College kids and condo dwellers often make strange bedfellows, but a futon just may be their common ground. Once used almost exclusively...

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College kids and condo dwellers often make strange bedfellows, but a futon just may be their common ground.

Once used almost exclusively by dorm and first-apartment dwellers, futons are increasingly showing up in condominiums and single-family homes in guest rooms, TV rooms and even living rooms as alternatives to sleeper sofas. In some cases, they are being purchased as primary beds or couches. And purchases are being made by an older demographic than ever.

According to the Futon Association International, which represents futon retailers, industry sales are more than $890 million a year, and growing.

The association’s most recent survey, in 2003, showed that 31 percent of futon buyers were 31 to 40, with 21- to 30-year-olds the second-largest group, with 27 percent of buyers.

Another source of statistics, Futon Life, an online specialty publication at, reports that in 2004, 57 percent of buyers were between 35 and 60; 42 percent were 35 and younger.

Erik Radloff, store manager of Brady Street Futons in Milwaukee, says there is no “typical” futon customer anymore.

“The young, old, all sorts of people are buying futons,” he says.

Just as there isn’t one type of person looking for a futon, futons themselves have diversified. Varieties include front-loading or regular types, with frames of wood or metal, in styles that hug the floor or rise above. Mattresses can be stuffed with cotton, foam, polyester, springs or a combination. Covers can be of washable cotton, denim, fabric blends or even leather.

It’s easy to see why the appeal of a futon is widening, but also why buying one can require many decisions.

Here are some questions to consider when purchasing the convertible couch:

What kind of mattress do I want?

“The quality of mattress will mostly determine your overall futon experience,” Radloff says.

Ben Huth, owner of PM Bedroom Gallery, has a futon in his living room that does double duty for guests. “It is used several times a year as a spare bed when I have family down from back home,” says Huth.

“The most important thing to look at when purchasing a new futon is the quality and comfort of the mattress,” he says. “This is really the place where a lot of customers get taken advantage of. They buy a thick futon mattress and expect it to feel good for a long time to come, and it becomes a hard lumpy nightmare after a short period of time.”

What kind of frame do I want?

Like a bed, futons are offered in twin, full, queen and king sizes, with full-size frames the most popular size sold today, according to Futon Life. Futon Life also reports that wood is by far the most popular frame material, representing 89 percent of purchases in 2004.

“You want to find a frame that works easily when you convert it from a sofa to the bed,” says Huth.

A front-loading frame allows the user to move the futon mattress from its up and down positions by standing in front, whereas a traditional futon frame requires a person to move around to get the mattress in a different position after pulling the frame away from the wall.

“I don’t know if there are any disadvantages of metal vs. wood,” says Japh Komassa, president of Great Lakes Futon. “Wood is probably more long-lasting in style, as metal tends to be more contemporary,” he says.

What about covers?

Most futon buyers opt for a removable cover. “These vary in price depending on fabric, design, etc.,” says Huth. “Customers can even go with leather covers.”

The removable covers are attached with zippers or buttons and are easier to maintain than sewn-on covers. Most fabric styles are washable.

“Covers should be washed at least once or twice a year,” says Radloff, who says greens and retro print covers are popular choices. “Olive and sage green have been the hot colors in the past year,” he says. “The printed fabrics are kind of a return to the ’50s and ’60s.”

Still, nothing quite replaces the all-around appeal of black.

“Black matches almost everything, and it also hides dirt and stains really well,” Radloff says.

What can I expect to pay?

In the end, it seems quality and comfort are the kings of the futon world.

“People are willing to spend more to get a better quality and more comfortable futon,” says Huth. “Obviously, buying a better frame means it will last longer and hold up better to the rigors of time. Buying a better mattress will give more comfort that will last longer than lesser quality.”

Nationally, 65 percent of futons cost $450 or more, with 13 percent ranging from $250 to $350 and 15 percent ranging from $350 to $450, according to Futon Life.

Be sure to ask about delivery and setup charges, which may be extra.