Futons get a bit of a bad rap; since they’re sort of the go-to for college kids and first-time apartment dwellers, a lot of people don’t really think of futons as “real” furniture, and will make the switch to a conventional sofa as soon as they can afford one. But not all sleeper sofas are like that ugly, metal-framed thing you had in your dorm room. In fact, many contemporary futons are indistinguishable from “real” sofas in terms of appearance and comfort, but have the added benefit of being able to turn into a bed.
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When you hear the word “futon” you probably think of a cheap metal or wood frame with a floppy, lumpy mattress arranged on top of it. But more often these days the futon functionality is built into the body of the sofa itself, so the back and arms of the sofa can be adjusted or laid flat to turn the sofa into a sleeping surface. What that means is that newer futons look a whole lot more like an “adult” sofa, without the visibly cheap parts or obvious dual functionality. Until you need to bring out the bed, these sleeper sofas just look like sofas.
Modern sleeper sofas also do away with the fold-out mattress. While sofas that have a folded up mattress hidden under the cushions tend to look more sofa-like than conventional futons, those mattresses are very heavy and difficult to move, and are almost never comfortable, with uneven wear from where they’re folded and little support or padding. If more contemporary designs have fold-out components, they’re usually in a single piece, as with the fold-out footrest/extension on the Roxboro sofa above. This keeps the “mattress” from wearing unevenly, and leaves a little wiggle room for creating a comfy lounge rather than a strict sofa/bed either/or.
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Early forays into this alternative type of futon produced sofas that were still pretty obviously futons, if not in the same way as wood or metal framed ones. With simple backs that unhinged to lay flat, these sofas offered a pretty good approximation of a full sized mattress. But they often looked boxy and frequently lacked arms or any real kind of definition, which presented exactly the same problem as the classic futon: they just didn’t look like sofas. But the “camouflage” has gotten a whole lot better, and the dual functionality a lot harder to spot. This Bizard sleeper looks every inch like a standard contemporary sofa, with a lean, geometric design, but each of the three back cushions folds back independently, for a surprisingly customizable sleeper.
Hiding the dual functionality of sleeper sofas and futons has also led to some pretty cool modern designs. Especially on sleeper sofas or convertible chairs, arms that are designed to flatten out can add a distinctive modern flair and bold, geometric feel to what would otherwise be fairly simple designs. This Tranquility sleeper is basically just a basic twin sized cot when flattened out, but folded all or part of the way, they give this simple settee a unique and eye-catching shape that makes it perfect as an accent chair.
On the flip side, some minimalist modern futons really embrace their multiple functions, making the dual-purpose of the furniture a feature of the aesthetic rather than trying to hide it away. These, too, are unlike conventional futons because the form is as important as the function. This Conic sleeper, for example, puts the folds of the large, single-piece cushion on display, allowing the futon-ness to show through in the curvy exposed lines on either side. Unlike many older futons, this feels like an intentional design choice rather than a constraint or limitation, and can add a nice funky touch to a room.
Even if you do want a futon purely for functionality, it can be worth looking for something beyond a basic frame and mattress. This Felicity sleeper isn’t anything wildly special to look at, but it has a simple design that extends easily, and more importantly, it expands into a surface that’s just barely shy of a queen sized mattress and comes with a built in headboard and no uncomfortable side rails. All you have to do is pull forward the wheel-mounted base and flip forward the mattress for a surprisingly roomy bed that you can easily tuck away when you don’t need it.
But what do you think of these contemporary styled futons and sleeper sofas? Do you like the unique modern designs, or do you prefer the good ol’ college-style futon mattress and frame? Let me know what you think in the comments below!