Sofa Beds: User’s Guide

Sofa beds are a great way of accommodating temporary needs for extra sleeping space in a house, especially where there is limited additional bedroom space for guests (spare rooms). A sofa bed in a living room allows this room to be temporarily used for sleeping accommodation at night, and revert to living space during the daytime. In a spare room, a sofa bed allows the room to be used for private sleeping and living space for visitors, and secondary living space for the permanent household at other times.

There are several different types of sofa beds, which I’ll describe here using my own terminology:

  • Bench or longitudinal style – where the bed’s long axis is aligned with the long axis of the sofa. Typically, there is a fixed base on the floor usually on legs, which supports the back and seat frame. The back is able to be folded down and along with the seat, their surfaces become the bed mattress directly.
  • Couch or transverse style – where the seatbed’s long axis is transverse to the long axis of the sofa. These have an appearance much like a regular sofa, with a fixed back and arms enclosing the seat, and often with removable back and seat cushions. The bed is a separate and concealed folding frame and mattress enclosed within the base, which when folded, supports the seat cushions
  • Modular style – in this type of sofa bed, there is a base and frame with a detachable seat and back.Some styles have the frame in a longitudinal design where the back folds down alongside the base, while others have the frame in a transverse design with the base containing a double folding section that forms the bed. The seat and back may be two pieces (squabs) that are joined together along the middle, or formed from a one piece mattress that bends when the back is folded up.

It is important to select the correct style for your needs as the designs vary considerably in their usefulness for a particular application. For a living room, you’ll want to choose one of the first two styles. Assuming that the couch is aligned to the wall in normal use, the longitudinal style’s main advantages are that it can be used as an impromptu full length resting surface for one person without folding down, and that it intrudes into the room less when configured as a bed. The seat and back are able to be thicker for increased comfort in both applications. Longitudinals are limited in style as mostly a bench type couch with an angular rectangular form without arms, although some are made with detachable arms or have sufficient overall length that the arms do not interfere with use as a bed. They can have fixed spring seat and foam back, although they may also use foam for both.

The main advantage a transverse style has is that it can be in appearance, when used as a sofa, a traditional fixed couch with fully enclosed frame and base, with a curved fixed back, arms and floor skirt that is more aesthetically appealing. Overall length can be shorter as the frame only needs to accommodate the width rather than the length of the bed. The main disadvantages for a transverse are the need for a completely separate folding mechanism, bed base and mattress to be fitted into the bottom of the couch, which means a less robust folding frame is needed and generally a fairly thin mattress, although side springing the frame surface can compensate for the relative lack of comfort of the mattress. The transverse also intrudes further into the living space when unfolded. The seat support is likely to be mainly from foam cushions with insufficient space for a spring seat in most models.

The modular style sofa bed design is mainly advantageous for its low cost and light weight and they can be shipped as a kitset to be assembled by the purchaser and be produced with different styles of seat squab (e.g. foam or sprung) and cover styles or colours as part of a model range. The overall design favours bed usage, the detachable squab / mattress design being less robust for continuous and heavy use as a couch in a busy household. This means they are best used in a spare room (folded to save space when the bed is not required) or as a light couch / occasional extra bed in a secondary bedroom.

The Ikea NYHAMN is an example of a modular sofa bed that is produced as a kitset for final assembly by the purchaser (see Youtube assembly videos). I recently was given a second hand NYHAMN and have found it to be well suited as a spare bed but not a notably good design for couch use due to the depth of the seat squab and the cover not appearing to fit well. Whilst the cover is washable, it is too bulky to be put into an ordinary washing machine. One of the slats in the seat frame had broken and there were signs of failure in parts of the squab stitching underneath, but it is otherwise in very good condition and comfortable to sleep on, even when folded up. I expect it to do double duty as a light couch and impromptu resting space in my living room in the short term, with the light use it is getting I expect it to last well for a while, but as I have suggested overall in my comments, under heavy use these units are unlikely to be as durable as one of the other styles of sofa bed and are best suited for occasional or light use in secondary applications. This seems to be justified with many of the online reviews that can be found on the IKEA site. My personal preference for a living room longer term is to keep searching for an affordable option for a traditional bench type of sofa bed that will be more usable and durable for everyday use.