Inventions in Everything: Lighter-Than-Air Furniture

Think about your first apartment. Chances are the first thing you think about your first apartment is that it's small. Really small. Really, really small.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could make it more livable by making seem bigger than it is?

Solving that problem has challenged both inventors and interior designers throughout history. They've tried everything. From folding furniture, to furniture that can be stored or stowed away, to multitasking furniture, it's been tried. And yet, nothing really has worked. Each of these items still have bulk that consumes scarce floor space, even when fully compacted, and requires both effort and coordination to set up, use, and break down again.

That's the situation that inventor William Calderwood confronted in 1989. His innovative solution: furniture that would levitate itself out of the way whenever it wasn't in use! The U.S. Patent Office agreed that his solution was novel, awarding him with U.S. Patent 4,888,836 for his insight. Here's Figure 1 from the patent, showing a lighter-than-air bed in its "not-in-use" position:

U.S. Patent 4,888,836 Figure 1

Calderwood explains how his invention would be used in the detailed description of the patent:

A person who whishes to use article 10 in a conventional furniture-like manner grasps tether 28 and pulls article 10 downward, toward floor 18. By utilizing article 10 to support the person (see body 12 in FIG. 4), the person in combination with article 10 together exhibit a density greater than the density of air, and the buoyancy effect is then reversed. Consequently, article 10 sinks in the atmosphere until it rests on floor 18. When article 10 is in its sunk position, illustrated by FIG. 4, tether 28 no longer hangs downward but resides substantially horizontal so that it too rests on floor 18. Consequently, article 10 remains stably positioned on floor 18. When body 12 moves away from article 10, article 10 then rises to its levitated position without any effort on the part of its user.

Figure 4 shows Calderwood's lighter-than-air bed in its "in-use" state:

U.S. Patent 4,888,836 Figure 4

Alas, while we can find examples of all the other kinds of space-saving furniture available for sale, we are unable to find any lighter-than-air furniture products on the market. The closest we could find was inflatable furniture, which is really another type of stow-away furniture product. Sure, you could fill these products with helium (or go full Hindenburg and use hydrogen gas), but since these products weren't designed to be lighter-than-air products, it's unlikely they'll perform as you might desire.

There's also the ceiling factor to consider. To be usable for Calderwood's invention, the space on your ceiling needs to be clear of fixtures that might either pop or impact your floating furniture product. That first interaction with a ceiling fan, for example, could spell the end for your investment in levitating furniture.

In short, while innovative, lighter-than-air furniture has been an unsuccessful product to date. The IIE team hopes its time will come!

From the Inventions in Everything Archives

While you might not yet be able to successfully float your furniture in the air, you can conceivably float your houseplants, be sheltered by a hovering umbrella, or buy furniture that will move itself!

You're already living in the IIE world!