I suspect that a lot of empty nesters would like to convert a kid’s former room into a usable space for other pursuits while still having it available for visiting friends and family. The solution is a comfy, standard-sized Murphy bed that quickly flips out of the way when not needed. I wanted one myself.
After some research, I found a nice, well-made, reasonably priced Murphy bed hardware kit for the job. (See page 62.) What’s not so nice is the kit’s instruction booklet, with its metric dimensions, minimal illustrations, and a bed cabinet design that leaves a lot to be desired. After puzzling through the hardware installation, I designed much nicer cabinetry to accommodate it, and I have to say the unit looks and works great! The cleverly designed spring-loaded bed mechanism is adjustable for tension and lets you lower the bed with one hand while swinging the legs down for support. When raising the bed back into the cabinet, swing the leg stretcher up onto the mattress to help hold it in place while vertical.
I based the bed cabinet design on an 8-thick, full-size mattress, which will suit most guest rooms. I flanked the cabinet with bookcases, tying all three units together visually with molding at the base and a square bead that runs along the top. Soffit boards atop the square bead reach to the ceiling to hide the metal mounting brackets and prevent a dust trap. A mantel reinforces the door while providing a pretty platform for decorative items. I built the project with clear, vertical-grain fir plywood trimmed out with solid vertical-grain fir to match my room’s trim. Build and style your version to suit your own décor.
Plywood panels, solid wood trim, and simple joinery
The bed- and side-cabinet assembly sits on a base and is topped with a square-bead frame and soffit. The bed frame attaches to the bed cabinet via axles on the balancers that protrude through the frame sides and connect to rotation plates within the cabinet sides. Slats riding on ledger strips on the bed frame provide the platform for a mattress. (The unit is designed to transfer body weight to the frame, not the door, which is chiefly cosmetic.) Plywood panels are edged with solid wood where plies would otherwise be visible, and all parts connect with biscuits and/or screws, with moldings nailed in place.
Order of Work
• Build bed frame and cabinet
• Make and attach door
• Build side cabinets
• Install cabinets
• Add moldings
The Question of Customization
The hardware kit and the 8 × 54 × 731⁄2 full-size mattress I used (see p. 62) are both excellent, reasonably priced products that work well for this design, and I recommend them highly. But can you customize this build to suit different-sized mattresses? Sure, but it will change the location of the pivot point, so you’ll need to work that out in a drawing and/or mock-up.
Build the bed frame and cabinet
Referring to the drawings, make the top, bottom, and sides for the bed cabinet. Also make the headboard, footboard, sides, and double-thickness center beam for the bed frame. Apply solid wood edging where shown. Precisely lay out and drill the axle holes in the bed frame sides, then use each balancer to lay out its bolt holes, counterboring them on the outside faces for the cup washers. (Important: Make sure the top edge of the installed balancer will sit exactly 43/8 up from the bottom edge of its frame side to align with the tops of the ledger strips.) Similarly, lay out and drill the rotation plate blind holes in the bed cabinet sides, and then use the plates to lay out their bolt holes. After drilling the bolt holes, lay out and drill the pocket screw holes for attaching the door later. Then assemble the bed frame, make and attach the cleats at the bottom edge of the headboard, and mount the balancers. Next, assemble the bed cabinet. Screw the glued-and-biscuited joints together, except at the exposed front edges of the cabinet. Simply clamp there.
A Good Case for Prefinishing
This project presents a great opportunity to “prefinish” parts as you build. For example, I wiped varnish on the exposed sections of the bed cabinet sides before assembling the case. Same thing with the door before attaching it to the bed frame. Just make sure to avoid joint surfaces. This approach leads to better, more efficient finish work. It just requires some forethought to ensure that the entire build isn’t stalled while waiting for finish to dry.
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