How to bed down for the night?
March 20, 2013 10:11 AM   Subscribe

Dear adventurous loungers of Metafilter, please tell me about the cleverest space-conserving bed or couch replacements you've ever seen.

I got accepted into graduate school, hooray! Less hooray: I now need to move all my stuff across the country and into a small studio apartment in the span of two weeks in August, on a tight budget, and I'd like to be able to avoid shifting my traditional and heavy couch and bed. I could just buy replacements off of Craiglist when I get there, but the studios are tiny and I would like to find something that: a.) preserves more floor space for other uses, and b.) will be easier to deal with when I need to move again, which will likely be fairly soon.

I've considered a Japanese-style futon (it folds up!) or a hammock (cheap! Space underneath! Cool in the summer!) for sleeping, and a Middle Eastern-style system of floor cushions for lounging, but I've never used any of them and don't know if they would work. Have you? Were they great? Terrible? Did you end up with a wonderful storable bed... or a moldy mess? Did you solve the space vs. comfort problem another way entirely?

Whatever it is, it needs to be portable (preferably moveable by one person), cheap (I'd like to spend less than $200 on the bed and less than $50 on the couch if possible), and comfortable. I do have a decent amount of experience with on-the-fly furniture building and tools, so if you made yourself a really awesome, really cheap ______, I'd love to hear all about it!

Thank you in advance for helping out a grad student-to-be, dear Mefites.
posted by WidgetAlley to Home & Garden (32 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
From Ikea: It's a couch! It's a bed! It's a dresser!

(disclosure: never slept on one, but I've sat on one at the Ikea in New Haven and it seemed pretty comfy.)
posted by gauche at 10:15 AM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

A futon on the floor is pretty comfortable. But be careful! I slept on one in college and forgot to turn it over or fold it up, and it got moldy. If you fold it up every day this will not happen.
posted by steinwald at 10:18 AM on March 20, 2013

So sorry, one last detail and then no more threadsitting: whatever it is needs to break down or be able to fit into a tiny old Honda Accord! (I'd like not to have to rely on friends with trucks when I need to move again.)

Thanks all!
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:19 AM on March 20, 2013

Futon on the floor can also be pushed halfway up a wall into an L-shaped couch-like arrangement. I have a hammock as permanent furniture in my tiny tiny house but would never wish to sleep in it all the time. Flat sleeping is far more comfy.
posted by zem at 10:21 AM on March 20, 2013

I've happily slept in a hammock, Mayan-style (no spreader bars; you lie sort of diagonally). However, you can get cold easily in that type of hammock, and it's hard to wrap yourself up in a blanket.
posted by ceiba at 10:23 AM on March 20, 2013

How about a loft bed?
posted by payoto at 10:24 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

No personal experience but your thread reminded me of this one, on Offbeat Home. You might find some additional ideas there.
posted by cessair at 10:24 AM on March 20, 2013

I actually have that linked daybed from Ikea as my guest bed, and it's pretty nice. I fit the flatpack version of it in my Ford Focus.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 10:31 AM on March 20, 2013

Lofting the bed is great for space saving. Since you'll be moving into and out of a college area you can probably find used lofts for sale and quickly resell it before you leave. It doesn't give you a couch which is a definite trade off, but you can do a cushion set up or hammock seat underneath, I've also seen camp chairs, small papasan imitators, etc. Bonus is you can add features like a towel rack or shelving to the frame.
posted by Feantari at 10:33 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

You could use an inflatable mattress instead of a traditional one. Some even come with a frame that folds up with the mattress.
posted by payoto at 10:34 AM on March 20, 2013

I would seriously recommend against buying this stuff before you move. It'll probably cost you the same amount to buy whatever solution you go with in either location, but if you buy it before you go, there's also the expense and hassle of moving it (even if you are planning to do it again soon). Lots of good ideas above for what you'll want to sleep/sit/whatever on when you get there, though.
posted by asperity at 10:38 AM on March 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

2nding the inflatable bed. My in-laws have this one (which looks like the same one payoto links).

We've slept on it while visiting them, and they bring it along whenever they come to see us. Goes up pretty quickly and folds down/deflates to something about the size of a large-ish suitcase.
posted by jquinby at 10:38 AM on March 20, 2013

Inflatable mattresses are cheap, but if they leak even a little bit you have no bed at all. You might want to look at a good sleeping bag with a camp cot and a thick foam pad. That would fit in your car more easily than a futon.
posted by steinwald at 10:43 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

One thing I'll say is that sleeping on anything that isn't a traditional bed gets very old after a while.

