The Ultimate Guide to Sofa Beds Past and Present

Posted by Lauren Jaques - Senior Buyer on 5th Jan 2022

The Ultimate Guide to Sofa Beds Past and Present

As you fold out your sofa bed (or bed settee as it’s also known) have you ever paused to ponder the origins of this convenient creation?

You may think that this handy two-in-one piece of furniture is a relatively modern invention, but the idea of a convertible bed was actually conceived over a century ago.

However, it took a few different interpretations of space-saving convertible beds before sofa beds appeared on the scene.

The Murphy Bed

One of the very first convertible beds was the wall bed(1), patented in the 1900s. It’s believed that Irish-born New Yorker, William Murphy, wanted a bed that could be put away to make more room during the day in his small apartment.

It’s also thought that he created the bed because of the moral code of the time, which suggested it was unbecoming for a woman to be alone in the bedroom of a man(2). Murphy’s small, open-plan apartment served as his entire living space, bedroom included. He therefore hoped his wall bed would avoid this particular social faux pas and that female friends would be more inclined to visit.

The Murphy bed, also referred to as a pull out bed, or pull down bed, quickly became popular in tiny apartments across the city and beyond.

The first double-use bed

The earliest record of a double-purpose bed is from 1885. Inventor and entrepreneur, Sarah E. Goode, was one of the very first black women to be granted a patent in the U.S when she patented her remarkable invention, the cabinet bed. When freed from slavery after the American Civil War, Goode moved with her carpenter husband to Chicago, where they opened a furniture store. It was here that she invented a bed that could be transformed into a writing desk, complete with stationery compartments(3).

Hide and sleep

It appeared that Goode’s dual-purpose bed sparked the imaginations of fellow inventors, and in 1899, Black-American inventor and banker, Leonard C. Bailey patented a bed that folded in the middle. Bailey’s “Hide-a-bed” caught the eye of the U.S army, who saw the potential of a bed that was easy to transport and store(4). This folding bed was mass-produced and was not only used by the army, but also by keen campers.

So close and yet…Sofa?

It wasn’t until the 1930’s that the connection between a folding bed and a sofa resulted in the very first commercially available sofa bed. In 1919, Italian furniture apprentice, Bernard Castro, moved to the U.S from Sicily in pursuit of the American Dream. He couldn’t possibly have imagined the success he would experience thanks to his creation of Castro Convertibles and the sleeper sofa, in 1931.

Castro used his multiple showrooms to sell these much-coveted sofa beds and manufactured them using his very own steel, and upholstery factories. With access to all different kinds of fabrics in assorted colours, Castro could offer his customers hundreds of different variations of his incredible invention. Castro was a man very much ahead of his time, and he realised the potential in advertising his product using television, despite there only being two channels at the time. He also had the ingenious idea of using his four-year-old daughter, Bernadette, in the adverts to show that his sofa beds were so easy to use that “even a child can do it”.

The business used the same advertising technique for ten years, and according to the family, Bernadette Castro remains the most televised child to this day, all because of sofa beds. By the time of Bernard Castro’s death in 1991, Castro Convertibles was believed to have sold approximately 5 million sofa beds(5).

Why were sofa beds so popular?

In contrast to the economic boom of the roaring 20’s, the 1930s began with much financial uncertainty, thanks to the Wall Street Crash of 1929(6). The Crash caused pockets of poverty worldwide, which undoubtedly would have had an impact on American families and their living situations.

With millions of people losing their jobs, many families were forced to down-size or even move in with other family members. One theory is that the sofa bed became so popular during this time because it allowed families to live in smaller quarters more comfortably(7).

Bernard Castro’s metal frame sleeper sofas were known for being robust, and remained in great condition for many years. Knowing that they were buying a quality sofa bed that would last for many years, customers flocked to buy this new exciting product.

Why are sofa beds still so popular?

The top five reasons sofa beds are so popular:

  1. Sofa beds are space-savers: when your living quarters don’t allow for several pieces of furniture, a sofa bed’s dual functionality utilises the space you have.
  2. They turn one room into two: your spare room may be currently used as an office, a gym, a playroom, or even a meditation area. Yet, with a sofa bed, it can also be used as a guest room without you needing to relinquish the space permanently.
  3. They’re available in different designs and sizes: sofa bed design has come a long way since the 1930’s. Now you can buy footstool beds, 3-seater sofa beds, and even sofa beds that split into two different chairs when not in use. A major reason sofa beds are still so popular today is the way their designs have adapted to suit all kinds of households and needs.
  4. Sofa beds can be used in multiple rooms: with so many fabulous styles, designs and colours available, sofa beds look great in the living room, guest room, and the kids’ bedroom too.
  5. Sofa beds can be ready at a moment’s notice: do you have unexpected guests? Not a problem when you’ve a sofa bed ready to be unfurled to accommodate friends and family.

How and why are sofa beds used today?

As society changed, so too did the sofa bed. Adapting to the needs of different households, the sofa bed has not only altered in design, but also in use.

Enjoy the convenience of a sofa bed in the nursery

The benefits of sofa beds for new families

When a new baby arrives, one of the major changes you’ll experience is with sleep, or rather, the lack of it. If you’re part of a couple that takes it in turns to do the night feeds, a sofa bed in the spare room could be just what you need to ensure you all get enough sleep.

