The Death of the Futon, Finally
And for the rest of us, now that air mattresses have improved in quality, there may be no more need for heavy, costly sofa beds, either. The New York Times recently took a test-drive of several air mattresses in search of comfort. We've taken that one step further to look for affordability and to see if once and for all the sofa bed needs to be put to bed.
PROS: You get two-for-one and they're lighter and smaller than both beds and sofa beds.
CONS: It's a sorry excuse for a sofa, and an even sorryier excuse for a bed. Oh, and they're ugly.
COST: Most run about $250 (like this futon from Ikea) to about $500 (like this one from West Elm, pictured).
CONCLUSION: For a fraction of the price you can buy a larger, more comfortable air mattress and put your money towards a real sofa.
The Sofa Bed
PROS: Also two-for-one functionality, but better than a futon in terms of look and feel.
CONS: Heavy and expensive. If you're a frequent mover these can be a killer.
COST: Start around $1,400 (like this Troy Sleeper from Crate & Barrel)
CONCLUSION: Best for homeowners with frequent houseguests (maybe of the elderly variety), who want a more permanent piece of furniture in, say, a home office/guest room.
The Air Mattress
PROS: Easy to store, eliminate the need for costly sofa beds.
CONS: Some not as comfortable (they require mattress pads to cover up the plastic feel).
COST: The most affordable option. A queen starts around $60, for the Coleman Queen Double High QuickBed, but can run up to about $330 for the InstaBed Queen self-inflating airbed with legs.
CONCLUSION: Advances in air-bed technology mean you no longer feel like you're camping on an air mattress. New ones simulate a box spring and mattress and even pillow-top feel. Also most come with air pumps (don't mess with ones you have to blow up with a hairdryer). The best option for renters on a budget with little space to spare.