I don't know how old you are or what condition your back is in, but sleeping on something that is not really a bed (say, a hammock, or a couch, or an air mattress, or some foam stuff on the floor) is in my experience not as restful as sleeping on a traditional mattress or good quality futon.

If you're going to be living this way for more than six months, I'd think very seriously about your ability to deal with something like a camp cot day in, day out.

Agree, too, with asperity and the recommendation to wait till after you move to buy whatever it is.

Many times I've moved, I've found a friend/neighbor/previous tenant who was willing to give me their old bed. Or it turned out the place came with something. Or somebody knew someone who had something I could use for a while. This might quickly resolve itself when you show up at student housing and it turns out the previous tenant couldn't get his loft bed out of the space.
posted by Sara C. at 11:06 AM on March 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

I had a futon with a spring mattress in college (actually we still have it, 11 years later). It was really comfortable for sleeping and sitting/lounging and easy to fold up. It was an L-fold, not a Z-fold. I feel like you're going to have trouble fitting any type of mattress into an accord.
posted by tealcake at 11:08 AM on March 20, 2013

I'm going to be unpopular, but unbentover because I'd always vote to sleep on a real bed, hence, I'd get a single bed (cheap!) and bedding that makes it a sofa during the day, and a nice, comfy bed at night.

While it won't fit in the back of your Honda, it will be easy enough to transport on TOP of your Honda if you should need to do so.

Get it when you get there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:08 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

The trick to having a good night's sleep on a hammock is to lie on it diagonally with respect to its two support points. Many people try to sleep with their head in line with the support points - if you do that then your back will be curved like a banana and that can get uncomfortable; diagonal is flatter. Unless you are somewhere really warm then you don't want a rope hammock - better with a fabric one and probably a double. Don't cheap out on it too much.
posted by rongorongo at 11:09 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I slept on an inflatable mattress for a couple of months this summer, and it was actually reasonably comfortable for me but I don't think I could've kept going into the fall and winter because it gets quite cold. I vote for something like the Hemnes daybed frame. Ikea sells rolled-up foam mattresses, but I don't know if they're any good. But most mattress places deliver.
posted by mskyle at 11:21 AM on March 20, 2013

I've tried sleeping in a hammock and it doesn't really work for me. Awesome if it does for you, but I'd test it out or something (see if you can borrow one from somebody) before you decide to go down that road and invest time/energy in hanging one. My issue was that it's almost impossible to straighten your spine out in a hammock, so I was sore every morning. If you're a firm-mattress fan, it's basically the exact opposite. Just FYI.

The Ikea mattresses that come rolled up are surprisingly good, for foam mattresses. If you put them on a hard surface, e.g. directly on the floor on a rigid platform-bed frame, they're pretty firm and comfortable. The only issue with them is that they're relatively thin, and they will tend to "bottom out" (you'll feel the hard surface) if you are sitting rather than lying on them, because your weight is less spread out. Some of the Ikea daybeds actually use two mattresses and have them both stacked on top of each other when they're in the "couch" configuration, presumably for this reason.

My solution to your basic problem when I was living in similar circumstances was an Ikea bed (found on CL) and then a reclining chair for watching TV / reading. That way I wasn't sitting on the mattress and didn't mind its thin-ness. Both the bed and the chair were easily disposed of via CL when I moved on.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:31 AM on March 20, 2013

If you need an inexpensive mattress that will fit in your car, a friend of mine bought this mattress and sleeps on it every night. He says it's fine (and it doesn't sound like you are too picky). He got it really cheap ($60 I think) at one of those warehouse-type stores.
posted by theuninvitedguest at 11:40 AM on March 20, 2013

I'll nth the loft bed suggestion noted by a couple of people above. My stepdad made me one (out of 2x4s and bolts) when I was in college and I was the envy of all my friends since I had a little couch under my lofted bed and they had...really squished rooms.

