Sofa Info

A History of Sofa Beds

  • February 7, 2022
  • 8 min read
A History of Sofa Beds

A sofa bed serves as a couch in the day and a bed at night. Modern sofa beds convert into beds by lowering hinged upholstered backs to a horizontal level or pulling away from the concealed mattress within the couch. In America, they are also referred to as ‘hide-a-bed,’ bed couch, or pull out sofas. Historical records show that Ancient Romans had couches that doubled as beds and that symbolized status. The wealthy homesteads, for instance, used the lectus cubicularis while the poorer people had the lectus tricliniaris.

A Roman Lectus Couch. A History of The Sofa bed
A Roman Lectus Couch. A History of Sofa bBeds

Sofa beds are said to have been in existence a century ago, with one of the earliest recorded foldaway style beds being owned by Thomas Jefferson at his Monticello home. The bed is said to have been suspended using ropes and then hooked onto the wall.

The ancient Roman Lectus Couch and bed were among the essential pieces of furniture in a Roman homestead. Romans used it as a dining area for sleeping, sitting, and having conversations. It was characterized by a wooden frame that supported criss crossed leather straps that held a mattress stuffed with straw, wool, or feathers. The coach had an arm on one end similar to modern sofas and sometimes at the other arm and back too. However, the back part came to be added later as they started using feathers to stuff the mattress.

Lectus coaches further had a headboard, pillows, cushions, and coverlets. Often, the coach’s legs were artistically decorated using plated and inlaid ivory, precious gems, metals, or tortoise shells. Wealthy households even used solid silver for the decorations. The coverlets were drawn from delicate fabrics, such as silk, and later colorfully dyed.

Ancient art researchers in 1899 found one of the lectus beds in Pompeii, Italy, whose frame was missing. However, the mattress was laid on the floor with support for it. The couch had a wooden frame and was decorated using bronze mountings. The ideal lectus sofa bed for the Romans was different from the sofa/couch only used for sitting. For instance, the sofa couch was so high that a stool or a stepping spot was necessary to get on top and nap. The Roman Lectus sofa in the libraries had an arms-length on the left arm side for the scholar to support their hand as the right hand held the book. In the Roman dining areas, the Lectus had a permanent spot.

A Real Lectus Bed

Different Versions of the Lectus Bed

1. Lectus Cubicularis: A chamber bed.

2. Lectus Genialis: A heavily decorated marriage bed. It was often placed at the opposite side of the doorway in its room. A rule popular to the people stated that if your partner had made you angry, you were not to get into that bed. Instead, opt for the undecorated cubicularis until the anger goes away.

3. Lectus Discuriborious: The Roman ate on this bed while lying on their left side. Usually, it had three people at a time, and whoever was in the middle was the most honored person.

4. Lectus Lucubratorious: The make was designated for study purposes.

5. Lectus Funeibis: The Romans used this bed to carry the dead.

The First Unfolding Sofa Beds

The late 1800s saw the advent of folding beds, and in July 1899, Leonard C. Bailey, a man from an African American impoverished family from Washington DC, received a patent for his single folding bed.

Bailey's Sofa Bed
Bailey’s Sofa Bed

Its first form was the murphy bed, a piece of space-saving furniture that had been used commonly for decades. History reports that it originated with an inventor known as William Lawrence Murphy. He was a love-sick individual who came up with the idea in 1900 while in San Fransisco. He had fallen for a young opera singer, and during that time, it was considered absurd and immodest to have a woman enter a male’s bedroom. To curb the rule, he built a wall bed and placed a full-size mattress on a metal frame that could be folded into the closet when not in use. This way, Murphy could transform his apartment into a parlor when the young woman was around. They later got married.

Today, modern folding beds use the metal frame invention. William, however, did not give his bed the title ‘Murphy Bed”. He originally named it the disappearing bed and patented the “In- a -door” bed in 1908.

