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Image: Kelly Deck Design

Image: Kelly Deck Design

Not everyone is lucky enough to live in a home with a guest room. If you don’t happen to have a spare space to offer up, that doesn’t mean you have to send friends and family to the nearest motel when they come for a visit.

Sofa beds can be a convenient and functional alternative for accommodating guests in small spaces and homes without a room to spare. If you’re considering purchasing a sofa bed for your home, follow these guidelines to narrow down the best style for your space.

Sofa Bed Buying Guide

Style

Sofa beds come in a variety of styles, from minimalist futons to oversized sectional couches and everything in between.

  • Futon. A futon is the simplest version of a sleeper sofa that you’ll find. Most are made up of a single cushion atop a metal or wooden frame; they can be folded up to serve as seating, and unfolded to be used as a bed. Futons are a popular choice for apartments given their low-profile appearance and relatively small footprint, but their no-frills look may make them too casual for some spaces.
  • Sleeper chair. If you’re especially short on square footage and you tend to have only one guest at a time, a sleeper chair (or two) can be an ideal option, since each chair folds out into a twin-size bed. Sleeper chairs also offer more style options than a futon; think tufted Chesterfields, shabby slipcovered versions, overstuffed easy chairs and more. Note, however, that sleeper chairs are often wider than standard armchairs.
  • Pullout couch. A pullout couch is the most traditional choice for a sofa bed, since it does double duty, acting as a comfortable full-size sofa most of the time, and a full- or queen-size (and occasionally king-size) bed as needed. Like a sleeper chair, these sofas can be found in almost any size and style, from petite, structured loveseats to large, casual sectionals. The most common choice for a pullout couch is a standard three-seater sofa, which accommodates a queen-size mattress.

Mattress Material

When you purchase a sofa bed, there’s more to think about than just looks. What’s inside counts, too, and it’s important to find one with a high-quality, durable mattress. Depending on the style of sofa bed you choose, you will have a number of options.

  • Cotton or polyester fill. This material is used for futon cushions. Cotton- and synthetic-filled mattresses (sometimes a blend of both) typically come in a variety of thicknesses; for optimum comfort, spring for one that’s at least 8 inches deep.
  • Foam. Foam mattresses are more popular than ever and are used for both sofa beds and futons. If you go this route, quality is key. Standard sofa bed mattresses are only 3 to 5 inches deep, so a low-density material means your guests will feel every support bar and coil in the bed frame. Opting for a superior material, such as memory foam or gel foam, can make a world of difference.
  • Innerspring. While traditional innerspring mattresses may have given sofa beds their bad name, they’ve come a long way in recent years, with manufacturers adding extra coils and thicker padding to ensure a better night’s sleep. The most comfortable options will be around 5 inches deep and will have steel coils and a thick, quilted cover. Note that spring mattresses tend to be noisy, so if the bed is in a shared bedroom or public space in the house, it might be best to opt for a foam version instead.
  • Air-over-coil. This newer option is an innerspring mattress on the bottom and inflatable air bed on top, and it has garnered rave reviews for comfort. Air-over-coil construction allows for a mattress that’s up to twice as thick as a standard sofa bed mattress, but still tucks away easily into a sofa when the airbed portion is deflated.

Functionality

Before you purchase a sofa bed, try opening it in the store or at least read reviews by others who have purchased it to make sure the sofa can be unfolded with ease and convenience.  There are three standard opening mechanisms:

  • Click-clack. A click-clack mechanism is the simple method used to open most futons. Simply pull the sofa frame forward until it clicks, then fold it straight back so it lies flat.  
  • Pullout. Nowadays, most sofa beds and sleeper chairs are designed to easily pull open with one hand. After removing the sofa’s cushions, you’ll reach down and pull on a handle that unfolds the mattress in thirds.  
  • Power open. If you have back problems or mobility issues, you might consider a power-open sofa bed. This high-tech opening mechanism allows a sofa bed to unfold with the push of a button.

Price Range

Sofa beds span a wide range of prices; futons start around $200, and sleeper sofas cost anywhere from $800 to $2,500 or more. So what affects the price?

  • Upholstery. As with a standard sofa, luxury upholstery such as velvet, leather or special-order colors or fabrics will cost more than standard-issue cotton twill or basketweave linen.
  • Size. Even more so than a standard couch, as the size of a sleeper sofa increases, so does the price. This is because the size of the mattress inside the sofa has to increase as well.
  • Mattress material. A high-quality memory foam or air-over-coil mattress will cost more than a thin innerspring mattress or one made from polyester fill.
  • Opening mechanism. Like all things high-tech, power or automatic open-and-close mechanisms will raise the price of a standard sofa bed.

Buying Tips

Look for mattresses that are thick enough so that you (and your guests) won’t feel the coils and metal support bars underneath. Ideally, choose one that’s at least 5 inches thick. Avoid mattresses less than 4 inches thick, no matter what the material, as well as any sofa bed that can’t easily be opened by one person.

When trying to determine the best type of sofa bed for your home, consider:

  • The size. What can you accommodate? Look at the scale of the futon, chair or sofa you’re buying and make sure it will fit (and go with) the room.
  • How you will use it. How often do you have guests? If it’s only on occasion or for short stays, you might be able to get away with a less-expensive sofa bed. Just keep a mattress topper on hand for extra comfort.  
  • Your budget. It’s easy to spend a fortune on a sofa bed with all the bells and whistles, but remember it’s not a bed that will be used every night. So don’t blow your budget on a top-of-the-line model if a moderately priced sofa bed will work just fine.

Maintenance and Care

Sofa beds are fairly easy to care for and will last for many years with simple regular maintenance, including:  

  • Surface cleaning. Like any sofa, you’ll get more life out of your cushions by vacuuming them regularly and spot-cleaning spills as they occur.
  • Interior cleaning. If you haven’t used the bed in a while, open it up and shake out the linens, or vacuum the mattress surface to get rid of any dust or dirt that might be hiding there.
  • Mattress rotation. If you use your sofa bed frequently, rotate the mattress every six months or so to evenly distribute wear, similar to a standard mattress.  

When it comes to choosing a sofa bed, it’s a matter of fashion and function. It’s just as important to find one in a size and style that works for your space as it is to find one that’s comfortable and functional for overnight guests.

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