How to build a Man Cave, Murphy bed, and private storage area — all in one

— Photo by Frank L. Palmeri

Drawbridge down: Frank Palmeri has built a storage space all his own, proving a man’s home is his castle.

— Photo by Frank L. Palmeri

Sort of like a Murphy bed: Frank Palmeri imagines he could sleep on this door if it were pulled down, creating a Man Cave above his stairway.

A Murphy bed is a bed that conveniently folds up into a wall when not in use. These space-saving beds were put to great comedic effect in plenty of old-time movies and TV shows like the Three Stooges and such; there's just something inherently funny about being in bed one minute and disappearing up into a wall the next, with arms and legs flailing and sheets flying.

You don't see too many Murphy beds these days (though kits are available if you want to build your own) but, strangely, I just had something very much like a Murphy bed appear out of nowhere in my house. Yes, I really did.

My four-bedroom house is plenty big, but I have no place in it that I can truly call my own — a place where, if I put something down, I can be absolutely 100-percent positive it won't be disturbed. That place for me just does not exist.

One time, I had a motorcycle gas tank painted beautifully. I received it from the painter in October and needed to store it until the spring. I put it in the furthest corner of the attic, figuring it would be safe from harm.

When I retrieved it in the spring, there was a dent in it. No kidding. Of course, no one knows how it got there. I really, really need a place in my house to call my own.

We have a stairway that goes from the garage to the basement — it cost extra when we had the house built but I use it all the time so it was well worth it. The stairway had a lot of height to it but the space was unreachable because it was, after all, just a stairway.

Over the years, I'd always wished there were a way to access this wasted space. It got to a point where I would sit at the top of the stairs and just stare, pardon the pun, at all the unreachable space, hoping for inspiration. (Getting a freshly painted gas tank bashed in will do this to you.)

Then one day it hit me: I could build a folding ramp to access the dead space over the stairs.

Now I was a man with a plan. I had to think how to build the ramp in such a way that it would be strong, safe, and easy to use. Of course, there's dreaming about it and then there's paying for it.

I don't know if you've been to a lumberyard lately, but wood is not cheap. The plywood, studs, lag bolts, and heavy-duty hinges I bought really added up. Then I purchased adjustable shelf hardware and some other hooks and things to help organize the space.

Finally, I bought a heavy-duty pulley. The idea was to take an old barbell plate and attach it with rope to a pulley to act as a counterweight. Setting it up this way would make it much easier to raise and lower the heavy ramp.

I'm not trained in carpentry or anything like that — I never even had any kind of a shop class in the parochial/college prep schools I attended — but I read a lot and try to learn from my mistakes. Working slowly and carefully, I soon had a working ramp installed.

The shelves I built in front of it are so strong I can store really heavy things like motorcycle engines (I have a few waiting to be rebuilt). To prove how strong the ramp was, I called my wife out and had her watch me jump up and down on it.

Since I've put on an extra 10 or 15 pounds over the holidays (at least), this may not have been the smartest thing to do (though I know I've done much stupider things in front of my wife). Still, the ramp held and it's working just fine.

Of course, now that I had a real functioning stairway storage area, I had to freshen up the dusty and cobwebby unpainted stairwell itself. So this meant more money for primer, paint, wood filler, and all the labor to paint everything in the stairwell — ceiling, walls, stairs, and handrail.

I know a lot of us get quotes from contractors from time to time for various remodeling and home-improvement jobs. Invariably these quotes are rather high, but the thing is, this kind of work just takes so much time and, as we all know, time is money.

I mean, even if you get on a roll and really hack away at it, there are waiting times for glue to harden and for paint to dry that you just can't avoid. Plus there's a limit to how long you can work while still working safely. One should never play around with tools if one is too tired to work safely; it's as simple as that.

So now the job is done and I'm showing it off to my brilliant RPI mechanical engineer future son-in-law. I demonstrate how the pulley works by moving the ramp up and down, etc.

He looks at me and says with a straight face: "You know what you just did? You built yourself a Murphy bed!"

Well, go figure, in a way I really did. All I'd have to do is put a pillow on one end of the ramp and I could just sack right out.

Of course, if I do that, I'll have to add those safety rails you put on kids’ beds so the little ones don't roll off; taking a header off the ramp and down into the basement would be quite the story on the local TV news but not much fun at all.

Actually, all I need to do is add a flat-screen TV over the door and I'd have a mini Man Cave, or, in my case, a Man Stairwell. Hot-diggety-dog!

All kidding aside, with a full basement, a walk-up attic, and a shed, there is no reason I should have needed any more storage space, but, like many, we have a serious clutter problem that sorely needs to be dealt with. It's not time to get a big green Dumpster and just toss everything out (at least I don't think it is), but we're way overdue in sorting and getting rid of our clutter.

I'm hoping my new super-organized and efficient Man Stairway/Murphy Bed with kick start us on the road to de-cluttering, once and for all (and I hope I finally have one place in the house where I can safely put something and not have it be disturbed).

Note: If you see me sleeping on the folded-down ramp, please don't close it up like the Three Stooges did all the time. That's only funny when it happens to someone else.