(I've also done the "it's a couch! it's a futon!" thing and for the most part it stayed in its bed form, since I am lazy and got irritated having to fold it up all the time + I am an ultra-lounger and remember thinking, "Well, if it's this big when it's folded up as a couch, it's even BETTER when it's unfolded!" Sometimes it was better but...most of the time it just felt sorta slothful. And not in a good way. But YMMV.)
posted by hapax_legomenon at 11:45 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've helped a friend move his twin-sized bed a couple of times on the top of his Geo, both of us holding it onto the roof with our hands out the window. Works great for a fifteen-minute cross-town move, but you'd probably want rope for a cross-country move.

In all seriousness, a twin-sized mattress would be pretty comfy, and you could turn it into a couch easily (thus, daybed).
posted by linettasky at 11:48 AM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is the bed that I made for myself: Cheap, easy, low-waste platform bed, and it did in fact live up to those specifications. It is really easy to break it back down into slats + frame, and then break up the frame again into 4 pieces of wood, all of which would fit easily in a car. If you make the slats twin size instead of full size, it gets even cheaper and easier. I also used square head screw (instead of Phillips head) so that they wouldn't strip when I put the bed together/take it apart. I've used it both as a platform with storage underneath and also taken the legs off to just have a platform on the floor. Right now I use it as a sort-of couch as well on the floor, with some pillows like this bedrest one.

On top of the bed I use a firm natural latex foam mattress topper that I bought on clearance from here: for about $300, which was a steal considering that it doesn't have the bothersome chemical smell from MemoryFoam or whatever, and has lasted me just fine for the past 2.5 years. It rolls up quite nicely for transport. I've moved my bed (slats and frame broken down, and rolled up futon separately) along with other stuff in my Honda Fit.
posted by permiechickie at 11:53 AM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have the IKEA loft bed that payoto links to. It's for my daughter, but I've climbed up there a couple of times, and it's fairly sturdy and roomy. It's a bit high for a lot of rooms, but easy enough to cut down with a hacksaw, if need be. My daughter has a desk and chair underneath, and it doesn't feel crowded at all. I made it sturdier by attaching it to the wall with some pipe brackets.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:37 PM on March 20, 2013

If you want easy storage and transport, go for a traditional Japanese futon rather than the things we call futons in the U.S. Although not perhaps the example I linked to, as the reviews complain about its smell.

I traveled in Japan a few years ago with a bad back and was terrified that using futons would make it worse, but on the contrary I had very few problems, and the ones I had related to hauling luggage around rather than sleeping on bad surfaces. If the futon was particularly flat, piling two on top of each other worked great, which you might want to do if you're putting it on a hardwood or concrete floor, as they're typically used with tatami mat flooring that provides a bit of cushioning.
posted by telophase at 12:46 PM on March 20, 2013

I would vote for a futon over an air mattress. For a couple of years when I went home for Christmas I had to sleep on an air mattress and it was COLD. Like, it looks all nice and poofy when it's blown up. But there's too much air below you, and I think that air must circulate constantly under you and carry away your body heat. I started putting two wool blankets under me (under the bottom sheet) as well as three over me, and I was still cold every night. Anyway, one more vote for no air mattress.
posted by colfax at 1:05 PM on March 20, 2013

I slept in a central-american-style hammock continuously for five years, day in day out. It cost me $35. It was perfectly comfortable to me, and it was wonderful for space saving and for moving. Millions of people, of all ages, sleep in them every night.

The only drawbacks were a) having to fix holes in the wall left by the anchor bolts whenever I would move of somewhere and b) having sex/co-sleeping in one is a little bit of a challenge. I don't regret getting it though and would go back to sleeping in one again with no hesitation. In fact, I am bringing one to Gabon in a couple of months for three months of fieldwork.
posted by Scientist at 1:33 PM on March 20, 2013

I've had, and slept for more than a few nights on several air mattresses. friend have done the same right after a move, or when they just didn't have the cash for a bed right then/etc. Air mattresses SUCK. I'm never doing that again in my entire life. They always leak eventually, never distribute weight the way you want them too, and i'll also echo the complaints that they just don't let you sleep as restfully somehow.

Here's one i haven't seen anyone suggest though, and the best of any solution i ever found to the "bed doesn't take over living area in a small space" thing.

Does the place have a walk in closet?

