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by Joe Tatulli

Mechanism Innovation
The Sofa Sleeper for the New Millennium

Comfort and ease of use has always been the goal of the futon frame designer. From the plywood sheet designs of the early 80s (that utilized eye hooks and small chains and ropes to hold the frame in position) to the sophisticated frame mechanisms of today, simplicity and utility are the benchmark of this product’s success.

My hope, as I write this short update about the latest conversion designs on the market, is to demonstrate the unique benefits of the futon sofa sleeper. It is also my humble opinion that whether you compare the benefits of this product to a traditional sofa bed, the Murphy (wall) bed, the day bed, or any other dual purpose sit and sleep product, nothing will come close to delivering the comfort, versatility, style, fashion, and value of the futon sofa sleeper.

There are many other great products on the market besides the ones I’ve featured here. If I missed your favorite please let me know so I can add it to a future story.

If The Shoe Fitting Works Convert It

When I first saw the Shoe Fitting™ mechanism, featuring the Snapper™ I knew it would be a winner. Mike Gallawa was at the High Point show, several years ago now, and asked me if I was interested in seeing the next “big thing”. Of course I said sure. Mike said, “Follow me.” We stepped into the garage area in the back of the C&D building and Mike pulled a couple of boxes out of a storage area. “Don't worry,” he said, “They said I could use this space.” He wasn't quite ready to show his new creation to the world but he had a few selected appointments of which I was one. He talked calmly while opening the boxes, taking out what looked like typical futon frame assembly sections, all chair size. Arms, seat and back, stretchers, all standard except for what I thought looked like hockey pucks attached to the end caps of the back rest.

Mike, like he does to this day, demonstrated the mechanism step by step. He showed how easily the frame assembled. Then he said, “But like most other frames on the market you can tighten the stretchers all the way, and here is why.” What happened next was revolutionary and still is. Mike snapped the seat into the assembled base and back rest (the part with the hockey pucks) with a smile.

Mike continued with his polished sales pitch about how all this was strong and solid, and how the base supported the seat and back for stability and how it locked into both the sitting and sleeping positions. I said “Stop, show me that snapper thing again.” Mike smiled, “You like that, eh?” He took it apart and put it together again. I even tried it. It was exciting to be in the futon business again.

How it Works

The design, like most well engineered products, is simple enough. The mechanism’s (called Shoe Fittings™) parts are patented and are made from a high density rubber like plastic (like hockey pucks) and other materials as well. The main component is called the Snapper™. This piece is attached to the inside bottom of the back rest assembly end caps. Each end cap extends about six inches past the last slat and the Snapper is attached with four machine bolts to each wooden cap. The back rest also has two sliders attached to the end caps. The back rest is locked into the frame base like most other slider type mechanisms, i.e. the sliders are lined up in the two slots and the stretcher bolts are tightened firmly in place. The seat assembly employs two pins that are attached to the seat end caps. After the frame base is assembled the seat is “snapped” into the Snapper, the two pins acting as parts of the hinge device as they interface with the slots and stop points in the Snapper itself. The second piece, called the Sea Horse (for its shape), is attached to the inside rear of the frame base. You simply drop the seat and back rest into the frame base and they snap together and then they travel together along the Sea Horse, converting easily from chair to bed and back. All this is done without the use of any tools or loose parts. Hey, that must be why they call it the Snapper. I must be a genius.

Gallawa’s Night & Day Furniture has spent the past two years polishing the design and is now employing it in a full line of fine futon sofa sleepers all made in Indonesia.

The Dodge Innovation

Pete Dodge has been designing futon furniture for more than twenty-five years. Many of his early designs were manufactured by his now defunct Tilt Chair Company. The company was named after what his furniture did. You would tilt the chair and it would convert from chair to bed in Pete's own unique way. Many of his designs, like Pete himself, were more suited to an artist's perspective of function rather than a design engineer’s. They were very functional but also very funky, a seventies term of endearment.

