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What are the differences between sofa sleepers?

Many people get confused as to what constitutes a "Sleeper Sofa". They lump many different kinds of sofas into one category. In truth, there are at least 3 different types. The first is the traditional pull out sleeper sofa. Next is the Japanese import called a futon and then the relatively new adjustable sofa. All of them make into beds, but, they are all have different construction, designs, and price points.

Traditional sleeper sofa

In the traditional couch, the mattress folds into three sections and is carried by a mechanism into the base of the sofa. Once secured, seat cushions are then placed on top of this mechanism to give it the appearance of a normal sofa. Because the mattress has to fold (twice), it must be a specially designed mattress. Because it has to fit into the mechanism and the available storage space, it must be a relatively thin mattress (4 to 5"). The technical design of a traditional sleeper sofa mechanism requires that a steel bar run the width of the mattress. Because the mattress must be thin, this bar then can be felt across the back of the sleeping person. While functional and space saving, this style of sofa is very expensive to build. This makes their retail selling price range from about $599 on the low end to $1200. Because of the folding steel mechanism, the sofa is very heavy. They weigh from 250 to 350 lbs. They are generally available in twin, full, or queen size sleepers.

The futon came to the U.S. from Japan after World War II. It utilizes an external single fold mechanism. Because it only has to make one Futon Sofafold, the futon mattress can be much thicker (6 to 10"). The mattress is still specially designed for a futon. Futons come in many styles and looks. They can be made from steel, wood, or a combination of the two. The futon mattress can be very comfortable to sleep on, but while it makes an adequate sitting sofa, it sits differently than a traditional Western sofa, with a slope down and away from the front. Frames and mattresses are sold separately. Basic metal futon frames generally start around $100 and mattresses also start at that price. It is not uncommon to see a high-end solid wood futon with a high end mattress around the $600 to $700 price range. Be wary of promotional combo sets as the mattress is generally a non-functional 2 or 4" piece. You end up having to buy a mattress anyway. Usually futons form a full size bed. However, while more unusual, they are available as twin or queen.

More recently, adjustable sofas have become very popular. They are equally as space saving, make into full size beds, are easy to Adjustable Sofaoperate, lightweight, and inexpensive. A Western modification to the futon design, adjustable sofas usually have the mattresses built into the sofa frame. A simple ratchet mechanism allows the back of the sofa to lay down to form the bed. This mechanism requires virtually no effort to operate. Generally comfortable to sit on and sleep on as well. They do tend to sit lower to the ground than either a sleeper sofa or a futon. Because of the operating design, manufacturers do not have the mattress limitations of either of the other two styles. Adjustable sofas tend to have a more contemporary straight line styling than do the others. Their pricing generally starts around $200 and can go as high as about $700. While normally a full size sleeper, clever modular designs allow some to form up to a king size bed.


There are pros and cons to all three designs. You can choose traditional or contemporary styling, buy for comfort, or hit an economical price point. While adjustable sofas have an over all price advantage, traditional sleeper sofas and futons have the advantage of being able to change mattresses over the course of time. It is best if each individual chooses based on their specific needs.




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