Ah the futon – that stalwart staple of college (and early career) life. Multifunction? Yes. Masterpiece? Not usually.

I’ve had my black metal frame futon since my first solo apartment in junior year of college. I won’t count the years it’s been with me, or how many apartments and houses it has graced, but I will admit that the reason it keeps making the cut when I move from place to place is that it is just so. damn. functional.

I was lucky enough that we had the foresight to double up the mattress, so it’s actually super comfy as a couch and a bed. However, it’s never been a centerpiece of any design—more of a piece that is tucked away in an out-of-sight room that can function as a backup guest room if needed.

Countless covers have donned that mattress in an attempt to get it to look good, starting with a velvety tiger stripe (college mascot inspired), to a bright multicolor brush stroke (that in hindsight was VERY 90s even though this is from this millennia), to a simple textured lime green cover. But all the covers in the world couldn’t make it look like anything other than a college apartment holdover.

That is, until now. What made the transformation from ugh to awesome? My favorite decor item—throw pillows.

Changing out the lime green cover to a black one helped the mattress blend in with the frame and then loading it up on pillows in as many shapes, sizes and patterns as possible. And the result is pretty darn amazing:

Just Might DIY futon hack

So with that, here are a few futon design lessons I learned along the way from turning this futon from meh to magical:

  • Keep the cover simple. It’s tempting to go with one of the many colorful covers that are available for futons, but resist. resist. resist. Anything that draws attention to the mattress is going to make it look like exactly what it is: a bent mattress.
  • Have fun with color! While black-and-white is the base palette for this particular room design, this pulls in colors from the teal wall and colorful rug, playing with the placement until it all complemented each other.
  • Use different sized and shaped pillows. There are no less than 5 different size/shapes of pillows on this couch: 3 large square European pillows, 2 18” square pillows, 1 16” square pillow, 1 rectangular pillow and 1 round pillow.
  • Mix patterns in scale and placement. You’ll see that the layout is balanced with two LARGE prints on the outside Euro pillows and a simpler Euro pillow in the middle. That is complemented on either side with coordinating square pillows that are fairly solid, then balanced the smaller white square pillow with the rectangular one on the opposite side (whose pattern plays off the white Euro pillow). The design is finished off with a teal round pillow in the front/right to balance the other teal pillow in the back/left.

Some of these pillows I designed myself, some were purchased off of great home decor websites. My FAVORITE place to get awesome pillows is Society6 – there are literally thousands of designs from independent artists.

With a little bit of effort and a dash of boldness, you can keep that futon around well into your adult years.

Happy decorating!

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