No-one, not even the salesperson at your local sofa-bed shop, will recommend these as a permanent source of bedding. This is not a replacement for your deluxe bed-and-base ensemble. This is an emergency measure: a casual doss down for the friend from interstate, the place for the in-laws to nod over. And let’s face it, a spare bedroom is something of a luxury these days.
Luckily, while the need for sofa beds has risen, so too has their quality. Sofa beds first appeared, according to John Gloag’s Short Dictionary of Furniture, around the late 18th century, and although more elaborate than contemporary versions, they had a similar pull-out mechanism. In the late 19th century they were known as bed-settees, but Anne Watson, the furniture curator at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, says the concept of a dual-purpose bed really only came into its own in the 1920s when houses began to shrink. A popular style at the time, she says, was a fabric-covered, wooden, box-frame bench with a kapok mattress inside (now, thereUs a way of getting rid of unwanted guests).
In the 1950s a Queensland company started a line called the Nite’n’Day, as recorded for posterity in Norman Gunston’s talk shows in the 1970s, and which became part of the vernacular, like Esky or Hoover. The trademark is still in existence and is held by the Moran of Melbourne group.
“The original Nite’n’Day came in three pieces and you lifted it up, rather than unfolded it, but they were pretty much the same thing (as the modern sofa bed),” says Watson. “The `sofa bed’ is considered a more sophisticated term, which is probably meant to make it sound nicer.”
Peter Journeaux of Sofas by Design in Melbourne makes all sorts of couches, including sofa beds, but heUs sufficiently sceptical about them to give the lowdown on their shortcomings. Here are his tips: Get a good `action’ (the mechanical part that makes the mattress spring out of the sofa). Journeaux recommends the action made by the Australian manufacturer Wynns, which he says supplies most sofa bed manufacturers. A good action costs $200 wholesale, so you get what you pay for. “There are sofa beds advertised for $690 with a matching regular sofa, and I can guarantee that the action isn’t the best you can buy.”
Don’t pay any less than $650, and consider paying up to $3,000.
Splash out for a 10 cm innerspring mattress if you are going to use it regularly. “The foam one is all right if you’re just going to dive in for one night, but not for a whole week,” Journeaux advises.
Make sure the frame is made of hard-wearing wood to withstand the opening and closing of the action.
Look for spring-cell cushions (a sandwich of foam and pocket springs).
The action makes a pretty hard base for your cushions to sit on, so the usual feather and foam cushions are not springy enough.
Don’t put your sofa bed on castors. “We believe it’s dangerous, especially on polished floors, as any movement and the bed might start to close.”
Although Sofas by Design does have a sofa with a loose cover, most don’t, so look for a good, hard-wearing fabric that won’t show the dirt, or else your sofa will have to be recovered each time it becomes soiled.
Look for a solid-back loveseat sleeper sofa, rather than one with cushions. If you are using it regularly, taking the cushions off each night means it ends up looking a mess.