Futons are a popular option for people who want to add some bed capacity to their home, but many may wonder why futons are so low to the ground. It goes back to the history of futons and where their design came from.
Futons are low to the ground because they were originally influenced by Japanese futons, a type of mattress that is designed to be placed directly on the ground. Futon sofas were invented by a designer named William Brouwer, who was influenced by Japanese futon design.
Futons might seem like a modern furniture staple, but they’ve been around since the 1700s. Keep reading to learn more about the history of futons, why they’re so low to the ground, and the many benefits of sleeping on a futon.
The History of the Futon and Its Height
When you look at why futons are low to the ground, you first must look at where futons originated from. The modern futon sofa was influenced by the Japanese futon, which is a mattress that is placed on tatami mats on the floor for sleeping. The Japanese do not sleep on a bed frame, choosing instead to sleep directly on the floor.
Futon mattresses were originally designed to be used on the floor and then rolled up each day. But after being exposed to them in Japan, an American furniture designer named William Brouwer from Boston decided that futon mattresses could be incorporated into a sofa to expand a home’s sleeping capacity. The futon sofa bed was introduced to America in 1982. (Source: Bed Works)
There are a few reasons for this interior design choice (Source: Sleeping Guide):
- Japanese summers are hot and humid. This is especially a problem in crowded urban centers. Sleeping on futons spread out on tatami mats is considered more comfortable than sleeping in Western bedding, which is thought to trap heat.
- Sleeping on the floor conserves space. Japanese futons are typically rolled up each day and put away. This lack of a permanent bed leaves more floor space open in the home for other activities.
- Sleeping on the floor is supposed to be good for your back. Many Japanese health experts believe that sleeping on the floor is better for the back than sleeping on a thick mattress because it allows the spine to remain in a neutral position.
- Sleeping on the floor is traditional in Japanese culture. The Japanese people have slept on futon mattresses on the floor for centuries. Before the introduction of the futon mattress, medieval Japanese people slept directly on the tatami mats of their homes. This included everyone from peasants to samurai nobility.
- Japanese flooring cannot handle heavy furniture. Because Japanese flooring is typically constructed of soft tatami reed mats, they can’t tolerate heavy furniture being sat on top of them without being damaged.
As you probably gather, there are lots of reasons why traditional Japanese futons are designed to be low to the ground. And this went on to influence the introduction of the futon sofa in the Western world.
Futon Sofas Versus Japanese Futons
Because futons are light and simple, in the eighties, they were much cheaper and easier to store than other types of sofa beds. This made them appealing for a variety of demographics, including students who needed light furniture to move from place to place as well as people who needed to stretch apartment space in large cities.
Even though the futon mattress has been adapted for a Western audience, futons are still designed to be low to the ground. This is for a few reasons:
- Futon sofa beds still emulate Japanese design. There are still many Japanese influences on futon sofa beds because they were the original influence of the furniture design. Even though futon sofa beds don’t place their mattresses directly on the ground, they still maintain the same type of low profile as a traditional futon mattress.
- Futon sofa beds are designed low to the ground like sofas. High elevated beds are a Western construct. You’ll notice if you look at the average sofa couch that couches are not kept to the same high elevation as a Western bed frame. Futons are low to the ground so that even if they’re made into a sofa, they’re still low enough to comfortably sit on.
- Many futon sofa beds are designed as bunk beds. Those futons that are designed as part of a bunk bed (with a bed on the loft and a futon sofa on the bottom) are low to the ground to ensure that there’s headspace.
While futon sofas have deviated pretty drastically from the design of traditional Japanese futon mattresses, they are still designed to be lower to the ground than many Westerners are used to.
The Benefits of Futons
Futons being low to the ground is a hold-over from Japanese design, but there are several ways that futons being low to the ground are an advantage for everyone. Here are some of the benefits of having a futon:
- Better for the back: Futons may feel hard to someone who is used to sleeping on a plush Western-style mattress. However, many health experts think that hard mattresses like futons help contribute to a neutral spine position during sleep. This helps to prevent back pain. (Source: Land of Sleep) This benefit applies more to floor futons than futon sofas.
- Better insulation: With less space between the floor and the mattress, futons are considered more comfortable in extreme temperature shifts. They have enough space to allow for circulation during warmer months but do not grow as cold as elevated beds during cooler months.
- Help motivate people to get out of bed: There are a lot of things to be said for a cozy bed, but there are also advantages to having a bed which doesn’t encourage you to laze around all day. Futons are meant to be either put away or made up into a sofa, so you aren’t tempted to lie in bed until noon. This makes them an advantage in getting going in the morning.
- More room for low bedroom ceilings: In bedrooms with low ceilings, elevated beds can make the room look cluttered and claustrophobic. Keeping the bed low can more efficiently use what headspace is available in the room and keep the room looking streamlined.
- Saved floor space: If a futon is used to replace a regular bed, this can drastically reduce the amount of floor space in a home that must be dedicated to bedroom space. For smaller apartments or shared bedroom scenarios, this can help maximize available space.
Futons have a mixed reputation because they are relatively cheap compared to other types of beds in Western interior design. But, just because they’re cheap doesn’t mean that they’re not a good option.
There are futons constructed of high-quality materials that work just as well in high-end interior design. On the other hand, there are also many economy futons designed for college dorms. The fact that you can easily find both is a testament to how versatile this style of furniture can be.
There is a Futon for Everyone
Whether you’re looking to add extra guest beds to a residence, or trying to save space in a studio apartment, futon mattresses and futon sofas are a low-profile way to sleep. Futons can be a great way to make the most of available bedroom space, due to its design that is not only attractive but easy on the back too.