Today Pete lends (licenses) his designs to several manufacturing and supplier side companies. Strata Furniture produces a line of unique frames with a Dodge designed mechanism
that allows their futon frames to be fully front operated, to the point that the back of the frame can (and in most cases is) fully enclosed. This design allows Strata to produce a frame that looks all the part of traditional living room furniture.

How it Works — by the designer, Pete Dodge

Futon Tilt Mechanism: U.S. Patent 5,513,398

I developed this product, literally on the way to work one morning. I got into the car with no idea of how to provide my company with a front loading, wall-hugging mechanism. When I arrived, ten minutes later, I had resolved the problem. It was all worked out but the details.
To convert from bed to couch, users would lift the front edge of the seat and fold its legs inward. When the seat is lowered, the bottoms of the legs would lock into the back rest raising it into the couch position.

Aside from the convenience of a wall-hugging, front operating system this device allows substantial design flexibility. Because the arms of this device don’t use a vertical groove, the back leg can be virtually any size, shape, height or location. This was the first step in developing a series of products that don’t look like ordinary futon frames.

The mechanism is being used by Strata Furniture Inc., Strongbow Sleepworks and Pete Dodge Products Inc.

The device was invented by me, Pete Dodge, and is owned by me and Richard Donohoo of Strata Furniture.

The Massey Factor

Futon history is full of interesting stories and Ron Massey may have the most interesting story of all. (To read all about it see V8N1 the Spring 1996 issue of Futon Life

Today, Massey continues to design and create his own line of futon convertibles at his shop in Canada. His elegant mechanism is the product of over twenty-five years of continuous improvement, and is made entirely of wood.

The mechanism employs two small pieces of wood that Massey calls the shoe (which is attached to the back rest end caps) and the ski (which is attached to a clevis pin that travels up and down a “keyhole” cut in the seat rack end caps). The design is unique and allows the futon frame to convert easily from sofa to bed and back again as a wall hugger.

How It Works (See 1 & 2 below)

Gravity is a wonderful force and Massey uses it to help achieve the conversion. The hinge is a simple pin that secures the seat and back rest of futon frame. Attached to that pin is the ski. The pin does not travel through a simple hole but through a keyhole cut in the seat. The keyhole allows the seat to move vertically (up and down) and the ski (or slider in other mechanism descriptions) locks the seat path into the horizontal track (groove) in the arm.


To convert the futon  frame from bed to sofa you simply lift the seat up from the front so it drops (via the keyhole) locking into a notch at the end of the seat end cap into the shoe attached to the back rest end cap. Because of gravity, the design allows you to now push the seat back down, automatically lifting the back rest into the sofa position.

Rocking the Futon Cradle

Cradle bracket system

The Futon Cradle mechanism is owned and manufactured exclusively by Lifestyle Solutions of San Jose, CA. The mechanism is based upon a series of five patents, that essentially employ the entire seat frame to engage with the back rest all along the frame’s length. The seat locks into the back rest and allows the whole assembly to rock (hence the name) between the sofa and bed positions. “Besides the simplicity of this system,” says company President Sean Pathiratne, “the key element that makes it functional is the bracket system we created.” The bracket system (patent # 6,108,833) is key because it makes all the pressure points that allow the conversion to take place be metal on metal, not wood on wood. Several other patents using similar formulas have been purchased by Lifestyle Solutions. “To better define our unique system and maintain our exclusive use of this very successful mechanism, we decided that owning these patents was the best solution,” Pathiratne said.

The Cradle has also become an important option for many dealers because it adds very little cost to the overall price of the futon frame. “Our mechanism is simple and fool proof. No “kickers” or springs or other small parts. Some of the other designs use parts that can add substantially to the price of the frame,” Pathiratne said.

The Electric Slide - Futon goes electric

Two companies have developed futon frames that have electric conversion mechanisms. They are Big Tree and Otis Bed. The Otis Bed “Futonic” (left, patent number 6,138,299) is made by Harvey Bigelow Designs. To put it simply both futon frame designs employ a variation of the typical slider mechanism. The Otis design uses metal reinforced end caps and a motor activated piston or actuator to slowly convert the futon frame from couch to bed and back again.





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