How do you provide a place to sleep for people who are staying for a weekend or a holiday if you do not have a guest room? You have two options to prepare for such a situation. Option number 1 is a futon and option number 2 is a sofa bed. But which is better?
Sofa beds (which are also called hide-a-beds) and futons both have good and bad qualities. For overall comfort and utility, the sofa bed is better, but only for those individuals who can afford it. For those who cannot, the futon is a viable option as well.
Like many things, the preference of a sofa bed vs. a futon comes down to what you need it for and what you can afford. Both pieces of furniture have their upsides and downsides. For example, while the sofa bed may be more comfortable it is certainly not easier to move than a futon. Read on to learn more about whether futon or sofa beds are better.
Is a Futon Better than a Bed?
Futons and sofa beds are pieces of furniture that are based on the idea of acting as a couch in one circumstance and a bed in the other. They are intended to save space and act as additional sleeping, they just go about it differently:
- A sofa bed looks like a regular couch but if you take the cushions off you find the folded metal frame and mattress of a bed underneath
- A futon is essentially a mattress that is bent down the middle to form into a couch, and the frame opens up for the mattress to lay flat as a bed
By taking two different approaches the futon and sofa bed appeal to two different markets. Right up front, understand that sofa beds are quite a bit more expensive than futons. As such, people with a larger budget for furniture will gravitate toward the sofa bed while people with a smaller budget will gravitate toward the futon.
Because futons are cheaper and lighter, they are often favored by younger people who expect to move periodically from apartment to apartment. However, the sofa bed is a heavy piece of furniture and is often preferred by people who have settled into one place for a while because sofa beds can be hard to move.
While it would seem to be clear what piece of furniture is best, the pros and cons of each can be a little more complicated as it relates to the following categories:
- Comfort as sofas
- Ease of setup and takedown
- Comfort as beds
- Choice of styles
As you read on, be sure to consider what is the best option for you. You will find that both can be appealing choices. There are differences in comfortability, affordability, and more that ultimately make choosing a futon or sofa bed something that is based on personal needs and preferences.
Futon Vs Sofa Bed: Appearance
When it comes to determining whether a futon is better than a sofa bed, the first thing you have to consider is how they look. If they do not function as a piece of furniture that works with a normal living room or family setup, then the deal is off.
Both pieces of furniture fit in with other pieces in a room and both can look nice, but the impression they give off to visitors is different.
The Appearance of the Futon
The most common futons are basically a mattress placed on a wooden frame and they have many characteristics that identify them as a futon:
- The mattress has no seam either to the back or between the seats
- The frame is typically wood
- If it is not wood, the look of a futon is still very minimalistic
- Many styles of futons do not have arms
However, some of the newer futons can look more like couches than the older ones, with the “mattress” being attached to movable parts that collapse, fold, and lock into place. They are still identifiable as futons, though, because the back and seat “cushions” are fixed into place and not removable like a couch.
Whatever style of futon you are looking at, they both have a minimalist, even utilitarian appearance. There is almost no flair and no design flourishes. Futons tend to be a “what you see is what you get” proposition. That is how many models are so affordable. They spare you the overstuffed cushions and mechanics of sofa beds to save you money.
That said, futons are far from unsightly. Even the simple models have a pleasant appearance with different colors of mattresses that can fit in with your decor. The newer models are even nicer, bringing a bare, no fuss, no muss kind of aesthetic to a room.
The Appearance of a Sofa Bed
Sofa beds are just the way the name sounds: beds in a sofa. Cushions are used for seating just like in normal sofas but they conceal the bed that is folded underneath them. As such, the sofa bed has all the characteristics of a normal sofa:
- Standard length
- Removable cushions
- Padded arms and back
- Skirt along the bottom
You can see a sofa bed and not realize that it is a sofa bed, because it looks in every way like a normal sofa.
All the styles that you would expect to find a sofa in, you can find a sofa bed in as well. This includes fabric, color, and pattern. Because the sofa bed looks just like every other sofa, it fits in seamlessly with other furniture in a living room.
For this reason, the sofa bed takes the lead in terms of appearance because of its ability to hide its function. It disguises itself as a furniture chameleon would, blending in with everything else in the room.
Futon Vs Sofa Bed: Comfort as Couches
Comfort has two categories in this article because the futon and sofa bed have two functions. The first category deals with their comfort as it relates to people sitting on them while the second (coming up later) deals with comfort as it relates to people sleeping on them
The first category is arguably the more important of the two because, in all likelihood, you are going to use your futon or sofa bed more as couches than as beds. Granted, the comfort of the bed is important, but typically, people are going to come over and sit more than they are going to come over and spend the night.
The Couch Comfort of a Futon
Typical futons are at a disadvantage in this category for several reasons:
- A futon is basically a folded mattress, so it does not typically offer the same level of support and comfort that a sofa bed does
- The seat of many of the basic wooden framed futons tilts up at the knees so that a person can sometimes feel folded up just like the mattress
Futon seats also tend to be a little deeper than couch seats because they are providing half of the mattress. This makes low back support problematic. That plus the fact that the seat of some futons can tilt upward at the knees can make it difficult for elderly people to get in and out of.
