Home Q & A

Hand-built Murphy bed creates a guest room

“People are just amazed by it,” Jeanne Liston Barnes says about the Murphy bed in the dining room that her husband, Fred Barnes, installed. That addition quickly converts the dining room into a spare bedroom for guests when needed. The couple renovated much of their Kansas City home themselves.
“People are just amazed by it,” Jeanne Liston Barnes says about the Murphy bed in the dining room that her husband, Fred Barnes, installed. That addition quickly converts the dining room into a spare bedroom for guests when needed. The couple renovated much of their Kansas City home themselves. Special to the Star

Fred Barnes recently built a Murhpy bed — sometimes called a wall bed — in his dining room.

Barnes, a retired photojournalist, and his wife, Jeanne Liston Barnes, a graphic designer, moved to Kansas City from St. Louis in 2009. They bought a 1,900-square-foot house, downsizing with their move.

But, Jeanne says, “Our kids are both married and then they started reproducing.”

They needed more space, typically around the holidays. Thus the Murphy bed in the dining room.

Q: You gutted and remodeled the entire house — did you do that work yourself?

Jeanne: Yes. Fred got into woodworking after he retired. He’s gifted; he can do anything.

Q: And the Murphy bed in the dining room was your most recent project?

Jeanne: Yes, I’m so proud of it. Everybody who comes over to the house goes, “Oh my God, I can’t believe that! I wish I had that!” People are just amazed by it. We have this formal dining room, which I think is a waste of a room. We have a big room off of our kitchen, so for family functions we’re always in here. Then the kids started having kids and we (thought), where are we going to sleep all these people?

Q: How did you come up with the pull-down bed as a solution?

Fred: I thought: we’ve got this extra room that’s not being used. How can we utilize it? Then the idea of a Murphy bed came up, and I thought that would be an easy build — it was a little more difficult than I thought. It took almost nine sheets of plywood.

Jeanne: It looks pretty. It looks like a built-in.

Q: Have you come up with creative solutions elsewhere in your home?

Fred: We’re both pretty creative people. I suppose every project we’ve done we always look for how could we make this interesting, either in the type of wood we use or the finishes, or the arrangement. It’s always kind of form follows function.

Jeanne: He just put my office in a closet. That’s pretty cool.

Q: How long did it take you to construct the Murphy bed?

Fred: I worked on and off for maybe three or four weeks.

Jeanne: He made his own doors.

Fred: I wanted to put doors in to close off that room when somebody’s sleeping in there. I built two doors that mirror the same style as the Murphy bed.

Q: What style is that?

Fred: Kind of a Shaker, a simplistic style.

Q: How did you negotiate design decisions? Do you work easily together?

Jeanne: Here’s the key to a lasting marriage — we’ve been together 45 years about now — if you can hang wallpaper together, you can do anything.

Q: No problems making color choices, then?

Jeanne: He pretty much lets me pick colors. I’ve made a few errors along the way. We sit down and he draws things up…

Fred: I should say that the basic plan was similar to a design I got from the company I got the hardware from. Even though it looks like there’s no hardware other than handles, there’s quite a bit of hardware that goes into a Murphy bed, particularly the lift system. It has two systems on each side, so it’s actually quite easy to lift. Pulling it down is a little bit more difficult because you need to get that weight moving.

We picked the color because the rest of the woodwork in the room is white. The other thing I did was put lights in the bookcases. There are LED strip lights on each side of the bookcase that are hidden so you don’t see them. They’re on a remote control.

Q: If you could do any of your remodeling projects over again and advise yourselves, what would you say?

Jeanne: Don’t use busy granite patterns on your kitchen counter because you can’t see the crumbs. You think the counter’s clean then you move your hand across it…

Fred: My dad was a furniture maker and a carpenter and he told me two things: “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” And, “What is made with time, time respects.” Too often people look for the quickest or cheapest option instead of the path that takes a little more time and is a little more expensive but will last for generations.

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