What we refer to as the ‘futon’ originally evolved from designs based on the traditional Japanese bedding consisting of two parts, the shikibuton (mattress) and the kakebuton (quilt cover). The traditional Japanese futon was placed upon a tatmi mat of floor for sleeping, and was then rolled up and stored in a closet during the day- allowing the sleeping room to be used for other purposes. The Japanese futons need to be cleaned and aired out regularly, and have much thinner mattresses than their western counterparts.
The western futon is almost always placed on some type of framework that can be converted in to another type of useable furniture such as a chair or sofa. The frames range from a simple light wood bi-fold that flattens out from a bend in the middle, to much more elaborate and stylish designs based on the furniture classics. The modern western futon design is credited to William Brouwer, a Boston area furniture designer who wanted to devise a better space saving solution for his small apartment. Till he began working on the problem, the most common bed and furniture convertible was the good old ‘hide-a-way’ bed, a heavy, difficult to move and uncomfortable solution. Brouwer developed a ‘tri-fold’ design frame which could be slid together or apart to become either a bed or couch. The styling was well well crafted using fine woods for the frame and wooden slats to support the mattress, it received notional recognition. The futon mattresses made in the Boston area were much about twice as thick as their Japanese counterparts as they were made from cotton that was curlier (providing greater ‘loft’) than that used in Japan.
Soon futons were being designed and made throughout the United States and the rest of the world using the basic Brouwer bed design as well as the ‘bi-fold’ design, that looked more like conventional couches. Over time it has become apparent there are few limits to the variety of designs and styles that can be developed.
The futons of today may seem much more sophisticated and comfortable than those of the past, but they retain the basic principles of simplicity and versatility that has been a futon hallmark. Futons offer the simple convenience of sitting and sleeping without taking up a lot of space.