Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sofa Waiting

Last night I finally bought a sofa. I'm waiting for it to be delivered. I've been wanting to since we got our condo, and have been suffering through using two of the ugliest sofas known to man that were hand-me-downs. I say "suffering" with some sarcasm because I do realize having two hand-me-down sofas isn't really suffering at all. But the second one really, really offended my aesthetics. Even when I put a giant brown slipcover on it, I could still see those damn rolled armrests. So today I wait for new sofa delivery. It's orange.

Purchasing a sofa has been no small feat. I'm pretty clear on what I like and dislike and with my budget it has been nearly impossible to find anything other than terrible things like this:

Look. I realize that this isn't the most offensive sofa ever made. In fact, it's pretty good compared to most of the stuff at the Brick or Leons or Bad Boy. But see those puffy rolled arms? This is totally what people call 'contemporary'. UGH.

I can't think of any thing I like less than what people commonly call "contemporary" decor. It is what people do to their homes when they think they are being fashion forward and stylish. This would go in a house with a lot of beige and maybe one of those brownish red walls randomly painted in the middle of the house. It goes with dark wood and virtually everything in the Zellers Martha Stewart home collection. Safe. But somehow people think this is a 'designer' look. It isn't. It is a mass market look. I know I'm not like most people in this regard. But it can still irritate the shit out of me, right?

Why I take offense to this whole look is that to me it is simply uninspired. It isn't thoughtful or creative or well designed. It is just what is "in". Red is in = red sofa. I admire those who can buy mainstream things and feel like they've really updated their look. But I have bad news for these people. Your stuff isn't going to look contemporary or 'new' in 10 years. It is going to look like it was purchased in 2008. Just like this; which was once called contemporary and looks like it was designed somewhere between 1988 and 1991:

I'm not trying to be some sort of design snob, I'm really not. I simply wish people were more original. I want us to catch up with european design taste that has existed for decade upon decade. We north americans have been so slow to adopt a modern look, it just came and went in the 50s and didn't stick around or get improved upon at all. In the 80s, there was an attempt, but it failed miserably (because it was badly executed) and so people went running back to nostalgic looks. Like those brand new subdivisions that look like the victorian era puked all over them. Like sofas that look like they are designed for the Pope to sit on them with doilies and toile and gold threads woven through. Like "country" blue and little white geese in the early 90s. How did we go from Eames chairs to little white geese? What happened?

Outside of Ikea and the relatively-new Urban Barn, where do we Canucks have to shop for unique and relatively affordable furniture? Sure sure there's upscale design stores and small boutiques in the big cities. But you know what? I can't afford a $4000 sofa. But is there nothing betwixt the $4000 designer item and the $799 Brick special? Does my budget mean I must suffer through bad design? Isn't the Brick or Leon's capable of selling furniture with unique features? Different styles? I'm serious when I say there wasn't one sofa at any of the big box furniture stores that I would even consider dropping a grand on. My ugly slip covered sofa was better. The thing is, people don't care about good design. They want cheap, comfortable furniture that fits their idea of what is currently fashionable.

But it wasn't always like this. This is a symptom of the mass market world we now live in. Nothing is purchased by retailers in small quantities. This is really the global marketplace taking away our choice. In the case of something like books, mass marketers take away our array of choices, but it is ok, because they give them back on the internet and include free shipping. But in the case of large items like furniture, the choice is taken away and not well replaced by the internet. (Ever looked into the cost of shipping a sofa from LA?) At one time you might have had a miriad of sofa choices in a wide selections of fabrics to choose from, and the option of customizing your choice for your space, all this made possible because the stuff was produced locally. You now have only the top 20 designs in one colour made in China and shipped in massive containers of only that one design (afterall buying huge quanitites of the same thing keeps prices low). 

Furthermore your sofa doesn't have any shelf life. The design is going to go out of style, but likely no faster than the couch itself will disintigrate into nothingness. No products are made to be permanent anymore. Everything is disposable.

Because everything is disposable (I'm looking at you, 5 year old dvd player on last legs) these days, it doesn't matter if the style is 'classic' or 'timeless' or 'well designed'. Because the retailer is counting on you buying a brand new one within 10 years anyhow. Following the herd to the new trendy look, colour or style.

Furniture that is unique and well designed should last a lifetime. It should appear timeless. You shouldn't look at it and think "wow that reminds me of a boy-girl party I went to in grade 7". This is why stylish people with taste all over america are frothing at the mouth to get their hands on mid-century modern design. It is still fashionable and stylish after all these years because when people made the products, they were making them to last a lifetime. Not a decade.

I'm not saying I have the most timeless style ever or something, I just want to have more options available to me. At this point, some of my best items have been finds at garage sales and thrift stores, where people don't have good taste, or at least, they don't know as well as me what something could be worth. Like the two wooden lamps I bought this week, likely circa 1960, with original shades for $15 on kijiijii. Those lamps placed in a decor store on Queen street would have fetched ten times that because the people selling them would appreciate that 1. they are classic, 2. they are original  and 3. they can't be replaced.

There, I just identified them: Those are the three points missing from all contemporary furniture. 1, it isn't classic and has a short shelf life. 2. it isn't original at all and 3 they can be easily and affordably replaced.

I've never really seen lamps like I just bought in a store in my lifetime. But I've seen at least 3000 variations of this lamp:

 I'm honestly not even going to bother to figure out who was the designer that brought these clear based lamps into style because I don't care. It's now been ripped off so many times that it doesn't matter anymore. And I think this is because corporations are so scared of taking risks. They just want safe. They want results for shareholders. They reproduce this in a watered down version. They'd rather rip off every design in their catalog to ensure it is "safe" and has lots of "turns" (product management speak for how many times the stock turns over in the warehouse) so they can make the most money possible every year.

One of the first companies in the US to really begin selling modern furniture, Design Within Reach, has been falling apart recently, because instead of continuing to sell designer furniture like Knoll orignals such as Eames chairs and Barcelona Chairs,  they decided to start selling their own crappy versions of these. Essentially watered down cheap mass market knock offs of the originals. Because they wanted to improve their bottom line. There's a great article about that mess in a recent Fast Company issue, if you want to read more.

Why are we north americans so obsessed with fast and cheap? I wonder if it is because our countries are so young, so new that we can't imagine the future. European nations have this perspective on time, because they are filled with buildings thousands of years old. They see that things change, but not really. They appreciate timeless quality and good design because they are well aware that those 'things' could be around for many lifetimes. At least this is my theory. We don't have any perspective on that. Which is perhaps why we continue to recycle 'victorian' over and over again. We keep seeing victorian buildings as 'old' and there is some sort of nostalgic attachment to that style, so we keep recycling it.

People seem to think modern is always cold and minimal. Not so. This was recently confirmed for me by this little home decor style quiz I did that was shockingly accurate. Also for my mom, and another person I know who took the quiz. Try it out and see if it works for you. I got "earthy modern". Which couldn't be more true. I like modern looks, especially mid-century things, and I love warm colours in my decor. I want it to be comfortable and pleasant. I want lots of natural woods and original finishes. Hand made things. I don't want rolled arms and tufted things and anything that looks like it was designed before the first world war. And I want it to be well designed. So I must say, the quiz's placement of my style was bang on. I felt it was so bang on in fact, that I celebrated by purchasing my orange modern sofa.

Oh! My sofa just arrived. Must go lounge.

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