Beds that pivot and store upright like the murphy beds of old and today’s ingenious new wall beds are once again the rage anywhere space is at a premium. They’re the perfect solution for that small home, spare room or for empty-nesters when the kids leave home. The questions consumers face, though, are: are they safe, easy to install and will they last? Charlie Chaplin and others in Hollywood were the first to exploit their so-called dangers and quirkiness for a good laugh.
For 21st Century consumers the questions deserves serious thought. Are today’s new gas piston lift systems any better than William Murphy’s original 1910 spring invention? Pistons—also called struts—work fine in the hatchback of a car, but do they work in a murphy bed?
Installed correctly both systems do work well and are safe, but how safe and how easy are they to install and to operate over time? The original system patented by Murphy was a heavy spring and all-steel structure. Bolted to floor in a closet, it could not easily be moved. By the 1950s and 60s many murphy beds were actually abandoned and few people thought they were necessary. The rush to suburban America made saving space less important and the idea languished.
Beginning in the 90s, though, as real estate became more expensive, the murphy bed made sense again and inventors came up with new ideas. The biggest was to house the bed in its own cabinet with a spring system attached to the cabinet and not to the floor. Still, its stored energy required the cabinet be anchored in some fashion either to the floor or the room’s walls. This was true of piston systems, too, but with some big differences.
For one, spring systems still fatigue over time and even can allow the bed to sag outside the cabinet at some point in its life. Springs being springs, too, meant they can pop and groan as they open and close. Most are not user friendly and require a professional to install and maintain. Their biggest advantage was their adjustability, some being easier than others.
The piston systems initially had their limitations, too. They couldn’t handle as much weight as the spring systems and they tended to wear out, to fail, over time. Manufacturers wrestled with these issues and, just recently, came up with some significant improvements. They’ve developed even stronger pistons with decidedly greater torque and—most importantly—a feature that makes them very adjustable—a huge factor in their ability to be fined tuned to nearly any weight mattress (except the heavier latex mattresses.)
The appeal of the piston technology goes further, however. They are whisper-quiet systems, stay closed when they are supposed to and float down with incredible ease when opened. If they do fail, which is rare but possible, they can easily be replaced with no or minimal tools, and at no charge since most manufacturers guarantee them for life. That’s not always true for the spring mechanisms, some of which have only 5–15 year warranties.
Finally, there’s the aesthetics. Critics say that pistons, because they are visible, are unattractive, but proponents disagree. Now, with snap-on plastic piston covers, most consumers don’t seem to mind. In fact, all things considered, many regard gas pistons to be the more quiet, more reliable and easier-to-use option.