What is a futon? It sounds like a simple question, but there is still some confusion about what constitutes a futon. Is the futon a couch? Is it a folding sofa frame? Is it just a bed without springs?
The answer to that question is actually fairly simple: the Japanese word for a traditional bed is futon, so, technically, futon simply means "bed". The parts include the shikibuton - the mattress; the kakebuton - the comforter; and the makura - the pillow. The shikibuton is the ancestor to what Americans call a futon. Traditionally, the cotton-filled futon is only about three inches thick, which makes a good firm bed, though they are generally too firm for side sleepers.
The common American idea of a futon is a sofa that doubles as a guest bed. This along with construction are what differentiates a futon from a standard mattress. Futons are made up of compressed layers of material, such as organic cotton, wool, and latex. These layers are then tufted in place to keep all the batting secure and insure a long lasting product. Being made of mostly natural fibers and with little latex, if any, futons require more maintenance, and need to be flipped at least once every other week. A futon mattress is generally on the firm side of the mattress spectrum and with proper care should last between 8 and 15 years.
We handcraft both shikibutons (the traditional Japanese style thin futon) and classic futons with various organic fills right here in our Seattle workshop. We make our futons with only the finest, locally sourced, organic and natural fibers; organic cotton, Eco-Wool, and natural and organic latex. We use no synthetics and no chemicals of any kind and the reason is simple, organic materials are better. A futon made with resilient organic cotton, wool, and latex will outlast the cheaper synthetic models by years, while maintaining their comfort and support.
Some companies offer futons with spring cores. These futons generally do not last very long as springs don't hold up to the riggers of folding and unfolding a futon set-up. If springs are desired, we recommend buying a traditional innerspring mattress, such as the Soaring Heart Signature Mattress, the Aspen, which is built to much higher standards and with superior organic and natural materials.
Finally, we will caution you that a futon is not a cheap substitute for a couch or a bed. Futons have earned a bad reputation as a cheap alternative to real furniture. As with everything else, you get what you pay for. Over 100 hours of artisan craftsmanship goes into every one of our organic futons, from the organic carding mill to our builders and they make great mattresses or couches. They are not cheap, but they will provide you with long lasting comfort and support.