THE SECRET LIFE OF SOFAS

I’m guessing that you have a sofa somewhere in your home.

Most likely it is one of several focal points in the living room (the others being a fireplace or TV), and the one piece of furniture that everyone gravitates towards.

Perhaps it is incredibly comfortable, inviting you to cuddle up in a corner with a good book?

Then again, maybe it is the style of your sofa that is so appealing?

Or perhaps it’s the well-worn fabric and cushions, that have seated generations of your family before you?

Do sofas really have a secret life?

Well, maybe not in the sense that some people lead secret lives, but if your sofa has any kind of history, who knows?

Let me share with you a little bit about the origins of the sofa, and you will see what I mean.

Sofas have been a standard fixture in our homes for only a little over three hundred years.

The sofa made its first appearance during the reign of King Louis XIV, of France, during the late 17th century.

The sofa was a French invention, ushering in a new age of greater comfort in home furnishings.

It wasn’t long before it became all the rage among the upper levels of society. Of course, the royal household benefited first with the Queen, herself, an avid promoter.

With the arrival of the sofa, this was the first time in history that an upholstered, padded piece of furniture was available that could actually seat two people!

At the time, this was considered incredibly daring.

The sofa developed a reputation of being rather racy.

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HOW TO ACHIEVE ‘PEACE OF MIND’

According to a recent study “the state of your home has a direct impact on your Relationships, your Self-Esteem & your overall Happiness”.

 

I thought I’d take a moment to explain the inspiration behind Designer-in-a-Box – specifically the three packages that I offer.

Let’s begin then, with the very first tier, the one I call Peace of Mind.

Why that particular name? Where did it come from?

Well, perhaps this describes you…

Is your home filled with furniture you bought years ago (in college, maybe?), or with things that someone else chose?

Maybe even leftover from a previous relationship?

So, here’s the thing.

If your home no longer reflects who you are, it’s like dragging a heavy weight around with you every day.

(Remember that study? Your happiness depends on this!)

Now, change the picture.

Visualize yourself coming into a home that truly supports your health and well-being and reflects the essence of who you are.

That is what I call Peace of Mind.

And, as I’ve mentioned, Peace of Mind also happens to be the name of the intro package I’ve created for my ultimate DIY interior design program– DESIGNER IN A BOX.

Of course, these words could mean something else entirely.

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DO YOU PAY THE TOLL?

On December 29, 2011, Seattleites found themselves with a new Toll Bridge.

While the bridge itself wasn’t new, the toll was.

For those not familiar with the Seattle area, we have two bridges that span Lake Washington – connecting the city, itself, with the suburbs and outlying areas.

I think it’s safe to say that hundreds of thousands of commuters rely on these bridges every single day.

So, enacting a toll was a really big deal.

Here’s what has happened since. Many commuters have simply refused to pay the toll. Instead, they are driving well out of their way and finding alternate routes.

They either travel across the second bridge – whether or not it is convenient to where they live or work – or they circumnavigate the lake completely.

What surprises me most about this, is that the folks who have chosen to drive around the lake or find alternate routes, don’t seem to be concerned about the extra distances they’re driving, or the additional expense for gas.

Meanwhile, for those who opt to pay the toll, the route into the City is straight sailing all the way – a huge improvement over snarled traffic jams that used to be the norm.

Of course, whether to pay the toll or not, that’s up to the individual and their unique circumstances.

In the end it’s all about choices.

The analogy here, is that we often make similar decisions when it comes to buying new furniture – whether to go all out and invest in superior quality and a better experience – the equivalent of paying the toll – or settling on something more affordable that fits our budget here and now.

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DOING THE RIGHT THING

This is a small story about a couple of small projects.  

One was for a client, and the second one was for me personally.

Several months ago, I took on a small living room project.

The focus was to replace the client’s sofa, so my job was to source a new sofa, and select appropriate fabrics that would complement an existing color scheme.

Something I always love to do!

Oh – and to custom design a couple of seat cushions for an adjacent window seat.

I managed to snag a fabulous sofa on Sale at our local Seattle Design Center, which made for an especially rewarding experience.

It’s truly amazing how a new fabric can totally transform an existing sofa or loveseat, as there’s really no need to replace furniture that already has “good bones” as we in the industry like to say.

The window seat cushions, however , were another story.

It was a very simple formula:  one long window seat, two cushions designed to fit snuggly in place.

You can imagine my dismay when the upholsterer delivered two enormously L O N G seat cushions – not what I had in mind at all.

Even more disappointing was the realization that the error was mine, a simple matter of providing less than clear instructions. In my many years of handling interior design projects, this was a first for me.

The experience was humbling indeed.

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THE MATCHING GAME

Have you ever made a trip to a furniture store to purchase, say – a bed – and you also bought the matching pair of nightstands?             

How about a sofa, along with an accompanying loveseat and a matched set of coffee and end tables?

Did you answer “No” to both scenarios?

Then I’m willing to bet that, if nothing else, you’ve probably purchased a dining table with a matching set of chairs. You likely did this simply because the furniture was sold as a designated set, a very common practice.

What if I were to tell you that you are in no way bound to buy matching sets of everything?

In fact, most designers, including myself, would far prefer to mix different styles rather than have everything ‘matchy matchy’.

Why is that?

Simply put, designers like to think outside the box, taking a more playful, ‘mix-&-match approach instead.

Don’t get me wrong.

I love symmetry. To me it speaks of order and calm, in a sometimes chaotic world.

I’m sure you’ve seen the look – matching sofas facing each other in front of a fireplace, with matched end tables and side chairs.

