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History of Sofabeds

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Merriam Webster defines sofabed as a sofa that can be made to serve as a bed by lowering its hinged, upholstered back to horizontal position or by pulling out a concealed mattress.

While this seems to be simple enough, it is not as easy for the typical consumer to discern which type of sofa to opt for as there are many variations on this popular furniture. Aside from the forms and sizes, the functionalities of sofas also vary as different ones use a range of mechanisms to transform a couch into a bed. As such, some questions arise in the selection process; Is a sectional sofa in itself a sofabed? How do you keep track of the differences between sofabeds and differentiate the uses? Is a futon bed the same as a click clack and why favor one over the other?

sofa

Essentially, the essence of the sofabed lies in its functionality to be converted. While the designs of sofas have certainly become varied and sophisticated, the distinction of a sofa being turned into a bed defines the unique feature of this home staple. Technological advances and myriad selection of materials and mechanisms may have given birth to an array of names for sofabeds, but two basic elements remain; either there is a bed mattress that is concealed or there is a mechanism that needs to be disengaged to transform the sofa into a bed.

Like most inventions, the sofabed was conceived and developed to primarily address the pressing issues of space and convenience.

Nowadays, the demand for space-saving and multi-purpose furniture has become even more crucial. These considerations only make the sofabed, preferred for its functionality and comfort, an integral piece of furniture in most homes. All sorts of designs are ubiquitous in the market to fit all kinds of spaces, offering varying degrees of comfort and presenting an assortment of useful features.

Interestingly enough, the living conditions when the sofabed was invented were not fundamentally different from those of today.  A look at the history of sofabeds will illustrate this point.

The history of the sofa bed begins with Mr. Leonard C. Bailey, an African-American inventor who was born in 1825 to a poor family and afflicted with a physical disability. While working as a barber in Washington D.C., Mr. Bailey was able to invent what most refer to today as a folding bed, a.k.a the ‘hide-a-bed’.

In July 18, 1899, Mr. Bailey patented the first folding bed, which was essentially a collapsible metal bed with a folding mattress. For its practicality, the invention was recommended to the United States Army Medical Board for tent and camping purposes.

It was not until1931 when the sofabed reached a breakthrough. An Italian immigrant in the US, Mr. Bernard Castro, working then as an upholsterer, was continually confronted with questions on how to work out spaces to fit a bed and a sofa in small dwellings.

Mr. Castro spent plenty of time observing the furniture on display at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (MOMA) and inquisitively searched for the solution to his dilemma. Determined to make use of every inch of space available, he eventually figured out a design and came out with what are now popularly known as Castro Convertibles ottoman beds.

What is significant about Castro Convertibles is that it established the template for the present day sofabeds both aesthetically and functionally.

The last development of note in the evolution of sofabeds is when the futon came about. The traditional bedding used in most Japanese homes, it is basically comprised of a floor mattress with a duvet wrapped around it. True to the minimalist nature of the Japanese, it can easily be rolled and tucked away for better space usage.

On one of his visits to Japan, Mr. William Brouwer, a fine woodworker and a designer who finished architecture at the Harvard School of Design, took particular interest in the futon. He always had a fascination for Japanese design, but more so with this particular type. Hence, he came up with his own adaptation of the futon by fixing it unto a low platform.

Taking it a notch higher, Mr. Brouwer applied the flexibility of the futon mattress to his design. He realized that if the futon can be folded, then perhaps the same principle could be applied to to his own version of it. And so in 1982, he created the Brouwer Bed, also known in the sofabed parlance as the futon bed.

Now, after more than 30 years, the futon bed remains relevant, being used all over the world and modified in several ways.  It is the precursor of most of the different types of sofabeds now like the click clack and the A-frame, among others.

Most of today’s sofabeds may not be so different from those used in the mid-century but this iconic furniture continues to evolve; the folding mechanisms are being tweaked by modern manufacturers, the makeup of the mattress is also continually being improved to increase comfort, while others take it to another level by incorporating technological gadgetry.

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