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A Modern (More Functional) Take On The Sofa Bed

In honor of yesterday’s discussion of multitasking furniture, today I want to give a nod to maybe the most derided (yet important!) of all dual-purposed furniture: the sofa bed. Now, these aren’t exactly popular, for more reasons than one. Futons are the bread and butter of college students and first-time renters, cheaper than either a bed or a sofa and able to do both jobs, but neither of them particularly well. Day beds have their place, as do sleeper sofas with fold-out mattresses, but none of these are particularly elegant (or comfortable) options. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get a comfortable sofa that can also be used comfortably as a bed.

Why Not A Futon?

Glance Tufted Convertible Fabric Sofa Bed in Beige EEI-3093-BEI from Modway Furniture
Glance Tufted Convertible Fabric Sofa Bed in Beige EEI-3093-BEI from Modway Furniture

I once slept on the holy grail of all futons. It had a solid wood frame and a supportive memory-foam-and-coil mattress, folded and unfolded easily and comfortably… and I have never again found it’s like. Believe me, I’ve looked. Because most people prefer a “real” sofa once they’ve settled into a home more permanent than a dorm or sublet, the vast majority of futons are solidly in the realm of cheap and uncomfortable. Ones that aren’t are spit-take expensive, and day beds and sleeper beds are often even worse (both in terms of comfort and price!). But sometimes having usable sleeping space is a must-have (or at least a major convenience), and you’ll be glad to hear, there IS another option.

A Different Sofa Bed Technology

Lidia Modern Style Tufted Split-Back Linen Futon Sofa in Dark Blue IDF-2431BL from Furniture of America
Lidia Modern Style Tufted Split-Back Linen Futon Sofa in Dark Blue IDF-2431BL from Furniture of America

The biggest problem with even good futons and sleeper beds is that it’s hard to make a mattress that folds in half or thirds that will be (and stay) comfortable. Repeated folding and storage of a sleeper bed causes deep creases and uneven wear that can sit uncomfortably on your back, while a truly comfortable futon mattress is often so thick and resilient that it doesn’t fold well enough to sit on. But newer sofa beds subvert the problem entirely, using a more traditional sofa structure – seat cushions and back cushions – but designing them with a special hinge so they fold perfectly flat into a full or queen sized “mattress.”

How Does It Work?

Daly Contemporary Style Leatherette Futon Sofa in Brown IDF-2120 from Furniture of America
Daly Contemporary Style Leatherette Futon Sofa in Brown IDF-2120 from Furniture of America

I’ll admit that when I first heard about these, I was nothing if not suspicious. At the long end of an unsuccessful quest for a “grown-up” futon, I’d mostly resigned myself to the idea of a regular old sofa. Then I found it: the holy grail of sofa beds – high quality leatherette material, good looking finish, comfy cushions, and the claim that it worked just as well as a bed. The best part is, it does! All you have to do is lift the bottom cushions upward, which will tilt the whole seat backwards until the backrest is laying flat. Once it clicks into place, you can lower the seat back down for an almost perfectly flat piece. Models that don’t have arms can easily be fitted with a full or queen sized set of sheets (and ones that do with a little more difficulty), and you only have to re-“fold” the bed to turn it back into a sofa (even with a fitted sheet still on it).

The Future Is Folding!

Ellise Contemporary Style Convertible Futon Sofa in Brown IDF-2704 from Furniture of America
Ellise Contemporary Style Convertible Futon Sofa in Brown IDF-2704 from Furniture of America

Some sofa beds are even more flexible, able to convert into a sofa, bed, or chaise and adjustable on both sides independently. These more customizable sofas are not only good for those times you have more company than you can house, but also great if you like to use your sofa in different ways – say, to read a book or watch a movie while reclined as well as for simple sitting (or sleeping). You can also find sofas like this that are made of a single solid piece rather than moving panels. The latter will always have small seams between each piece, but the former are much more likely to develop fold-lines over time.

How Do They Look?

Glance Tufted Convertible Fabric Sofa Bed in Azure EEI-3093-AZU from Modway Furniture
Glance Tufted Convertible Fabric Sofa Bed in Azure EEI-3093-AZU from Modway Furniture

This type of sofa bed (sometimes referred to as click-clack convertible sofa beds for the sound they make when you fold or unfold them) comes in a wide variety of styles, from simple futon-esque models to more sophisticated designs in leather, suede, or quality tailored upholstery that come complete with arms and could easily pass for a regular sofa. One of the biggest advantages, though – especially over clunky sleeper sofas – is that sofa beds are much, much lighter weight, and can easily be moved up stairs and around corners by one strong person and one warm body. Better still, many models (like mine!) come with hollow bases instead of legs, which can be conveniently used for storage.

Any Other Suggestions?

Bonilla Contemporary Style Convertible Expandable Futon Sofa in Gray IDF-2815 from Furniture of America
Bonilla Contemporary Style Convertible Expandable Futon Sofa in Gray IDF-2815 from Furniture of America

After about a year, I’m still happy with my decision to take the plunge and opt for a sofa bed, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s the only option out there if you’re looking for a more comfortable way to occasionally convert your sofa into a sleep space. On the contrary, I’m seeing new interpretations on this old staple all the time – ones with totally new designs that are even more modern (and more fun!) as well as ones that draw on other types of convertible furniture, like trundle beds.

What do you think of this new alternative in sofa bed technology? And what room do you need the extra sleeping capacity for – a main living room, office, or guest bedroom? Will you use it mostly as a sofa, or mostly as a guest bed?

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