Guest Bed Rabbit Hole

June 28th, 2024

Guest bedrooms have become a luxury, but hosting friends and family remains a social necessity.

Run through the math. Homes in SF are $1K per square foot, $2k in NYC and more and more “young” people are renting into their 30s, with rents being $4-6 per square foot-month. Your average bedroom is 130 square feet. Who wants to pay an “extra” $150k to buy or an $700/month to rent? Especially when you only have guests 3-4 weeks per year? It totals out to almost $1,000/night.

For a long time, I’ve been stewing on options and today, I went down a rabbit hole of guest bed options.


  1. Air mattress
  2. Cot + mattress topper
  3. Sofa bed
  4. Murphy bed

Air mattress

The typical first option. Almost everyone I’ve known has owned one. No adult likes to sleep on the ground: it’s tiresome to have to bend over. A typical air mattress gives you some height. The problem is leakage. Over time, most air mattresses spring leaks, which leave your guests waking up half-deflated, which is worse than sleeping on an sleeping pad.

There are air mattresses with secondary pumps that re-inflate the mattress periodically to solve this problem, but ultimately, everyone’s experience with air mattresses is already set by the cheap mattress we slept on in our twenties. It’s functional but not hospitable.

Good for twenty-somethings.

Cots and toppers

I’ve never used one, but this picks up a ton of reddit praise. Makes sense too: cots don’t deflate. The bulkiest so far, it still can be packed up and stored. You’ll usually layer a topper.

The downsides here are cots work best for singles. The cot material isn’t stiff, nor do you want it to be. It’s effectively a hammock, but that means two people will naturally roll together. Cute, but not comfortable.

Sofa bed

This is the renter’s best option. Futons are the low-quality version of this: they are both bad sofas and bad beds. The problem is sofa cushions are firmer because it has to absorb a falling weight on a much smaller area. Mattresses are meant to be softer, contouring to your body as you sleep.

The best sofa beds are pull outs. They offer stability and a degree of comfort and for guests, they give the greatest sense of hospitality. The downside is the mattress must be separate (any mattress that folds cannot offer true support. A separate mattress topper adds significant storage requirements makes this less appealing.

Murphy bed

Murphy beds are the best option, because you can use a real mattress. They store vertically, reducing square footage. However, they are not an option for renters, as they are basically cabinetry: you cannot move them.


With any choice, you ask what are my goals here? For most people, you host guests maybe once a year. If anything, you most frequently host family. In this case, cots are non-viable: couples become the default, unless you yourself are single and offer to sleep in the cot.

I also dislike sofa beds, as you rarely want to place one in your office, but you often want a higher quality couch for the living room. Living rooms offer no privacy and while that feels okay in college, that preference rapidly changes, especially once you stop having roommates (as in, sharing an actual room with another person, not “suitemates”).

My final choice: air mattresses for renting and Murphy’s for owning. In particular, the Exped MegaMat Max Duo 15 is well-liked. If you’d like height (and have the storage space), a folding metal bed frame is probably best.

For Murphy beds, my greatest preference is a “Murphy wall”. Murphy’s occupy a lot of visual space and the space on either side ends up as dead space. I also love the idea of adding a mirror to the bottom of the bed: giving it a functional purpose when it’s retracted.