It comes across as formal, well-organized and perfectly balanced.

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HAVE A SEAT – PART 1

“It’s better to buy well, than often.” Jim Caughman, Baker Furniture

 

A few days ago, a client commented on the shabby condition of her living room sofa, expressing dismay that it hadn’t held up as well as expected.

As an interior designer, I know this is not uncommon, especially when one has owned a piece of furniture for years.

Even so, I did my best to reassure her.

“But we only bought it 3 years ago,” she said.

Oh.

That one remark changed everything. A sofa – any piece of furniture – should definitely last longer than three years.

This is money you’ve invested, after all, and the expectation for most of us is that our investments will last.

When a client tells me that it’s ‘only been three years’ I know the problem lies in the construction.

The truth is, the difference between a well-made, high quality piece of furniture versus one that is not so well-made is huge.

What does that mean, though?

You might be wondering, what could possibly be different? Aren’t all sofas and chairs made basically the same way?

The answer, plain and simple, is ‘No’.

Here, in a nutshell, is what to look for when buying a new sofa, or any type of seating.

 

Frames & Things

Better quality furniture will use just one type of wood for the frame, typically a kiln-dried hardwood.

Manufacturers can save money by combining different types of wood in the framework, some cheaper than others.

The problem with this is that different types of wood contract in different ways, under different conditions. This clearly sets the tone for structurally problems from the get-go. (Soft woods are generally never used, as they are more likely to warp or split).

Along with a single species, you also want one solid piece of wood seamlessly put together.

This is especially important for the back legs on a chair or sofa; the leg should run the full length – from the floor to the top of the seat back as one solid piece.

If the lower part of the leg is constructed from a separate piece of wood, it is more likely to snap off at inopportune times, due to typical stresses from day to day use.

As for metal parts – they should never squeak, or make themselves obvious in any way.

Enough said.

 

What Lies Beneath

This is all about Springs, and Padding and fancy terms like “8-Way Hand Tied” (shown in the picture, above).

In other words, the parts that you can’t see.

Yet the way a seat cushion is constructed speaks volumes about quality, and how satisfied you will be with your purchase in the long run.

What is referred to as “8-Way Hand Tied”, is a time-honored, labor-intensive method of construction. This involves tying the coils (springs) to each other from side-to-side, front to back and diagonally for a total of eight times.

This end result is superior, evenly distributed comfort.

Manufacturers can save money by using a “Drop-In” version of the same thing – a coil system that has been previously manufactured and is then dropped into place.

The only ‘tying’ that takes place is at the four seat corners.

While this saves time and keeps costs down, many would argue that this method is inferior.

Another thing to look for down-proof ticking in the padding – you don’t want feathers and things to poke through.

Speaking of things poking through, you should never, ever feel the springs and other inner workings. When that happens, it’s time for either a new sofa or a trip to your upholsterer.

As for the padding itself, you want a nice cushy layer so that you feel enveloped in comfort.

Stay tuned for HAVE A SEAT, PART 2 – coming next week….

WHEN IS A CHAIR NOT JUST A CHAIR?

The Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM) has just opened a new exhibit of contemporary works by Chinese artist Wang Huaiqing.

Not being familiar with this artist, I had no idea what to expect when I first stepped into the galleries last week, yet I was completely captivated by what I saw.

Almost all of Wang Huaiqing’s paintings have a central theme of furnishings and architectural features.

The interior designer in me was fascinated and very pleased. I was seeing a whole new take on furniture!

This particular artist views furniture as a microcosm of Chinese architecture and society. It comes as no surprise, then, that in some of the paintings there is a very fine line between the two.

Hence a painting of architectural columns, or pillars, seems to morph into something else.

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Mobiles, Kinetic Art & You

“When everything goes right, a mobile is a piece of poetry that dances with the joy of life.” Alexander Calder

The Seattle Art Museum currently has an exhibit of Alexander Calder’s amazing mobiles. Calder, if you recall, is best known for inventing the mobile as an art form, way back in the 1930’s. To borrow words from  SAM’s brochure:  “Calder’s mobiles were a giant leap forward in the expansion of artistic possibilities for both artist and audiences, as their moveable parts ensure that a work is never ‘finished’’.

Let’s think about this. As the parts of a mobile hang in space, the slightest movement – a breath of air, or a gust of wind– will change the outcome. If you tap any part of the mobile, it will instantly spring to life and re-configure itself. This is art that is very much alive.

While the furniture in our homes isn’t mobile in the sense that a breath of air can move it, we can certainly move pieces around at whim and re-configure our living space as needed. Our lives have a tendency to evolve over time, and what might have worked for your lifestyle when your children were young, may no longer serve you when they leave for college. We could compare our homes to the kinetic quality of a mobile, and see that neither one is ever quite ‘finished’.

As a designer, the idea that our lives are constantly evolving is an important consideration in designing a home. If I am working with a family with young children, decisions would likely be based on comfort and practicality. Furnishings would need to hold up to constant wear and tear, toys, and spilled drinks. The home would be designed for exactly what it is:  a family with small children, while keeping in mind that those children will grow up and relinquish their childhood habits and tastes. Bedroom décor will likely change, and toys will be laid aside for teenage interests. You get the idea.

Looking at the bigger picture, this goes well beyond art, and design. Our lives are constantly evolving, every single day. Think back twenty, or thirty years (depending how old you are) and observe that you might be a different person now than you were when you were younger. Over time, we encounter in varying degrees marriage, children, jobs, personal loss and a lifetime of memories.

If you think about it, it’s a bit like tapping that mobile and seeing what happens when the parts come to rest.