Futons Find a Following Beyond the College Crowd

By Angie Vo
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Thursday, August 24, 2006

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

Once used almost exclusively by dorm and first-apartment dwellers, futons are increasingly showing up in condominiums and in single-family homes -- in guest rooms, TV rooms and even living rooms as alternatives to sleeper sofas.

In some cases, they are being bought 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, a 2003 survey found that 31 percent of futon buyers were 31 to 40, with 21- to 30-year-olds the second-largest group at 27 percent. Another source of statistics, Futon Life, an online specialty publication at http://www.futonlife.com/ , reports that in 2004, 57 percent of buyers were between 35 and 60, and 42 percent were 35 or younger.

Alyssa Wauters, a student at Milwaukee School of Engineering, got a futon from her parents in her first year of college two years ago. It has a simple black metal frame with a pink cover, which matched her dorm room at the time.

"Futons are kind of like a college tradition and it just seemed right," Wauters says.

There are more options for buying a futon. 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 of the four. Covers can be of washable cotton, denim, fabric blends or leather.

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.

"To me, bar none, 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."

At PM Bedroom Gallery, the futon mattresses come with natural cotton batting, springs or high-density foams, and one model is available with temperature-sensitive memory foam.

At Brady Street Futons, customers can pick the components of their mattress filling and have it made in the basement workroom. Manager Erik Radloff says that 95 percent of mattresses in the store are made on-site and can be made to a customer's specified dimensions.

At Great Lakes Futon, President Japh Komassa says the best-selling mattress is a combination of fiber and foam, or fiber, foam and cotton.

Like a bed, futons are offered in twin, full, queen and king sizes, with full-size frames being 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.

"In purchasing a futon, you want to find a frame that works easily when you convert it from sofa to 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.

Most futon buyers opt for a removable cover. They 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 noticed that 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."

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.

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.

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