Tips and Tricks for Designing Custom Sleeper Sofas

When your client asks you to source a sleeper sofa they’re intent is technical; they want a sofa but also sometimes a bed. You’re thinking about design and comfort. Adding a sleeper immediately limits what is available off the shelf and even what is possible with custom. But I’ve worked with some designers who’ve come up with clever tricks to overcome those limitations.

First though we should talk briefly about what are the technical specs of a standard sleeper sofa.

Standard Sleeper Sofa

Most sleeper mechanisms in shops I’ve been in are supplied by Leggett and Platt. They come in either full or queen. The mattress is about 5″ thick made from coil springs or memory foam.

I own a Buildlane built sleeper sofa that has one of these standard mattresses, 5″ of memory foam inside a metal frame. I often have friends and family sleep on it and remark in the morning, “Wow, what a comfortable mattress.” And I think to myself, “I can’t believe this person is lying straight to my face.”

I’m kidding. They are totally fine. Or at least as good as you can expect from an entire bed stuffed into the deck of a sofa.

Now let’s dive into some of the sleeper’s limitations and offer some tips and tricks to attempt to offer solutions.

Reducing The Footprint

The first thing you’ll notice on the above photo is how large the footprint of that piece of furniture is once the bed is opened up. The sofa in that photo is actually 98″ x 40″ when living life as a sofa. But when company needs to tuck in for the night it becomes a whopping 98″ x 90″. That can be difficult to design around. You have to imagine a room living two separate lives and hope that the rest of the objects you’ve put in the room will still fit during the later life.

We work with a design firm called KRID Studio in New York. As many Manhattan designers know they often find themselves designing furniture around the narrow elevator lifts and unusually shaped rooms the big apple is known for. They recently had a project where the room design was unsympathetic to the size problem above.

Luckily Leggett and Platt actually makes a sleeper mechanism they call the Studio Lounger. The mechanism and mattress are similar but slide into the sofa horizontally rather than vertically.

The installation of this style is different than a standard sleeper though. Something to keep in mind as not every upholsterer has the ability or is willing to figure it out.

You get about 15″ back from the room with this style sleeper. Of course he sofa might need to be a bit longer. The one in the photograph is 104″.

Creative Ways to Make It Comfortable

Honestly, I regret my jokes from before, a standard sleeper is pretty comfortable. But it is not comfortable like your bed is. Most mattresses are around 12″ thick and are made with layered materials, often putting firmer foam or coils at the bottom and softer stuff on the top. With 5″ to work with a sleeper sofa mattress doesn’t have this luxury. Except, maybe it could?

We’ve had a couple designers think backwards – how do I take this comfortable mattress and incorporate it into a sofa. I think you’ll need a visual to understand what I’m saying. Here is a sectional we just built for Chango & Co.

That RAF sofa seat is basically two mattresses stacked on top of each other. They are held together with a zipper and made of medium soft foam with a couple layers of memory foam on top. There is no compromise here for comfort whether as a sofa or a bed. The biggest drawback is when in bed form the cushion sits directly on the floor. So sweep first. And visually you can obviously tell something is up – but I imagine guests will be pretty impressed that its hiding a super comfortable sleeping experience.

I also am aware Leggett and Platt makes a blow up mattress. It fits into a regular sleeper mechanism but when opened you blow it up and it matches the thickness of a regular mattress. We’ve never had a request for it so I can’t vouch for the feel. But it does seem that if you are cool with a blow up mattress its probably already hidden in the closet, no need to put it inside a sofa.

Hide the Bedding in the Sofa Too

There is something neat and tidy about a sectional containing all the ingredients you need to make a bed – and that includes the bedding. We make a ton of storage ottomans, but I think those end up filled with throw pillows and old remote controls. A storage chaise however is the perfect pair to a sleeper sofa.

Final Tips for Sleeper Sofas

Before we go we do see many of the same issues coming up about sleepers. Here goes the lightning round.

The sleeper mechanism for a queen is 68″ wide and needs a few inches on either side of wood to connect to. This means the smallest queen sleeper sofa you could do would be 74″ but that would have pretty skinny arms – we’d recommend 80″ at a minimum.

The sleeper mechanism also needs to attach to the back frame. This means you’re actually limited on overall depth. Many sofa companies offer a 40″ and a luxe 45″ version of their sofas – but on that larger side you can’t make a sleeper out of it.

You have to have a long front deck to hide the mechanism. Mid-century sofas with their 8″ metal legs and thin proportions are nice but you can’t put a sleeper in there. You’ll notice on sleeper sofas that front deck is also close to the ground, this is required as well.

And that’s it! If you have any questions about sleeper sofas feel free to drop a line in the comments below.

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