How To Buy The Best Futon

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How To Buy The Best Futon

Perfect for a guest bedroom, small apartment or den, futons have come a long way from their humble origin as a simple cotton mat used for sleeping at night and folded away for storage during the day. “Futon” is the English transliteration of the Japanese word for “a place to rest.” Originally, a futon consisted of a thick pad to sleep on, called a shikibuton, and a heavy comforter called a kakebuton. The Americanized futon has added a frame, transforming it from a mat on the floor to a sofa/bed hybrid.

Futons differ from traditional sofa beds not just by being lighter and smaller. A sofa bed has a mattress hidden inside the couch frame, which you access by removing the sofa cushions. You then pull out a separate metal frame to support the mattress. By contrast, a futon’s entire frame unfolds to become the mattress support, and the same pad used for seating unfolds to become the mattress.

Buying A Futon

Before shopping for a futon, you must first decide how you will be using it. Is the futon going to be primarily for sleeping, primarily for sitting or evenly divided between the two?  Do you need a twin size for a child’s room, or a queen size bed for guests? Will the futon receive little use, or be the family’s primary TV-watching sofa? Knowing how you will use your futon will allow you to make the best choice in selecting the futon’s components.

There are three parts to a futon: the frame, the mattress and the cover.


Depending on the style, your futon frame might pull out from the front, but close up again from the side. Some frames both open and close from the front. These front loaders are easier to use, but are also more expensive. When choosing a frame, take into account how much space you have in the futon’s designated room, and consider maneuverability when opening and closing the bed. A front loader will be the better option if you are putting the futon into a tight space.

Futon frames are normally either wood, metal or a combination of the two. Because the frame is an integral part of the futon’s style, you will want to pick a frame that complements your room’s décor.

  • While metal futon frames are durable and inexpensive, they are not as stylish as wooden frames. They are generally lightweight, making them a good option if you will move the futon frequently. Choose a metal frame if cost is a primary consideration, the futon will be in a rarely used guestroom or you will be using the futon for a short-term use, such as temporary housing.
  • Wicker or rattan futon frames are sturdy and attractive. They are lightweight enough for easy moving when needed, but durable enough for use in a guestroom or den. Wicker is an excellent choice for a home decorated in a country, coastal or shabby chic style, while rattan will be a perfect addition to your British colonial, tropical or Asian room decor.
  • Wooden frames are available in a wide range of styles, and are the most common choice of futon frame. A traditional wood frame is a nice addition to any room. Some of the most popular decorating styles in wooden futon frames are mission, Asian, rustic and contemporary. You can even find ornately carved futon frames of tropical woods for your Tuscan or Victorian-style room.


Gone are the days when a futon mattress was just a hard cotton pad. Futon mattresses now are usually a mix of cotton and foam, and are very comfortable. There are futon mattresses available with innerspring construction, but be aware they are much heavier and more difficult to fold than a regular futon mattress. There are also futon mattresses made of heavy foam. Your best choice of mattress will be determined by the primary use of the futon, as well as style.

  • The more you use your futon for sleeping, the more important it is to purchase a comfortable mattress for your needs. Though heavy, an innerspring mattress will be the most comfortable and supportive of your back on a futon primarily used for sleeping.
  • Heavy foam mattresses are a good choice for a futon that will mostly be used as a sofa, as the foam holds its shape well and isn’t as thick as an innerspring mattress.
  • If your futon is only for occasional use, such as in a rarely used guestroom, a cotton-filled mattress is the least expensive and is comfortable enough for occasional sleeping while looking good as a couch.


Futon mattress covers come in a nearly endless choice of colors, fabrics and patterns. Zippered covers allow you to change the futon cover whenever the mood strikes you, giving your room a whole new look. Futon covers are available in fabrics such as:

  • Cotton
  • Velvet
  • Hemp
  • Denim
  • Leather
  • Suede
  • Microfiber

Choose a cover that highlights the style of the futon frame, and adds to the décor of your room. If you have young children or pets, look for a cover that is machine washable and durable, such as microfiber or denim. Know the thickness of your futon’s mattress when purchasing a cover for proper fit.

Where to Buy a Futon

You can buy a futon in most large furniture stores, department stores, discount stores such as Target, online at discount sites like Amazon.com or Overstock.com or at numerous websites specializing in futons.

Usually you will buy the futon mattress, frame and cover separately, allowing you to customize your futon. Cost will depend on your choices, but expect to spend $100 and up each for the mattress and frame, and $30 and up for a cover.

A futon is a versatile choice for your hybrid guestroom/den, for your small apartment or anywhere you want a stylish and comfortable couch for lounging while watching TV, hanging out with your kids or relaxing at the end of a long day.


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