To be fair, these comfort issues may not be as important to younger people, who are more likely to buy a futon anyway. Younger people do not typically have joint and back issues as older people do. It can also be the case that some people buy futons for spare rooms where they are used more for sleeping than for sitting.
So, once again, the comfort of a futon may depend on who you are, and its importance can depend on what you need it for.
The Couch Comfort of a Sofa Bed
Sofa beds have been around for longer than futons, so manufacturers have perfected them to the point that they feel like normal sofas when you sit on them. This means that they offer you:
- The balanced seating of a normal sofa
- The comfort of a normal sofa
- The support of a normal sofa
The bed is entirely hidden inside the sofa and is essentially a completely different component, so the sofa bed compromises none of its function and comfort levels when acting as a sofa.
Some negative aspects of sofa beds may come about, however, as the sofa ages. The mechanism of the bed frame itself can sometimes get loose and rattle when you sit down. Also, the springs can get old and squeak when you sit on them or shift your weight on the couch.
But these things are typically products of age and they most often result from the bed mattress and frame wearing out. You would not expect to find these things in a new sofa bed caught off the showroom floor.
Futon Vs Sofa Bed: Ease of Use
Another important category for comparison is how easy or difficult it is to change futons and sofa beds from one function to another. Appearance and comfort (in both categories) aside, if these alternative sleepers are not easy to change back and forth, then that reduces a big part of their appeal.
Change a futon or sofa bed from sitting to sleeping mode involves:
- The physical act of manipulating the mechanisms
- Removal of any spare or unneeded parts or pieces for either function
- Making and unmaking the bed
In each of these categories, both futons and sofa beds have high points and low points. But as a whole, both pieces of furniture come out pretty good in this category. Take a look.
Ease of Use of a Futon
Modern futons are fairly simple to change from sitting position to bed position. The process goes more or less like this:
- Pull the futon away from the wall if it sits close to one
- Lower the back by either disengaging the mechanism or removing the wooden catch (if it is a wooden frame)
- Make the bed
Because futons are light, pulling them away from a wall that they might sit against is pretty easy. Most people should be able to do it without straining themselves. You should not need to lift up one end and then another. You should be able to just slide it. The exception here is that wooden framed futons will be a little heavier.
Lowering the back of the futon can be a little awkward. You may need to kneel on the seat portion of the futon in order to disengage the mechanism and lower the back. For some wooden framed futons you may need another person to help you because the frame can be heavy, but the advantage there is that you can take the mattress off and throw it on the floor if necessary.
Making the bed is pretty straightforward, especially since futons come in the following sizes:
- Twin and Twin XL
- Full and Full XL
- California King
These are all standard sizes so it is easy to find sheets that fit them.
Ease of Use of a Sofa Bed
A sofa bed also has its high points and low points when it comes to setting it up for sleeping. In order to do that you need to:
- Remove all the cushions
- Pull out the folded bed and unfold it
- Make the bed
Thankfully, sofa beds do not require you to move them away from the wall. That would make them a real headache to set up at night. However, you do need to remove the cushions, which, of course, is no big deal. The minor problem is what to do with them. Usually, you can slide them up against either side of the sofa.
Pulling out the bed frame is comparable to a futon. Underneath the cushions, you will find a place to grab hold of the metal frame. Pull it up and out until it rests on the center supports. Then unfold it until the end of it rests on the foot supports.
Making the bed is easy enough, but you do have fewer options for sheet sizes. Generally, sofa beds come in the following sizes:
This should accommodate most needs for putting up one or two guests for the night.
Ease of Use for Moving
It is worth taking a look at the futon versus the sofa bed in terms of how easy they are to move. Moving to another home or apartment can happen even to people who have no plans to move anywhere.
The futon is typically very easy to move. It would probably take a couple of people to maneuver the longer models and heavier wood frames, but they are usually very easy to lift and easy to manipulate through hallways and around doorways. If the mattresses are detachable, they tend to be floppy, which makes them awkward, but ultimately they are fairly easy to carry as well.
However, sofa beds are notoriously heavy. They are a challenge to lift for even two people (though it can be done) and something of a nightmare to manipulate around doorways.
The reason for this is because, as you rotate the sofa to get it through a doorway, the bed mechanism can open up on you. You need to tie it down before you move it, otherwise, you are in for a nasty surprise.
Futon Vs Sofa Bed: Comfort as Beds
The futon and the sofa bed come to another critical comparison. How comfortable are they to sleep on? As was said before, it is arguable whether their comfort as sofas is more im[portant than their comfort as beds. But suffice it to say, both are important enough that if they fail in one category or another, you may not want to buy one.
In this category, the sofa bed generally tends to pull out ahead, but a lot depends on the brand of futon and sofa bed that you get because both have drawbacks. Read on to see what they are.
