do with what they already had.

The Murphy Door Bed Company again began to flourish. Clark Murphy, grandson of the founder and now president of the company, says sales are now going up 20 percent a year and are presently at an all-time high.

The company has continued to refine the counterbalancing spring mechanisms that give the beds ease of operation, as well as the mattresses that have box springs built into them. The bed mechanisms must, in every case, be securely fastened to the wall that supports them.

The beds alone at Murphy range in price from an economy twin at $235 to a top-quality queen for $500. The cabinetry, which costs extra, varies in both style and price. One black lacquer cabinet, for instance, is $3,000.

Mr. Murphy, who has an office and showroom at 183 Madison Avenue in New York, says he has seen the beds placed in everything from simple, do-it-yourself plywood cabinets to $10,000 antique armoires. Interior designers often have cabinets custom made to house the bed units. Frequently, these are elements within a larger wall storage system.

This year, for the first time, Henredon Furniture Industries Inc. of Morganton, N.C., placed a fold-down bed within one of its most handsome new storage cabinets in its Circa 1990 series.

Staff designer David VanderBloemen explains that the company saw a void in the high-end furniture field for pieces that included this practical feature. Working with the Hickory Springs Company of Hickory, N.C., they developed a quality drop-down mechanism and bed that satisfied designers in both companies.

''We decided that such a concealed bed could liberate a lot of floor space for other purposes, whether in a bedroom, office, hobby room, or studio apartment,'' Mr. VanderBloemen continues. The Henredon bed wall unit with two armoire units on either side, as shown here, will retail for about $5,600. The single cabinet, which contains the bed unit, will retail at about $2,800, not including the queen-size mattress.

Gene Dreyfus, president of The Childs/Dreyfus Group, a leading interior design and merchandising firm in Chicago, labels huge beds as ''totally wasted floor space for most of every day.'' In a 325-square-foot studio apartment that he recently decorated, he tucked a mechanical wall bed by Sico behind a dramatic mural. By night, the mural lifts, and the bed drops down for sleeping. ''This is using space to its greatest and most functional advantage,'' the designer explains. Sico Incorporated of Minneapolis manufactures what it terms ''the disappearing bedroom,'' a modular wall and bed system called ''The Room Makers.''

Europeans have for many years been designing and engineering their own highly sophisticated furniture to cope with very small rooms. Designers have learned to squeeze more usefulness into every millimeter of space. Some of these bed systems, including Interlubke and Planum, both made in Germany, are imported to the US.

Werner Meier became the US distributor for Planum Inc., 200 Lexington Avenue, New York, six years ago. The system is now available through some decorator showrooms and through high-end specialty furniture stores. It comes in 3 depths, 9 heights, and 11 finishes, including rosewood and oak, and includes a fold-out bed unit in twin, double, and king and queen mattress sizes. Prices for the single element that houses the beds range from $2,500 to $5,000, which includes both cabinets and mattresses.

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