The Futon Primer


Introducing the Futon to a New Generation

A futon is a lightweight, shape-shifting piece of furniture that serves two purposes. For sleepyheads, it serves as a comfy bed; the rest of the time it’s employed as an attractive, comfortable, adaptable couch.


The Japanese style futon, known as a "shiki futon" or "shikibuton" (image courtesey of inorman)

The term “futon” is derived from the Japanese word “shikibuton” (“sleeping mat”). Eastern futons are traditionally placed on the floor atop reed platforms in rooms that serve multiple purposes. During the day, shikibutons are rolled up or folded—frequently after they’ve been exposed to sunshine and beaten with sticks to keep the inner materials in good order—and then stored to make way for daytime activities.

The western futon received its genesis during the late 1960’s when a bright American entrepreneur decided that shikibutons could be employed as fold up or roll up sleeping mats in small dorm rooms, studio apartments, and other space-starved living spaces.


The western style futon includes a convertible frame (image courtesey of currybet)

During the 70’s the futon evolved tremendously as more manufacturers entered the field. The western futon came off the floor by means of a wooden or metal frame to satisfy western sensibilities. (Unfortunately, early frames were usually pretty awful so it took decades to break free of the negative publicity caused by their serial faults. Several manufacturers went out of business during this time because of shoddy, risky products and the lawsuits they spawned.) The mattress became much thicker and more comfortable, and the original futon bed frame morphed into a transformable puzzle piece that could be reconfigured to quickly and easily turn the bed into a sitting couch. It was also during the 70’s that futon mattresses became available in different sizes and materials other than cotton. Wool, foam and polyester became optional fillers.

Furniture companies in the 80’s and 90’s researched and designed further adaptations and introduced clever designs and other innovations.

Today the term “futon” usually refers to all three components of a western futon: mattress, frame and fabric cover.

Futon Features and Benefits in the 21st Century

Because futons serve in two ways—as beds and couches—they are real space savers. They’re a lot lighter than traditional beds, couches and beds-in-couches options and more comfortable, and easier to convert, than the clunky traditional bed-inside-couch configurations.


Futons are available in a variety of styles to match one's taste (image courtesey of paco_cotera)

These days futon frames are available in wood, metal and upholstered versions in every customary size: twin, single, double, queen, king and super king.

Futons are easy and inexpensive to customize as décor and styles change.

Futon mattresses are required by law (these days) to meet federal safety requirements. To comply, mattresses must be tested for flammability and pass stringent tests to earn their flame-resistance ratings. Testing is thorough and carefully documented with plenty of photos.

Other Futon Elements

In addition to frames and mattresses, futon accessories abound to help individualize and customize the appearance of mass-produced futon mattresses and frames. The futon cover business is just one aspect of the business that is revolutionizing the brand and creating futon fanatics here and abroad.


Futon covers and other accessories can personalize the look (image courtesey of winemegup)

These days most futon covers are made of high-end upholstery fabric to ensure longevity, transformability and ongoing delight. As mentioned above, futon covers allow homeowners and dorm dwellers to change the appearance of their futons for far less money than it takes to re-upholster traditional couches. The ability to easily change the appearance of a beloved futon (for as little as $29 or as much as $300+ for high-end covers) keeps owners coming back for more. Seasonal covers are a big hit in many stores: spring, summer, fall, winter, holidays, sports season, and more.

If you’ve been misled to believe that futon furniture is inferior to other types of furniture and that only cash-strapped or space-starved customers would consider buying them, think again. Today’s futons and accessories are designed to impress—and to last. Futons take second place to no one when it comes to earnings tried-and-true futon fanatics.

What’s not to love about the futon’s affordability, adaptability, comfort, and amazing ability to take up less space than the traditional bed and couch where you live and study?

You have nothing to lose—and everything to gain—by taking a closer look at the fun, fabulous futon.

Copyright 2013 The Futon Primer