Transformer Furniture Is Magic for Maximizing Minimal Spaces

For tiny houses and other diminutive digs, multifunction furniture helps maximize the space on hand.

Double Chippendale library chair with a secret function.
Double Chippendale library chair with a secret function.

Andreas von Einsiedel / Getty Images

In 1885, Sarah E. Goode became the first African American woman to receive a patent by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Goode owned a furniture store in Chicago, selling wares to mostly working-class customers who lived in small apartments. In a bid to help her customers maximize their space, Goode came up with (and patented) the “cabinet bed” – a roll-top desk by day, a comfortable bed by night. 

Patent drawing for cabinet bed
Wikimedia Commons

Goode’s cabinet bed was not the first piece of furniture to live a double life, but it paved the way for a whole genre of furniture prized for its versatility. Now known as transformer furniture – a nod to the toys that transform from robots into other shapes and back again – these convertible designs do dual duty and allow for fewer pieces of furniture. A sofa folds out to becomes a bed, a coffee table pops up to become a dinner table, and so on. 

For anyone living in a small space, transformer furniture is practically a necessity. But even in larger homes, multipurpose pieces can create a more minimal, less cluttered environment. 

Here are a few examples of some of the more popular forms.

Beds

Girls Murphy Bed
A child's bed folds up into a storage unit. Baloncici / Getty Images

Beds take up a lot of prime real estate in a small space and making them disappear has been a longstanding challenge – as evidenced by Goode’s cabinet bed and the parade of transformer beds that followed. There’s the Murphy bed, the trundle bed, the convertible sofa, the futon, and the daybed that folds out to a night bed. There are beds built into desks. There are beds that slide under platforms and rise above to the ceiling in all manner of configurations. As one of the larger items in a home, and one that serves its main purpose at night, the bed is an excellent candidate for transformation.

(See more here: 10 Ways to Hide a Bed.)

Transformer Tables

Many boats, trailers, and RVs have a table that drops down to nestle into a built-in booth to become a berth/bed – a tried-and-true transformer for the smallest of spaces. But for the most part, transformer tables remain tables, switching up in size and function.

Since larger tables take up so much space, transformer tables convert back and forth from their smaller selves into something more expansive. Coffee tables pop up to become dinner tables and work desks, a console table flips out to seat dinner guests. Even a drop-leaf table or dining table with extensions fits the bill, shifting from a small breakfast table to a spread ready to seat a dozen. 

Below is a clever design created by Solutions Furniture that Treehugger design editor Lloyd Alter filmed in action. In this clip, you can see how a coffee table becomes a computer table, a working table, a small dining table, and a large dining table … and back again.

(See more here: 10 Transformer Tables for a Tiny Urban Space.)

Seating

We see all manner of benches and ottomans open up to reveal storage within – which may be more about smart use of empty space rather than transformation.

But some seating pieces go the extra mile, as you can see in the "metamorphic library chair" below. This one turns from a chair into library steps; a popular form from late 18th century Europe, when court cabinetmakers were creating highly developed "meubles à surprises," or, surprise furniture. Obviously, these weren't intended for small spaces or for the sake of minimalism but rather were crafted for functionality and the pure delight of ingenious engineering.

Speaking of chairs, that double Chippendale chair pictured at the top lives in the drawing-room at Coughton Court, Warwickshire. It's transforming secret? Flip it on its side and ta da, another set of library steps.

Chair on its side that has steps.
Andreas von Einsiedel / Getty Images

These are but a few examples of transformer furniture, but take a stroll through just about any tiny house and you will discover a whole host of inventive designs in which a secret role exists. The cleverness of transformer furniture is certainly part of its appeal – but it is its practicality that has ensured its enduring popularity. From the finest court furniture to a 19th-century cabinet bed to mod tables for the chic set, multifunction furniture allows for smart, smaller, and more minimal spaces – which is a transformation we can get behind.

View Article Sources
  1. Foroohar, Rana. "The School That Will Get You A Job". TIME.Com, 2014.