Saturday 20 December 2014

Hit the floor: Chic ideas for low-lying furniture

Travel to the 1970s and 80s with these stylish and chic ideas for low-lying furniture, but they are not cheap, says Eleanor Flegg

Eleanor Flegg

Published 27/06/2014 | 02:30

The Roche Bobois cushions start from €650 and a seat with back costs around €1,300
The range from Lost Weekend
The Roche Bobois cushions start from €650 and a seat with back costs around €1,300
Low-level seating from Lost Weekend
PU leather beanbag from www.beanbags.ie

THE 1970s gave lounging a bad name. Remember shiny leather poufs with diamond patterns that managed to be slippery and lumpy at the same time?

Or fold-away futons that combined the functionality of an unstable sofa with a supremely uncomfortable bed?

And then there was the ubiquitous corduroy beanbag. Everyone who remembers the 1980s has a beanbag story, and most of them aren't fit for print. I'm certainly not telling you mine.

For years, the beanbag was a dirty word in interior design. Now they're back in fashion along with deep pile rugs, poufs and giant floor cushions. Slouching is back in style.

And it's worth pointing out that, contrary to bedsit instilled wisdom, low-lying furniture is not necessarily low-cost.

At the upper end of the spectrum is the Mah Jong range from Roche Bobois – modular floor-level seating that slots into place so that you can play around with the configuration. It was designed by Hans Hopfer in 1971 and has been in production ever since, upholstered in swanky fabrics from Jean Paul Gaultier, Sonia Rykiel and Missoni.

Are you sitting down?

Floor cushions start at €650 (!!!) and a seat with back costs around €1,300. "Most people buy three," says Dorothy Power of Roche Bobois. "That gives you the length of a three seater-sofa."

I suppose a high-end sofa without legs is still a high-end sofa.

In the mid-range, the Gan selection from Lost Weekend includes rugs (from €600), poufs (from €260) and floor cushions (from €75). These are not flat-land prices, but they would suit a family that has invested in a big flat-screen television and wants to create a stylish and durable lounging space around it.

Low-level seating arrangements can look like a messy heap of cushions but the Gan's seating is fixed in place.

"It's a slouchy arrangement but they come with Velcro strips so they don't drift all over the floor and the cushions are part of the same range," says Emily Maher, interior designer with Lost Weekend. "They'll look stylish even when they're not perfectly tidy." This is lounging with discipline.

Floor-level seating works well in open-plan spaces because you can arrange it so that it has seating in any direction. "It's not like a sofa where you have a back and a front," says Maher. "Low-level seating can work like a soft island in the middle of the room, in that it breaks up the space without actually dividing it."

Low-height seating arrangements are ideal for houses with small children and babies learning to walk, but avoid coffee tables with glass tops and sharp corners. "If you've got a glass-topped coffee table you might be best to put it away for a few years," says Maher. "A nice solid pouf can double as a coffee table if you put a tray on it."

She also suggests that you discourage children from eating in the seating, especially if you have thick-pile rugs or knitted texture poufs.

A shaggy rug with spilt food stuck to it is about as attractive as a crusty beard on a hipster. "Once they have their shoes off and there's nothing that they can spill then you can just let them tumble all over it."

She does admit that low-level seating is less suitable for older or mobility-impaired people. One solution is to include a more upright chair in the ensemble.

To create the low-level look on the cheap go for a thick-pile rug like Ikea's Eivor Cirkel (€150). Ikea Hålö floor cushions (€18) are very plain but could be jollied up with trendy geometric print cushions like the PS 2014 (€15 for a cushion cover) which comes in two colours. Combine this with the PS 2014 floor lamp (€50), which is designed so that you can actually sit on it too. A make-shift arrangement like this is no real substitute for good quality furniture but it would tide you over while you saved up for something more solid.

While beanbags of the 1970s were blob-shaped, contemporary versions are often shaped like a chair with a backrest. They now have double-shells so they don't leak beans all over the floor, and a much wider range of surfaces.

"The most popular surface is wipe-clean PU leather," says Damien Kelly of www.beanbags.ie. "So it's ideal for kids." Although their beanbags come in adult (€99) and child (€69) sizes, he suggests that the larger size is better value.

Budda Bags are a more sophisticated and very much more expensive riff on the beanbag theme. The popular five-foot midi Budda bag costs around €370 from www.buddabag.com. Unlike beanbags, which are filled with polystyrene balls that sag over time, budda bags are filled with memory foam that moulds to the shape of your body and they're upholstered in high-quality fabrics. But basically it's the same idea.

Even wittier, the Balloon beanbag has a little knot on the top, just like a balloon. Plus it recovers its shape. This is the coolest looking beanbag I've seen, partly because of the bright fresh colours. But it ain't cheap. Expect to pay around €269 for a medium sized version from www.lostweekend.ie.

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