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The Boulder sofa by Charles Wilson is based on an ancient grinding stone.

Sofa, settee, lounge, chaise, armchair – call them what you like, but investing in the right one comes back to why they exist and that is to provide comfort.

Originating in Egypt, the first examples of upholstered furniture were found in the tombs of the Pharaohs, believed to be given as a way of making the transition to the afterlife a little more comfortable. They were akin to what we now call the chaise lounge, made famous in mid-20th century by designers Marcel Breuer and le Corbusier.

Fast forward a few years and modern sofa design still needs to call on history, in particular the ideal proportions of the human body as depicted in Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic drawing Vitruvian Man (1490) based on the work of Roman architect Vitruvius. In setting the dimensions of any piece of furniture, the designer aims to accommodate the average height of an adult, a relatively simple task in solid timber or plastic furniture but more complex when upholstery is involved.

Generally speaking, the top-height of the cushions on a sofa should be around 440-450mm with the minimum being around 380mm. Where it gets tricky is in the quality of the upholstery as those heights can reduce considerably once the weight of our bodies is applied.

Ezy Wood by Christophe Pillet for Offecct.

Quality sofas of any type rely heavily on the choices of foam or other padding materials to balance out aesthetics and comfort. Often, in fully upholstered pieces like Charles Wilson’s Boulder sofa, different densities of foam will be used to create a softer top layer with a firmer, more supportive base foam underneath. With timber based sofas like the Ezy Wood by Christophe Pillet for Offecct – a firmer material is used to achieve a minimal appearance without foregoing ongoing comfort.

And that is where part of the investment comes in, ongoing satisfaction. As with anything, you get what you pay for and having a lounge or entire suite re-upholstered is a costly, disruptive exercise. Quality foams are more resilient to damage and retain their absorption qualities for longer with leather or fabrics being equally important in the decision-making process.

Most upholstered furniture can be covered in a range of colours, and quality retailers work closely with suppliers of both textiles and leather to ensure the manufacturer’s standards are met, locally though in some cases – the designer’s choice of fabric is intrinsic to the design.

Airberg by Jean-Marie Massaud for Offecct uses a flexible frame and padding to convey a feeling of comfort.

The Airberg by Jean-Marie Massaud, as its name suggests, is inspired by the idea of an iceberg filled with air. Deceivingly, the form is supported by a timber frame that incorporates a suspension system and flexible padding materials. Only possible through some clever thinking, the sofa received a red dot design award and with the grey felt cover being permanently attached to the padding – the serious craftsmanship on the timber frame becomes invaluable.

Reminiscent of a geometric bean bag – Massaud’s sofa coveys a level visual comfort with the colour of the felt being linked to psychological feelings of neutrality and hibernation – two things you want out of a sofa designed for relaxation. This may sound a little odd but it is an important consideration, and colours can also amplify our perception of an object's size.

While they may be more appealing and easier to maintain, darker colours make things look larger. Not a problem in the case of le Corbusier’s slimline chaise but, for a fully upholstered form, a dark sofa can look very heavy once you get it home, while clearly the crispness of white is not a logical choice where pets and kids are involved.

The Tundra Collection by Thomas E. Alken for Jonas Ihreborn blends the body and architecture.

On the topic of choices, flexibility is also an important factor when deciding on a set of settees. Modular systems where arm-rests, returns and additional seating can be configured to your specific needs are ideal for growing families and apartments where access can be tricky. It is also a good idea to consider the extended family in your decision and we aren’t talking about the in-laws and cousins. Many contemporary sofas are part of a bigger family or collection, which has been designed to work together aesthetically using the same proportions, materials and design details. An example is the Tundra collection by Thomas E. Alken that includes an easy chair, coffee table and sofa – all with a blonde timber base and padding where it is needed.

It is a collection that harks back to the designer’s Scandinavian heritage but also the concepts of da Vinci and Vetruvius, as Alken describes; 'The body is soft and the architecture is hard, Tundra is a combination of these two.'


The Boulder sofa, Ezy Wood, Airberg and Tundra collection are available in Australia through Interstudio