The Sleeping Comfort of a Futon
Like mattresses in all other areas, futon mattresses have become more comfortable over the years. Futon mattresses:
- Have a lot of padding
- Can even have memory foam that makes them as good or almost as good as a normal mattress
- Come in roomy sizes so they can sleep two comfortably
The problem with a futon mattress is that it serves a double function. It is both a mattress and a couch. And typically when something takes on two roles it is compromised in one or both.
This article has already looked at how a futon in the couch position is not as comfortable as it could be. The same can be true for a futon in the bed position, although that can depend on what brand you buy and how much you are willing to spend on it.
The Sleeping Comfort of a Sofa Bed
Because sofa beds have a dedicated mattress, they tend to be more comfortable than futons. The mattress of a sofa bed is made like any other mattress, but it is much thinner than a regular mattress:
- Regular mattresses are between 10 and 20 inches thick
- Sofa bed mattresses are around 4 to 5 inches thick
So while the general construction remains the same (a sofa bed mattress can even have memory foam), the thinness of the mattress can cause problems as it ages with repeated use.
The springs can wear out more quickly than a normal mattress causing it to lose the firmness that it might otherwise have had. As it loses this, springs can become uncomfortable against the sleeper.
Also, as the mattress gets thinner, you stand a greater chance of feeling the bars of the metal frame that run widthways underneath you. This can make for a pretty uncomfortable night of sleep. But typically this is a problem of age and wear and tear. Bought from the store, a sofa bed should be very comfortable.
Futon Vs Sofa Bed: Choice of Styles
Now that you have considered the functional aspects of futons and sofa beds, it is time to think about style. More than just the way a general sofa bed or futon looks, style in this section has to do with how many different choices you have to pick from when it comes to selecting the kind of futon or sofa bed that you want to put in your home.
After all, style is about more than just making a statement. It is about finding the futon or sofa bed that matches what you have already established as your decor. In a sense, the choice of sleeper limits your options. Futons are going to tend to look more minimalistic. Sofas are the other going to tend to look more traditional.
With these things in mind, read below to look at the different style options that you have with a futon versus a sofa bed.
Style Options for the Futon
One thing that is nice about ordering a futon is that for many models you have a choice of different colors within that same model. And some models give you a lot of choices, some of them appealing to more colorful tastes. You can often find such options as:
- Muted orange
- Bright yellow
- 1970’s green
Keep in mind that the colors tend to go hand in hand with the streamlined retro looks. For the futon aesthetic, they work great. You just have to decide if it works for you. Another thing to keep in mind is that futons tend not to have patterns.
However, futons are now accommodating different structural styles. For example, you can find futons that have chaise lounges attached to one or both sides. This could make an appealing piece to go along a wall and seat or sleep a cozy group of folks.
Style Options for the Sofa Bed
The sofa bed tends to be more traditional in appearance, so you will often find overstuffed cushions with throw pillows giving it the comforting, homey kind of presence that you would expect from a sofa.
With a sofa bed, you have a few more stylistic options to choose from. For example, sofa beds are more likely to come in patterned fabric if that is what you are into. And while futons can have faux leather, sofa beds are more likely to have a choice of fabric from real leather to cotton to a variety of blends.
A sofa bed can also be incorporated into a sectional, which makes a great sleeping arrangement on the fly if you are putting up a family. Kids can go on the couch or attached chaise lounge and parents can go on the bed.
The one downside to sofa beds is that they are not as likely to have the broad color palette that futons tend to have. You are less likely to find greens, yellows, and oranges in the traditional sofa bed world. But if you look hard enough, you might be able to find something bright if that is where your taste for color leans.
Futon Vs Sofa Bed: Expense
As mentioned above, in this category there is no contest. The futon is in for the win, hands down. It is not even a case of it being the difference of a couple hundred bucks. Futons usually beat sofa beds by several hundred dollars.
On average, futons tend to cost:
- Around $150 on the low end
- About $900 on the high end
As you can see, you can pick up a futon that is light, easy to manage, and reasonably comfortable pretty cheaply. This is probably the biggest reason why futons appeal to younger buyers.
On the other hand, sofa beds tend to cost:
- About $1,400 on the low end
- Around $4,200 on the high end
You can occasionally find sofa beds that are in the hundreds, but usually, the cheaper options that sometimes get put under the name of sleeper sofa, are actually more like futons, or actually are futons. For a real sofa bed, the price is much higher and that can often make the ultimate difference between a futon and a sofa bed.
Both futons and sofa beds provide great solutions for putting up guests for a few days. The ability to pull a bed out of nowhere is highly functional and in both cases, pretty easy to do. There are pluses and minuses to both pieces of furniture.
Sofa beds are generally more comfortable both as a place to sit and a place to sleep (until the mattress wears out, but they typically last a long time). However, futons tend to sacrifice some comfort for the sake of being lightweight, slim, and trim.
The real difference is that futons tend to be way more affordable than sofa beds. And with their new, sofa-like looks they are typically the best option for the buyer who needs something functional on a budget. But if you can afford the comfort of a sofa bed there is nothing like owning a piece that really is both a bed and a sofa.