Sofas become personal statements in tough economy
Today's hot sofas may range in style, size, color and design, but they have one quality in common: comfort. "The notion of comfort is a very personal thing -- what's comfortable for one person might not be comfortable for another," said Marianne Goebl, member of the design management team at Vitra, Inc., a contemporary furnishings manufacturer headquartered in Switzerland.
"But as the sofa becomes the center of active life in the home, in the end that's really what it's all about." According to Goebl, clients crave a comfortable sofa for a number of reasons that differ from those cited in the past.
Rather than simply lounging, families now gather on their sofas to watch TV, view movies and catch up after a long day. Students curl up to do homework. Even adults are spending more time sitting on couch cushions than on kitchen chairs.
"People use the Internet and work from home on their sofas," Goebl said. "They don't necessarily sit at the desk or table anymore."
As a result, she said Vitra's new Suita Sofa by Antonia Citterio was designed with an 'active' seating space. The piece allows members of the household to sit comfortably in an upright position rather than sinking. The basic frame appears to float atop its visible base, offering a compact yet comfortable sofa that fits into most living spaces.
Companies like Hickory Chair are also producing inviting yet structurally thoughtful sofas, too. This fall it introduces three new sofas, including the Celine, which features a deeper, lower seat that lends itself to both casual and formal settings while also providing comfort.
Designers say that many consumers feel the need to create stability in home design when economic troubles surface. Rather than edgy, risky choices, more families are opting toward comfortable, safe styles that create a cozy environment without excess. Sofa design details, like the high back on Hickory Chair's McKenzie sofa, have followed suit by offering a strong, protective seat that almost seems to surround its users.
"I've been ordering a lot more sofas with higher backs," said Phyllis Harbinger, certified interior designer and owner of Cortlandt Manor, N.Y. -based Design Concepts/Interiors, LLC. "I wonder if subliminally it makes people feel more protected."
The Mackenzie sofa's exposed wood frame option also highlights a new trend away from traditional skirts. "I think people enjoy the 'back-to-nature' feeling," Harbinger said.
"The customer seems to enjoy a comfy, luxuriously soft 'sit' but still wants a properly constructed high quality cushion that isn't going to flatten out or break down," added Cathy Mitchell Parker, vice president of merchandising at Hickory Chair.
"We focus a lot of energy during development to finding just the right combination of height, depth and pitch to create the desired look and 'attitude' and still provide adequate seat, back and lumbar support."
Though the seating space may be more upright, it isn't necessarily shrinking. According to Holly Blalock, creative director at Hickory, N.C.-based C.R. Laine, the company's new sofa designs feature smaller arms, which allows for even more seating than before. C.R. Laine's Marcoux sofa maintains the traditional 85-inch sofa length, its space from arm to arm is a full 76 inches. Its fluid silhouette also represents a new direction in sofa design that aims to cradle and support.
"You don't have to have a lot of 'fluff' to be comfortable," Blalock said. "Our sofa design is shaped to cradle and support your back and hind-parts. This fluid movement in the sofa design is a refreshing break from mundane basics."
Popular seating fabrics now include casual textiles and finishes, such as cottons and linens, and sustainable, durable materials. Harbinger said designers realize consumers want to make versatile, practical purchases that will last the trials of everyday usage. She said consumers will also find increasing numbers of environmentally friendly sofas on the market that use sustainable wood for frames and fabrics.
Whatever the style, the right sofa can turn a mere sitting room into a homebound haven.
"Evenings at home with family and friends have replaced the long distance vacation," Blalock said. "And the inward safeness of home and comfort, of laughing with friends, has become more cherished. With this inward inventory comes a strong sense of nesting and, with that, the opportunity to create new environments in the home."