How to Buy a Futon

Futon sofa with colorful throw pillows and artwork and baskets hung on the wall behind it

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A futon is one of the most versatile pieces of furniture you'll ever own, since it's a sofa and a bed in one. It's a great multi-purpose piece, not just for smaller homes, but for any room that needs to serve more than one function, such as a home office that doubles as a guest room when the occasional guest is in town.

You may be picturing an uncomfortable metal frame with a thin mattress when you hear the word "futon,” but futons have come a long way in recent years, with stylish and high-quality versions available at every price point. They vary in design, come in different sizes, are made from materials such as wood or metal and can accommodate many mattress types. This shopping guide outlines everything you need to know about buying a futon so that you can make an informed decision and enjoy this piece for years to come.

What Is a Futon?

A futon is a piece of furniture that consists of a metal or wood frame and a foldable mattress that converts from a sofa to a bed. Futons were originally thin roll-up mattresses used for sleeping on the floor in 17th-century Japan, but quickly evolved from their original design and purpose to become the space-saving two-in-one pieces we know them as today, gaining popularity in the Western world in the second half of the 20th century.

Before Buying a Futon

If you're thinking about buying a futon and are weighing your options, consider some of its main advantages. If you live in a smaller home, a futon is an excellent choice as it serves more than one purpose, saving you both money and valuable space. If you need a room to function as a place to relax but also as an occasional guest room, a futon will do both. It also tends to be lightweight and easy to move, so if you know there may be a move in your future, this is a much more move-friendly piece than a bulky sofa or heavy headboard.

Buying Considerations for a Futon

Space

Space, or lack there of, may be your main reason to purchase a futon, and if that's the case, getting accurate measurements of the room it's going in is key. Measure the wall that it's going to be positioned on, and consider the size of the futon both when it is set up as a sofa and as a bed, since those are two different sizes and you want to ensure that the room can accommodate both. There should be at least two feet of space around the futon when it is being used as a bed, so that there's plenty of room and you don't run the hazard of tripping over something in the middle of the night!

Consider the overall architectural style and decor of the room where the futon is going and whether a more traditional or streamlined and modern piece would best fit the space. There are countless styles of futons available on the market, not just when it comes to size and comfort, but design, so there's lots to choose from.

Materials

The original futons that were used in Japan were simple mattresses without a frame or any sort of construction, but that has changed dramatically and a futon has either a metal or a wooden frame to hold the mattress. A futon with a wooden frame tends to have arms and look more like a traditional sofa. It is usually heavier and therefore harder to move around which means it's a good option if you're going to use it primarily for seating and only converting it into a bed occasionally. On the other hand, a futon with a metal frame usually doesn't have arms; the style tends to be a little more contemporary and streamlined. This kind of futon is usually lighter and therefore easier to move from one spot to another and convert into a bed.

Size

When it comes to size, futons are available in as many sizes as a classic bed. Futon mattresses come in twin, twin XL, full, queen and king sizes just like regular mattresses, and are available in memory foam, latex, hybrid and other mattress types that all vary in comfort and price.

Features

Most futons have the same basic features, such as a frame and a mattress, but there are some additional characteristics and add-ons. One is a cover. Some futons have a variety of cover designs available that are not just practical because they keep the mattress clean, but also visually appealing since they're a good way to dress up the futon or switch out the look without having to purchase a whole new piece of furniture.

Another clever and practical feature that some futons have is pull-out drawer space underneath. This provides space-saving storage for items like guest sheets or extra blankets without taking up any space in your linen closet!

Types of Futons

Bifold Futon

The term bifold describes the fold in the mattress which in this case is a single fold down the middle. This is the most common style of futon and seats the largest number of people, which is usually three or four, and is comfortable as a sleeper. It is also the easiest style of futon to operate; there is usually a handle or a bar underneath that you pull to unfold the mattress and convert it into a bed.

Trifold Futon

A trifold futon works on the same principle as a bifold, but instead of just one fold, it is made up of three different sections, with the third section either folding behind or under the futon. If the third section is on the bottom, it can also serve as a reclining feature, making the futon extra comfortable. It folds down the width of the mattress and doesn't seat as many people as a bifold does, but it comes in the same mattress sizes as the bifold, therefore taking up more floor space since it is shorter in length, which is something to consider if you're tight on space.

