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by Joe Tatulli

A Brief History of Futon Frames

1982—The Brouwer Bed

The Brouwer Bed utilized a simple ladder hinge as its main converting tool. This simple locking hinge could only operate in one direction and therefore acted as a stop when converted to the bed position. Built in legs, attached to the outer slat racks, helped stabilize the frame in the bed position.

The Brouwer Bed, though not technologically perfect, was nonetheless awarded the 1983 Daphne Award for the best new design at the High Point Furniture Market. This futon frame sold anywhere from $500 to $1500 (depending on arm style and wood type) in the early 80s.

1983—The Aparté or T.H.I.S. Futon Frame

Ron Massey had been building RTA furniture for several years. A local retailer had asked him to design a lounger that used a twin size futon mattress as the cushion. Massey took the concept one step further and designed a variation in a much wider, seventy-five inch futon frame. He fashioned a 3/4 inch peg and attached it to a rawhide lanyard. The peg would be the locking device. His frame’s arms would attach with stretchers forming the seventy-five inch base.


When each peg was removed the back rest would drop to horizontal and the seat would also come up a bit and lay flat from its pitched angle. When both the back rest and seat were horizontal, the pins could be pushed into a second hole at the bottom of the arm, locking the two racks into the sleeping position.

1985—The First Wall Hugger

On January 8, 1985 Bob Fireman applied for a patent for a new futon frame which was the basis for several later designs. He was assigned the patent in 1987. This new mechanism allowed futon frame to convert from seating to sleeping without having to move it away from the wall. Hence the term “wall-hugger”.

This inaugural Fireman futon frame, called the Vida, was the first of a long line of futon frames developed while Bob was with From The Source. It was also the first wall-hugger.

1985—The SII Revolution

Fireman was never fully satisfied with the Vida. He always felt the mechanism could be improved. After many weeks of trial and error in a Tennessee wood shop he finally discovered a solution.

Two anchored pivot points in the form of wooden rollers (most of these are made of synthetic materials today) were attached to the seat rack. They would move simultaneously along two grooves in the base. One groove in the horizontal plane and another in the vertical. As the seat moved along the grooves it would convert from seat to bed and back again.

1986—The Final Kicker

In a patent battle royale two groups (Fireman et al. vs. Trembley) define an improvement that works—most of the time. Using the principle of a simple gravity fed ratchet, a small piece of wood is employed to provide the force for the “easy” conversion from bed to couch. Several other companies have since patented similar mechanisms.

1987—The Metal Age

In 1987 Nippon of Denmark introduced the first metal mechanism for a convertible futon frame (black or silver metalic). The mechanism itself was very “European”: elegant, functional, and based on a simple ratcheting system. The ratcheting function, built into the mechanism, allowed the frame to lock in the sitting or sleeping position and to convert from sitting, to reclining, to sleeping – and back – easily, from the front.
This mechanism, and others like it, have found their way into futon frames from Danish manufacturer Innovation, and many other companies too.

Another metal futon option is The Comfort Lounger™ from Hickory Springs. This metal tube seat and back assembly utilizes a simple metal conversion mechanism which works well for both futon mattresses and more standard upholstery cushions too.



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