This can work in a couple of different ways:

  • If the baby sleeps in the room with you, and it’s your partner’s turn to do the night feeds, pop a sofa bed in the spare room and use it to get an uninterrupted night’s sleep. Then, when it’s your turn to get up with the baby, simply swap roles and rooms so your partner is well rested from sleeping on the sofa bed in the spare room.
  • Alternatively, put a sofa bed in the nursery so that whoever is on night duty can sleep beside the cot and be ready for when the baby needs a feed, a change, or simply a cuddle. This is also a fantastic set up for when you have an overnight babysitter.

The great thing about both of these scenarios is that when your child is older, and the spare room/nursery becomes their bedroom, the sofa bed will be perfectly placed for when their friends or family come to stay.

The benefits of sofa beds for blended families

Modern families need modern solutions, especially when it comes to deciding who sleeps where.

Blended families are an excellent example of this.

When households blend, this can mean that they need to accommodate more children, which can be tricky with less space available. If some of the children only spend a portion of their time at your home, a sofa bed could be used in a shared bedroom or living space to ensure adequate sleeping areas for all the family.

Starting out or starting over

Whether you’re moving to your own place for the first time, or starting over in a new home, the space available is likely to be a deciding factor in the furniture you buy. Should you be living in a studio flat, or even a one-bedroom apartment, a sofa bed allows you to make the most of the space that you do have. Using a sofa bed as your main seating allows you to have guests to stay without worrying about not having an extra room.

Do Not Disturb

Get a good night's sleep with a sofa bed

A common pet peeve among people in relationships is being woken by a noisy partner.

Whether it’s from your partner getting into bed from a night out, or they just love a good fidget, sometimes there is nothing more annoying than being woken up during the night.

If you’re the offending partner unintentionally waking your other half from a deep sleep, you’ll be well aware that the reaction to this is rarely positive.

However, if you’re the unfortunate one suffering this particular pet peeve, you’ll be happy to know there is a solution.

Do yourself, and your partner a favour and consider putting a sofa bed in your spare room so you can both sleep undisturbed.

How do I choose the best sofa bed?

Knowing the best sofa bed to buy for your home depends on its overall use and placement.

Before buying a new sofa bed, you may ask:

Where will I put my new sofa bed?

The location of your sofa bed can determine its style, colour, and size. You’ll want to match it with the decor of the room it is in, and will need to ensure that it fits comfortably in the room too. If it’s being used as a sofa in the living room, a 3-seater sofa bed would be a sensible option.

Who will be using my new sofa bed?

Again, the style, size and colour could be determined by who will be using the sofa bed. Do you need a sofa bed big enough for two guests, or will a small sofa bed suffice? If it’s to be used primarily by children, you may want a less formal style.

Do I want a click-clack sofa bed or a fold-out sofa bed?

Both fold-out sofa beds and click-clack sofa beds are very easy to assemble. Click-clack mechanism models involve the seat of the sofa being pulled forward slightly and the back of the sofa being clicked flat to form the bed. In a fold-out sofa bed, the front and the back of the sofa will simply fold out into a bed. The choice between the two depends on your personal preference.

Do I need to buy a separate mattress for my sofa bed?

Sofa beds come with everything you need to form a bed, and so there is no need to buy a separate mattress. However, you can always increase the comfort level by placing a mattress topper on top of the assembled sofa bed.

Can I use a sofa bed every night?

A sofa bed is intended to be slept on occasionally rather than every night. However, our sofa beds come with a minimum free 5-year guarantee* and you can therefore be assured that they are robust pieces of furniture that can be enjoyed for many years.

What colour sofa bed should I choose?

Colour, as well as style, plays a significant part in the choosing of a new sofa bed. Just as you want your sofa to complement, or even determine, the colour scheme of the room, so too should your sofa bed.

Each year certain colours trend and this can influence your choice of furniture. However, although colour trends change, an important piece of furniture such as a sofa bed, is intended to outlive fleeting design preferences. This goes a long way to explain the colour currently topping the polls of most popular colour for a sofa bed.

According to Google Search data, as of December 2021, the top five sofa bed colours are:

  1. Grey
  2. Blue
  3. Beige
  4. White
  5. Green

It may not surprise you to learn that grey sofa beds are the most popular.

Grey, as a neutral tone, can complement most colour schemes, and provides an elegant backdrop for both elaborate, and more sedate design choices. A neutral tone sofa bed can also be just as exciting as a colourful sofa bed, depending on the fabric and textures of the sofa bed you choose.

Are you ready to buy a new sofa bed?

If this guide has helped you decide exactly what kind of sofa bed you need, head over to our collection of sofa beds and order by calling 0808 144 6160.

Should you still be undecided, or have any questions about our sofa bed range, our friendly team will be delighted to help.

Simply visit our contact page and choose your preferred method of contact.

Shop 3-Seater Sofa Beds




(3) Sarah E. Goode - Invention, Life & Facts - Biography

(4) Leonard C. Bailey (1825-1918) • (

(5) Bernard Castro — American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame

(6) Great Depression: Black Thursday, Facts & Effects - HISTORY


*See Free Minimum 5 year Guarantee ( for more information

authors profile
Lauren Jaques
Senior Buyer
Lauren has worked at Bensons for Beds for 1 12 years. Lauren is a real industry expert in the area of home furnishing and has buying skills in abundance combined with a keen eye for product detail and flair for design.
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