Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Search for The Perfect Sofa

Recently we bought a new couch. We haven't decided if it's a temporary couch yet. The price we paid affords us the option of using it temporarily, but it's a really cool couch... and it's in perfect condition. I can only imagine that the previous owner was (thank god) one of those crazy ladies who kept the thing swaddled in plastic its entire life. I'm sure it sucked for her husband, but it's great for us. The couch (it's a sectional, actually) is over 40 years old, but it could easily pass as brand new.

We'd been looking for a new couch for about six months. I love the couch we had, but it's in dire need of reupholstering. The shape, design and quality are perfect, but the material is worn in a lot of places, the legs have become a little crooked, the front/center seat spring sags and it's definitely the wrong color for our new home. It's also covered in one of those durable, poly/wool combo materials that does last longer, but itches in the meanwhile, and eventually becomes brittle and falls apart.

Here's a bad photo, taken in our old house before we reupholstered the seat cushions. But note the piping on the seat back, the overall length and seat height, the buttons and the wide, sloping arms. I freaking love this couch.

So it was down to finding a reupholsterer that we could trust to execute the job up to our standards or find a new sofa. Not only that, but reupholstering also meant waiting for the job to be finished before we had something to sit on (turns out reupholstering doesn't always take longer, as you'll read later in the post).

Someday the green couch will be lovingly reupholstered and featured in my new office, but until then, it lives in the shed, awaiting its return to glory.

As a side note: after we decided to go with "new" or at least "new to us" and started looking around, someone in a mid-mod store we were in suggested having the reupholstering done by an auto-upholsterer. Think about the crazy upholstering you've seen guys put in a chopped and lowered '49 Mercury. Those people definitely know their piping and weird shapes. The guy who suggested this has had his auto-upholsterer do anything from a simple Knoll couch to the almost impossible Womb Chair (a "normal" upholsterer won't touch them -too many curves -too much gluing). I'll definitely be utilizing this advice at a later date.

So we started shopping. I'd been looking online for quite sometime (E-bay, design outlets, Craigslist, etc...), but the wife was extremely opposed to buying something from a picture without sitting on it... lounging on it... even napping on it. She is usually the voice of reason in our major purchases.

We often go to thrift and antique stores in our free time, but for the first time in our lives we also began hitting the retail places. Important features for the new couch were "boxy," straight lines, perhaps some piping and buttons (maybe), wide arms (extra seating for crowded soirees), and low and long. Florence Knoll and Kagan are good references.

Design Within Reach was an obvious starting point, but we were disappointed with the choices. Some of them were almost right based on requirements and looks, but all fell short... and most seemed really cheap, not in price by any means, but in quality. The Freja (right) was cool as far as the foundation goes, but we didn't like the giant, loose back cushions. Not only are they goofy looking, but I'm sure we'd've spent our days situating and fluffing them and eventually they'd lose their shape altogether and just look sad. The Theatre, Bottoni, Neo, Bantam, and Havana were all ones that we looked at. Actually, the Bantam and Havana came really close to meeting our needs, but still... they just felt poorly constructed and cheap.

So next we went to the shi-shi store where they only have like four things on the showroom floor. One of them happened to be on "clearance," a $12,000 white sofa (don't call it a couch) made from pampered Austrian cows. It had been marked down to $6,000. We actually pondered it. The quality was impeccable. I loved how the seat cushions were actually zippered to the base so they stayed in perfect place. The head rests were flush and boxy, but could be lifted on their pneumatic devices if you got too lazy to hold up your own damn head. It was definitely very boxy, but in a very, very sexy way.

Ultimately three things prevented us from buying this couch. 1. My wife is a vegetarian (vegequarian actually, she eats seafood), and though she thought the couch was unbelievably cool, she just couldn't justify not eating meat while sitting on meat's skin. 2. Even on clearance, it cost more than any vehicle we own. 3. The sales girl in the store was pretentious and shady (we asked if she knew where Room & Board was, and she said she'd never even heard of it --it's their direct competition and was only a block away! Please).

So we were on our way to Room & Board and passed Crate & Barrel. We kind of looked at each other with sort of a momentary and surprising "why not?" However, I cringed as I walked through the door into the poofy couches and came back to my senses. In all fairness, they had a pretty decent contender. The Rochelle sofa was almost perfect. Good lines, good construction, even a good color. The only thing we weren't wild about were the back cushions (free instead of fixed). Actually, the legs bugged me too, but those could have been swapped out easily enough. The Petrie, Cameron, and Camden weren't that bad either. But here came the kicker... most things Crate & Barrel has are on the floor or in a local warehouse and either go home with you or arrive at your place within a day for only sixty bucks ($60 for delivery?! That's awesome). The Rochelle, however, wasn't in the warehouse. Not only that, but there were none even near (we were told NY was the closest). Not only that, but there were none in existence in the color we wanted (San Marino, Charcoal). It was going to take at least six weeks to get the couch made and delivered. That had me back to reupholstering thoughts.

So we took the literature and samples and went across the street to Room & Board.

Andre is perfect. So very 1950's Hollywood with his clean, Eichler-esque lines, well placed buttons, and tight, firm planes. Sure his arms are a little thin, but then again, so are mine. Not only that, but his little club chair buddy to complete the seating area might be even cooler than he is!

When first we saw him, he was clad in camel-colored leather, weathered like a vintage saddle bag. Very cool looking and obviously durable, I loved how it held the lines and looked as it would for years to come, but again, my wife is a vegequarian, so leather wasn't going to work. Not to mention the slightly yellowish tan was definitely not going to work with our color palette. Luckily, Room & Board is quite accommodating with fabrics, and it was actually going to be cheaper to get the sofa in something else. We went through the fabrics and fell in love with Dawn Smoke, a soft Rayon/Polyester blend in a warm charcoal color. Andre had not been clad in cloth before, but as luck would have it, in three weeks the new spring floor plan was arriving, including Andre in cloth. We decided we'd wait and see how he looked in his new duds.

Four weeks later we strolled in, and there he was, eco-friendly and looking grand. I'd sworn that we weren't just going to plunk down the cash on our first visit, though. The sofa and chair combo were going to set us back more than three grand, so I wanted to be cautious and collected. They told us it would be six to eight weeks from the day we ordered to the day it arrived (again, my thoughts wandered to reupholstering our "perfect" couch), but I held my ground. I was sure we were going to buy the sofa, but I wanted to phone it in after sleeping on it (the thought, not the couch).

In retrospect, much as I loathe the idea of "fate," I think maybe fate had a hand in this scenario, for no sooner had we left the store and gone antiquing (just for kicks and relaxation) on Broadway than what beheld our eyes but a perfect mid-century sectional (which originally we thought we wanted) for, get this, $350.

It's got a robin's egg blue and grey floral pattern with just a touch of light green on an off white background: a little grandma-y, but only if your grandma was a Hollywood/Palm Springs hipster circa 1959. As I said before, it's in perfect condition, and the cool thing is that it will seat around seven with space for two more on the super wide arms!

We bought it thinking, even if we just had it temporarily, the cost justified giving us time to think and see what a sectional of that size (which as I mentioned we had previously been considering) would look like in our space. And now that it's there... we really like it.

And the whole "nobody has one of these" thing is actually pretty cool, an idea which I'll discuss in another post further down the road.