I don't care if it's oddly shaped, or wider at one end than the other. What i did in this situation was get a cheap ikea foam mattress, take the covering off so it was a block of foam, and cut it with an electric turkey carver(a bread knife would have worked fine too). I took maybe 3 inches off of most of it, and a 10x14in square out of one of the bottom corners. The bottom end of it ended up a little tetris piece shaped, but i was able to then wedge it in to the closet. directly up against the foot of it i put a small dresser and a hanger rail, and hid my shoes underneath the dresser.

Bam, entire rest of the apartment was open to essentially be a living room. No foldy couch or futon, i had a pretty stylish regular couch that i got for cheap. And throw some christmas lights and maybe a chunk of some kind of curtain/fabric over the ceiling in the closet and you have a cozy little den.

I loved that little closet the entire time i lived there, and i was sleeping on a real properly comfortable mattress, that i later added a cheap memory foam topper too which made it even better(cut the same way, of course). I also had the bonus of having sort of free integrated black-out curtains in that i could close the closet door 99% of the way and sleep in late if i needed/wanted to.

Almost every studio apartment i've seen had a large closet that you could do this with if you were willing to get creative. And i've even seen someone build a little foot and a half or so high mini "loft" bed frame out of scrap wood to hold the mattress up so they had storage space underneath it as well.

If you don't have a big enough closet for that though, screw air mattresses and hammocks and stuff. you will quickly hate any of those, if you don't immediately dislike it. I'd rather have a really skinny real mattress than any of that other stuff, including most futons/nearly all fold outs.
posted by emptythought at 4:00 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think that you should just tough it out for the first month or so and deal with a sleeping bag/foam mat while you look for a Murphy-style bed once you're at your new location.

1) The sleeping bag/mat you can use for camping and stuff (or flip it on Craigslist) and the Murphy saves you a ton of floor space.
2) The Murphy isn't going to be one-man moveable but you're starting grad school. Odds are you'll make new friends who can help you move (by renting a UHaul van for the day) and whom you can help move. Or put up an ad on Craigslist offering $20/hr + beer (a studio shouldn't take more than 3 hours to move within reasonable neighbourhoods to the university). You *do* get a stipend as a grad (doctoral candidacy, or you can TA) student. Right?
3) Murphys will accommodate "real" mattresses (sleep is important, especially for grad students, and a good mattress is a force multiplier for extra-curricular activities, especially if your partner(s) is/are also on limited budgets).

I still have a steel-frame futon that I bought new for $200 in 2000. It's terrible. If I could get someone to trade me a four good quality decent beanbag chairs, I'd take them up on it. They were just fine in college dorms, they should be just fine for a post-doc.
posted by porpoise at 7:47 PM on March 20, 2013

My first thought was a Murphy Bed, because that's the very best space-saver bed. But moving it is not easy without completely disassembling. And honestly I'm not sure what's involved in installing one.

I spent 3 years as a student, just sleeping on a proper mattress directly on the floor. I bought a regular full-size mattress, and just plopped it down on my carpeted bedroom floor. Wonderfully comfortable (if you don't have carpet then put it on a rug). Flip it over occasionally so it doesn't get moldy. Easy to move, depending on the size of your car. You could probably flip it up against the wall during the day as a kind of impromptu murphy bed, if you used fitted sheets. Wouldn't look pretty though.
posted by Joh at 9:42 PM on March 20, 2013

I have a murphy bed, and I love it.

That said, I don't necessarily recommend it in your situation.

Firstly, I'm not really able to use the murphy bed to facilitate having a "real" living room, couch, TV, etc. I can fold my bed up easily to do a project, teach my dog to catch a frisbee, or have a dinner party. The murphy bed is also great considering that my front door opens directly onto my bedroom, in a room where there's no way to partition things or face the bed away from the door.

But, again, it's not like there's room for a whole living room worth of furniture -- the murphy bed really just allows you to temporarily create space. Though I have flirted with the idea of floor cushions, poufs, and the like which could be shifted to the corners to make room for the open murphy bed at night.

Also, they're not easy to move. And they're not cheap. So I don't know that a murphy bed would even work for your criteria. But if you're facing several years in studio apartments, they're not a bad thing to invest in.
posted by Sara C. at 10:00 PM on March 20, 2013

Lots of great suggestions, thanks to everyone. There are tons of possibilities, it seems like, for my bed, which is great! Anyone have any thoughts about a couch substitute?
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:53 AM on March 21, 2013

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