Loveseat Futon

Similar to the trifold, a loveseat futon takes up less wall space than a bifold. It comes in several different styles, one being a wooden frame with a fold out mattress and another that looks more like a sofa but that has collapsible arms that add to its size when it acts as a bed.

Cost

As is the case with most furniture, futons range vastly in cost, from budget-friendly options you can purchase online starting at under $200 to more high-end ones costing over the $1,000 mark. The quality of the materials is one factor — how good the fabric looks and feels and how durable it is, or what sort of wood or metal is used in the construction of the frame. The aesthetic and overall design is another factor, as a futon from a higher-end designer furniture store will of course have a higher price tag. Lastly, comfort and the type of mattress affects the cost in a big way — the more comfortable and better the mattress, the more you will need to spend.

How to Choose a Futon

With so many futon options out there, deciding which particular futon to purchase can be overwhelming, but by considering a couple of key questions, you can narrow down your options and figure out the style and look that is best for your space.

How Will You Use Your Futon?

Determining the futon's primary function, whether it will be used more frequently as a sofa or a bed, is key as it will help you decide on what size and style of futon you need, as well as how much you want to spend on it. If you're planning on placing it in your home office and using it as a cozy reading spot and only occasionally converting it into a bed when your friend flies into town, you may not want to splurge on the most expensive, high-end futon and mattress that there is. If, however, you know the futon will be used for sleeping as frequently as it will be used for seating, a comfortable mattress and a lightweight, easy to operate and high-quality frame may be worth investing in.

What Does the Rest of Your Space Look Like?

When choosing your futon, consider the style of the room that it's going in. Is it a more traditional space or does it have a more contemporary feel and a lot of clean lines and simple silhouettes? Is it neutral or are there lots of bold colors and patterns? Does the room have a cool or a warm color palette? Answering these questions will help you figure out what futon design will fit in best and feel like a cohesive part of the already existing room set-up.

Where to Shop

Deciding where to shop for your new futon will depend on a couple of factors, but one main one will be how frequently it will be used. If you know it will be used for both seating and sleeping quite often, then you may choose to shop in person so that you can test the firmness, quality and comfort of the futon.

Buying In-Store

The main advantage to purchasing a futon in person is being able to test it out. If the futon is set up for seating, don't hesitate to ask whether you can see it set up as a bed, and try operating it yourself to see how easily it converts from one position to another.

Test the Mattress

Sit on the futon and make sure that it is comfortable, the padding is plush enough that you don't feel the frame and the arms (if there are any) are comfortable to lean against. Then, test of the mattress by laying on it — don't feel embarrassed, it's important to try it out and test its firmness and comfort level, especially if it will be used for sleeping frequently and you're investing a significant amount of money.

Test the Operating Mechanism

Ask whether you can test out the futon's operating mechanism to see how easily it converts from a sofa to a bed. Have the sales person show you how the mechanism works, then try it out for yourself. If the sales person has trouble with it, you know it's probably a little tricky to operate, but if it's as simple as lifting a lever and pulling out the mattress, you can feel confident it'll be easy enough for you or your guests to use.

Buying Online

If you've decided to purchase the futon online, make sure to do your research and carefully read reviews. Since you can't test it out for yourself, be sure to read the product reviews so you can see if it's as good as the seller say it is. Some retailers have a virtual assistant that can answer your questions, as well as a phone number that you can call to ask questions. Check the store's return policy and delivery options to save yourself any possible hassle later on.

Where to Buy a Futon

Futons have become incredibly popular and most large retailers carry at least one style of them, but there are plenty of online only companies that have excellent choices available.

FAQ
  • Do I need a futon cover?

    It's not necessary, but a cover will protect the mattress, keep it from getting stained and allow you to change its appearance if you own multiple.

  • Can you wash a futon cover?

    Yes, most covers are machine-washable but check the instructions to be sure.

  • What is the lifespan of a futon mattress?

    Futon mattresses generally last five to 10 years.