Sarah E Goode holds the title of the first person to receive a patent for the folding cabinet bed by the U.S Patents and Trademark office. The bed doubled as a desk too. It would function as a writing desk when the bed was upright. Many modern Murphy beds adopted her design after she died in 1905.

Bailey’s and Goodes patented versions and the Monticello-style beds are today displayed at the Brooklyn Museum, where the oldest form of sofa beds, the piano beds, are kept. The piano bed dates back to 1885 and is the earliest but least explored ancient sofa bed.

The Museums website states that piano beds were a way of living like a wealthy person while you had less. In layman’s language, it is a way of keeping up with the Jones. At the time, parlors were in abundance, but space and money were the lacking factors. The time residents probably applied Murphy’s parlor logic while using the piano beds.

The evolution of the Murphy bed has shown a more safe and stylish design than ever. Initially, Murphy sofa bed designs needed springs and pistons to lift and lower the frame. The metal mechanisms used at the time looked somewhat clunky and almost dangerous. It, however, achieved the goal of folding onto the wall.

Modern designs have a variety from cost to materials used and size. Lori Walls Beds, for instance, do not apply the metal or spring frames mechanisms. Instead, they can be lifted by hand using pure strength. The model is cheaper than the traditional murphy design, which costs thousands of dollars. Loris Walls costs less than 1000 dollars. It is thus a cost-saving invention.

A History of Sofa Beds
A History of Sofa Beds

The beds are each made from cabinet-grade Baltic birch plywood, ensuring their durability and stability. Pre-finished Lori Walls beds are available too. Some traditional models required box springs to hold the mattress. Modern models have the mattresses resting on a platform while secured in place by elastic wraps or a metal bar. The holdings also stopped it from sagging while in its folded state.

In 1904, Bernard Castro invented the modern convertible couch. He was born in Sicily and migrated to America, where he worked as an upholstery apprentice after dropping out of high school. His first store was launched in 1931 with a 400 dollar capital, and the stores quickly turned into a chain of stores.

By his death, Castor had sold up to 5 million convertible sofa beds. He had traded in 48 retail showrooms across 12 states, thus making him a multi-millionaire. The novel ‘Epitaph for a Tramp’ had a phrase that said, “staring at the Castro they had squeezed in against a wall,” to imply Castro’s convertible sofa beds. His child, Bernadette, was appointed the official company spokesman at four years old. Castro ensured to be present in all aspects of convertible sofa bed building from product development, production, and sales. He popularized having a sofa bed permanently in the living room, which was initially not common.

Benard was an excellent advertiser and used three mediums to promote his business. He had showroom hours on radio, television, and print media. The ‘scotch n sofa’ invention especially did well since customers would turn it into a bar, and the design was unique and not all over the marketplace. To attract even more customers, he built a 35-foot boat at the Fort Lauderdale showroom, a significant client attraction site.

William Brouwer, in 1982, created the futon sofa bed, which was an imitation of the Japanese futon mattress. He evolved the style to a sofa convertible freestyle bed in America. The Futon sofabed woodwork was the invention of a Cambridge woodworker.

Bedworks is the company that later introduced Brouwers’s work to the modern world. William had spent time in Japan and was an architecture graduate from Havard. He had made a futon mattress and placed it on a low platform bed for himself as he crafted the design for Bedworks company. He knew that the mattresses were flexible since the Japanese would fold them every morning. He reasoned that turning them to a sofa bed would be a genius plan if they would fold in that way. He hinged a double bed using three pieces across the widthways, and he had a futon sofabed design. Today, you can find the designs in Italy, Spain, among other countries.


The sofa bed has been in existence over a long period and has evolved to fit more modern styles. The class aspect of the ancient Roman Lectus sofa bed no longer exists. However, the cost differences of Sofa beds today are determined by materials used and time taken to assemble the furniture and the nuances in design. Today, sofabed models include and are not limited to the Donna sofa bed made of Italian leather, Cassius Quilt Wood sofa bed, Recast Plus sofa bed, and the Zeal Styletto sofa day bed. There are many custom-made designs to pick from in the current modern market.

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