Maximizing limited square footage makes multi-purpose furniture a go-to for small apartments, home offices, and spare guest bedrooms. These pieces take the guesswork out of finding an extra space to sleep the occasional overnight guest while still keeping the floor plan functional for daily use.
Two-in-one sleepers like a Murphy bed or a futon come in various shapes, sizes, and styles. Both offer fold-out beds but suit different needs depending on your lifestyle and living situation.
If you’re wondering how futons stack up against Murphy beds, this guide to space-saving sleeper furniture will help you find the best fit for your home.
What Is a Murphy Bed?
The fold-down Murphy bed, or wall bed, is popular today for the same reason that inspired its invention more than 100 years ago. William Lawrence Murphy came up with the idea for the fold-out bed around 1900 in San Francisco. He needed to conceal the bed in his studio apartment to invite over a love interest without being perceived as vulgar.
Murphy placed a full-size mattress on a metal frame that could be folded up when not in use. The wall bed allowed Murphy to stow his bed in his closet, transforming his one-room apartment from a bedroom into a parlor where his sweetheart could enter.
The invention was successful in more ways than one. Murphy later married the woman that sparked the idea for his invention, and today the Murphy bed is synonymous with clever space-saving solutions.
Since the early 1900s, the wall bed has evolved, but the design is relatively unchanged for most companies. Traditional Murphy beds are wall- or floor-mounted and uses elaborate springs and metal frames to raise and lower the mattress. The spring systems can be cumbersome, often dangerous to install, and pricy. The Lori Wall Bed is the modern answer to these common Murphy bed pitfalls.
Unlike the traditional Murphy bed, the Lori Wall Bed has no mechanical aids for lifting and lowering the platform because springs aren’t needed to raise the platform with ease. Instead of using the force of springs or pistons, the Lori Wall Bed can be lifted and lowered by hand using your and your lifting partner's strength. It is an innovative yet simple system.
What Is a Futon?
A futon is another common small-space sleeper. Futons are essentially a sofa that doubles as a guest bed. They’re often associated with college dorms because most options are cheap and equipped with waif-thin mattresses. Considering its origins, that association makes perfect sense.
The futon originated in Japan as a thin mattress meant to be placed directly on the floor or floor mat. The mattress could be rolled up when not in use, as explained by the design website Living Spaces. The goal was — and still is — to save space.
The futon was initially hailed as a firmer, more spine-aligning alternative to the traditional American mattress when it was first introduced to Western society. Over time, futon mattresses became thicker, and today futon beds closely resemble regular couches when folded away.
Space Saving Benefits
Murphy beds and futons are solid choices when space is at a premium. To know which one is the best fit for your space, consider how you’re planning to use the room.
A Murphy bed is the best option for rooms that genuinely need to pull double duty because Murphy beds tuck into a cabinet that folds up against the wall. This takes up much less square footage than a futon, which is as wide and deep as a small couch.
Murphy beds give you more room to move. They allow any underused bedroom to double as a home gym, office, playroom, art studio, or anything else you can dream up. Because futons take up more floor space and are designed to double as seating, the pool of possibilities gets smaller. Futons are typically best suited for living rooms, dens, and areas where sleeping and sitting must be done in the same space.
When in the upright position, some Murphy bed cabinets, like the Lori Wall Bed, also have shelves for storage, which frees up additional space.
Either a Murphy bed or a futon can turn a room into a multi-purpose space. That solves a problem from a practical standpoint, but furniture — particularly the kind you sleep on — needs to be more than functional. It needs to be comfortable.
This is where wall beds have a distinct advantage. You don’t have a big say in the type of mattress you’re getting when you purchase a futon. Unlike Murphy beds, the mattress is built into a futon’s sofa-like frame. This means you can’t easily swap the mattress out if you find it uncomfortable.
Murphy beds provide greater versatility in mattress selection because mattresses are sold separately from the frame. That doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy a special mattress if you choose a Murphy bed.
Any mattress that fits a traditional bed can be used in a Murphy bed. The mattress you’re using now would likely fit perfectly. Each Murphy bed cabinet can accommodate a specific maximum thickness, which is listed in a product description. The Lori Wall Bed can accommodate any mattress that is up to 12 inches tall. That’s a relatively thick mattress that offers more cushioning and comfort compared to the average futon.
Ease of Use
One of the joys of convertible furniture is being able to transform a space with little hassle. It can be time-consuming to tear apart a room when a guest comes to stay the night, which is another reason why a Murphy bed is more convenient.
Murphy bed cabinets are designed for pillows and blankets remain in place when folded up, which saves you the trouble of having to make the bed each time it’s in use. It’s simply a matter of lowering the platform for a wall bed to be ready. Another common complaint is that futons tend to jam unexpectedly, making the unit near impossible to use when an overnight guest pops in.
In the short-term, putting a futon in your living room is much simpler than installing a wall bed. It can take several hours to assemble and mount a wall bed while futons generally come pre-assembled. However, Murphy beds are far more versatile and easier to use in the long run.
Cost & Durability
Like most products on the market, there is a low-end and high-end price point for both Murphy beds and futons.
Typically, futons are made from less sturdy materials but are relatively inexpensive. This kind of furniture is generally associated with college dorms and starter apartments because they’re low in cost and not made to last for any significant amount of time.
The futon’s built-in mattresses tend to be on the thinner side and less durable because the mattress is in a bend position when it’s not used as a bed. According to mattress company Purple, it can be difficult for a futon mattress to last a long time if you use it regularly.
There are “luxury futons” available from big-name retailers that are priced at upwards of $1,400. These high-end futons are necessary if you plan on sleeping on them regularly.
Overall, Murphy beds are sturdier than futons. Wall beds can range in price point, from flimsy particle board units that cost a couple hundred bucks to ultra-custom wall beds priced at more than $2,000.
Unlike its counterparts on the market, the 100% solid wood Lori Wall Bed delivers high-quality at an affordable price point. Each Lori Wall Bed is made from cabinet-grade Baltic birch plywood, ensuring its stability and durability. Models start at less than $799 and are made to last for decades.
When comparing Murphy beds to futons, consider comfort, usability, longevity, and affordability. Quality Murphy beds, like the Lori Wall Bed, are sturdier, last longer, and take up less floor space than futons. While futons offer extra seating at a cheap price point, they are much less durable and take up more floor space that will eat into your square footage.