The futon bed has a long history and isn't as merely a staple of first college apartments and roadside trash heaps. From Japan, the futon mattress comprised of a cushion that was stuffed with cotton, wool or synthetic batting. It was paired with a quilted bed cover and pillow. The mattress was placed on top of a tatami mat and was more comfortable and warmer than sleeping directly on a floor or plain straw mat though it was still thin enough to be rolled up and stored during the day.
The futon's Westernized counterpart is also a thin, pliable mattress, but has generally been used with a convertible bed frame that can go from a flat position for sleeping to an upright one for sitting. As with its more traditional predecessor, the Western futon allowed for flexible use of space and was more economical than a traditional bed and mattress set or sleeper sofa, making it an excellent choice for students and young adults. As the mattress was now useful around the clock and didn't need to be rolled and stored during the day, it became thicker and required decorative consideration as well.
Stylistically, the futon bed has never been considered a fashionable décor item. As owners move up the "property ladder" and graduate to standard beds or sofa beds for guests, the futons have been moved out. A quick search on Craigslist shows a motley assortment of well-used frames and mattresses, none of which were likely very stylish even when new.
So, skeptically, I began to search for futon beds and mattresses that might be considered stylish, or at least modern. Still moderately priced which keeps them in the student/young adult budget category, here are four surprisingly chic options.
West Elm offers a full size mattress (54"w x 75"l) that works with both their standard sofa style frame as well as a super chic chaise frame. The tufted mattress is stylish on its own, but good looking washable covers are also available. (WestElm.com, $149-$299)
Cost Plus World Market offers a Studio Day Bed that converts from small sofa, to chaise, to flat bed by just raising and lowering the sides. (WorldMarket.com, $399.99)
CB2 offers the Flex sofa which isn't a traditional futon with a mattress on a separate frame, but does offer the same convertible features in a stylish package. The mattress has inner-spring coils, which would make it a more comfortable for both sitting and sleeping. The international orange fabric on a clean lined steel frame gives this piece a slightly mid-century retro look. (CB2.com, $999.00)
Pottery Barn offers the Chesapeake futon chaise that works both indoors or out. The covers are made from water repellant canvas or Sunbrella® fabrics. The mattress is slightly bigger than a standard full-size mattress and could easily accommodate two adults. (PotteryBarn.com, $349.00)