Are LofaBeds just glorified futons or are they really a whole new category of sofa-beds? As the inventor of the Lofabed, as well as the former owner of Canada’s largest futon furniture factory (we made Maple and Pine frames, futon mattresses, and covers), I think I know the difference.
The futon started life in North America as a floor cushion, used by Transcendental Meditationists to meditate. The three cities that started the futon craze were San Francisco, Boston, and Montréal. In the beginning (1980), futon mats were made of 100% cotton batting and covered in 100% cotton muslin, and tied with cotton tufts. This was important to TMers because it reflected their “all natural” lifestyle perfectly. But it wasn’t yet furniture…..all it was, was an off-white foldable mattress lying on the ground.
It became futon furniture when a Montréal “ebeniste” (cabinetmaker) named Christian Sakoledarius came up with the idea of a bi-fold pine frame that would lift the futon mattress off the ground and allow it to open into a bed and close into a sofa. This was 1980, and the beginning of the futon furniture revolution.
The industry quickly divided into two camps: the purists and the business people. The purists pretty much “cold shouldered” me when I decided to add polyurethane foam to the mattress. To them this was heresy…to me, common sense. My thinking was, “What the hell good is ‘all natural’ when it compacts and turns hard as a rock in a matter of weeks? I wanna SIT and SLEEP on it…not EAT IT!!!” And thus began the futon furniture industry.
One of the truly unique aspects of the futon furniture industry was that, from the beginning, most suppliers chose to specialize. Some decided to make the frames, pine or hardwood…others the futon mattress itself. And some went into the business of making removable covers and throw pillows. The thinking was that, while limited in scope, one could still make a quality product and be competitive in the “small pond” of the futon industry. My interest was, and remains today, to produce a well-made, practical, comfortable sofa-bed that offers an alternative to the pull-out sleeper that dominates the marketplace…..the hide-a-bed.
The industry grew phenomenally for about ten years. And then came the Chinese invasion. Pretty soon you could import a hardwood Chinese futon frame cheaper than a domestic manufacturer could make one in pine! So the local frame manufacturers slowly began to disappear. And then the same thing happened with covers and pillows. By this time I had closed my factory and was on the road as a manufacturers’ rep. And what I saw was that “price” had taken over everyone’s mindset…..the cheaper, the better. The problem with that is: 1) There’s no end to how low prices can go…so low that eventually it put many a supplier and retailer out of business! And 2) You can’t have low price, a quality product and great customer service all at the same time…you simply can’t.
And so I began thinking of developing a product that would appeal to a broader demographic than futons, which were typically bought by students and the “financially challenged.” I was motivated by my Xerox training in New York City, which taught me that there’s always a market for something “better,” especially if you accompany it with great customer service. But it wasn’t until I attended a Futon Association trade show in New Orleans, and came across the davenport hinge, that everything came together. The davenport hinge offered easy, front-operating convertibility and storage in the base. The futon mattress offered an 8″ comfortable cushion to sit and/or sleep on, along with standard dimensions so that fitted sheets would fit nice and tight. And I wouldn’t have to compromise on quality materials or workmanship because now I was competing with hide-a-beds and generic sofa-beds, which sold at price points significantly higher than futon furniture. And so the LofaBed was born.
The futon industry has survived, although on a much smaller scale. Today most of the suppliers are importers and most of the retailers are bedding stores. The quality has improved because the survivors learned that making a profit is not necessarily a bad thing. And the LofaBed, which appeals to a much wider market, has penetrated the resort and hotel industry, where hide-a-beds are ubiquitous.
But I started out this blog with the idea of comparing futons and LofaBeds, and then got caught up in a little reminiscing. Here’s my analysis:
1) Futon furniture is COMPONENT furniture…the frame comes from one source, the mattress another, and the cover still another. Most of the products are imported and you can never be sure they’ll all fit together properly. The LofaBed is constructed of Canadian hardwood at one factory in suburban Montréal (Canada), where I can visit periodically and check on quality control.
2) Futon frames support the mattress with wooden or metal slats, offering little or no comfort. The LofaBed mattress is supported by Pirelli elastic webbing, the same as in most expensive Italian leather furniture.
3) They both knock-down for easy carrying, but a LofaBed can be assembled in minutes with no tools. Futon frames need tools and quite a bit more time to assemble.
4) Futon mattresses are generally offered ONLY with a removable cover. While this is practical for people with animals and small children, it’s also a very sloppy look…as each time you get up from sitting, the cover needs to be re-tucked. LofaBed mattresses are button-tufted to give them a more “furniture” look. And removable covers ARE offered as an option.
5) LofaBeds offer lots of storage in the base….even more in the ottomans. Futon frames do not.
6) Futon furniture features bases of exposed wood or metal…not ideally suited for all rooms and definitely not conducive to napping. LofaBeds are fully upholstered, fit nicely in any decorating environment, and are available in multiple padded arms… some designed specifically for napping.
7) LofaBeds are made-to-order in the size, fabric, and arm style of your choice….in less than a month. Futon furniture availability depends on what’s in stock.
8) Although there ARE some ingenious mechanisms out there, most futon frames are a challenge to operate. The LofaBeds’s davenport hinge mechanism has been around since the forties, and is still the simplest and easiest to open and close I’ve ever seen.