The Old SwitcherooForget the futon. Today's convertible furniture is easy to store, easy to move and doesn't look like you're living in a dorm room. Here's what to look for when buying a new piece
Paula Holt's situation is all-too-common. Her home office in Hyde Park, a bustling Chicago neighborhood, doubles as her guest room. When she had the room arranged as a traditional guest room, it looked great, but it sat empty often and her work papers were scattered elsewhere in the house. When she created a professional office for her business, friends and relatives had to crash on a less-than-desirable (in terms of comfort and style) sofa bed or air mattress.
Her solution: a custom-made Murphy bed. With built-in bookshelves and closet space, the Murphy bed (with a "real" mattress and even a box spring) helps to hide the office clutter, and gives Holt's guests a comfortable night's sleep.
The Murphy bed is just one example of today's convertible furniture that looks nothing like the futons and card tables of yore. Ron Barth imports CLEI srl Italian designs through his New York-based Resource Furniture LLC (resourcefurniture.com). These European systems include sofas, tables and beds, just to name a few, that look good and save space without requiring heavy lifting. In fact, Barth says most can be folded or unfolded with one finger, and books and other knickknacks don't need to be cleared before making the switch. Bright colors and sleek design make them something you want to own, rather than something you need to own.
Rather than focus on the extra sleeping quarters, designer Akemi Tanaka Blanchard was motivated by the desire to entertain in a small space. "If you want to entertain at home, 90 percent of the time, you don't want all this extraneous furniture around." Through her company, Akemi Tanaka, Inc. (akemitanaka.com), she has designed sleek coffee tables that can turn into additional seating for a party, cat beds that hang on the wall and other creative space-savers.
"Customers today are very educated about design," Tanaka says. "People don't just want their place to look nice. They want it to be accessible."
Three questions to ask before investing in convertible furniture:
1. Is it is easy to fold and unfold? If it takes two people and 30 minutes to set up, you're unlikely to bother.
2. Do you need to leave space for the folding and unfolding? If so, it isn't much of a space-saver, and you'll have to contend with the dead space on a daily basis. Think about how you will use the piece in all of its permutations.
3. Is it sturdy? Materials have grown-up, just like convertible furniture. Check to make sure you are selecting something that will withstand all the folding and unfolding.
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