The futon is a versatile and much loved item of contemporary home décor. Equally at home in a guest bedroom as it is in a student dorm, it is a chair of all trades. Surprisingly, the futon also has a fascinating history which begins many miles and many years away from the typical English semi it now occupies. Futons have evolved from an Asian tradition to a smart, contemporary bedding choice. Read on to learn more about the ever-versatile futon.
Many people, accustomed to their posture-enhancing pockets and spongy pillow-tops, often shy away from understated futons– believing they lack in formality. Still, students with limited living space and fans of Japanese culture have been adopting and adapting futons for more than a century.
In 1885’s “Japanese Homes and Their Surroundings,” curator and scientist Edward Morse wrote about the futon’s role in Japanese households:
“In regard to the bed and its arrangements, the Japanese have reduced this affair to its simplest expression. The whole floor, the whole house indeed, is a bed, and one can fling himself down on the soft mats, in the draught or out of it, upstairs or down, and find a smooth, firm, and level surface upon which to sleep-no creaking springs, hard bunches or awkward hollows waiting him, but a bed-surface as wide as the room itself and comfortable to the last degree.”
The futons Morse described barely resemble the futons found in modern living spaces. Quilted comforters encased and stuffed with cotton or silk, traditional Japanese futons sat on two-inch thick tatami mats. Sleepers used another futon as a blanket and rested their heads on small pillows stuffed with buckwheat hulls. In the morning, they folded and stored their futons in waiting closets, leaving rooms ready for everyday use.
The futon’s daily disappearing act embodied the Japanese design philosophy of space, light, and communion with nature. Movable screens, or fusuma, separated rooms from one another or from the outside. By rearranging the fusuma, owners could transform the size, function, and ambience of their homes.
The tatamis, each about three by six feet (the size of a reclining person), served as both padding and units of measurement. Architects crafted houses to hold a certain number of futons per room. Fabric borders on each futon created rectangular floor patterns, complementing the home’s support posts and ceiling beams.
No longer slim, futons today are thickly stuffed with organic cotton, synthetic foam, polyester, wool, or Wellspring, a fibre made from recycled plastic bottles. The futon fibres are woven into webbed layers using a method called “garneting.” Next, human hands or robotic stuffers pull over the layers and fasten the futons with zippers. Some futons are tufted by hand or machine to hold all the layers together.
Different fillings define the weight, firmness, rigidity, and flexibility of today’s futons.
Foam and wool stuffing gives futons a rigid shape. Firm futons work well as couches on bi-fold frames because they retain square edges and don’t slump.
Cotton and polyester serve as more flexible filling for futons. They work best on a bed or tri-fold frame that converts the futon mats into chairs.
Modern designers invented the convertible seat-to-bed futon frames found in today’s apartments, guest rooms and student halls. Available in a variety of styles crafted from metal or wood, today’s futons can match almost any décor and are the perfect solution for small multifunctional spaces. Whether part of a youthful set up with roller blinds, posters and bright colours or included with black wooden blinds and black lacquered furniture to create a traditional Japanese feel, the futon promises to get the job done.