Let's have a minute's silence for the three-piece suite. Once, it was the Holy Trinity of the Irish living room: the big sofa with the two matching armchairs. In some cases, the big sofa, little sofa and the armchair. Or in at least one case I know of, the huge sofa, the middle sofa and the pouffe. But three pieces made to match always.
They were big bulky things with roll-back arms, tightly upholstered with shiny damask fabric in a nice dark colour that didn't show the dirt. They were portable in that two strong men could carry them from one end of the room to the other, risking their backs in the process. Generally, they stayed put and lasted for generations. But now, they're on the endangered species list.
Times change and so does the configuration of upholstered seating. According to recent research from the UK-based sofa company DFS, 36pc of us have ditched the matching three-piece suite for an eclectic collection of furniture. Between 2016 and 2018, they noticed a 14pc increase in customers purchasing different sofa and armchair ranges together in the same order. So far, mix-and-mismatch is the flavour of the decade. The love of matching homeware is so unfashionable that I'm thinking of starting a support group. Anyone else out there?
If you're in the market for the traditional trio and you're prepared to go second-hand, there are bargains to be had. Type 'three-piece suite' into your search engine and Done Deal pops up pretty near the top. Ask the same question of a contemporary online sofa retailer and the algorithms act all confused. "We couldn't find what you were looking for," says the sad-face emoji. Then it tries to sell you a corner sofa, a love seat and an ottoman.
Even Finline furniture in Emo, Co Laois - that bastion of traditional Irish-made sofas - is reporting a decrease in sales of the three-piece suite. "They're still a big part of business, though not as much as they were five or 10 years ago," says Ciarán Finane of Finline. "There are definitely more big sofas and love-seat combinations being sold."
Their current bestseller is the Nolan chaise-end, a straight-shooting three-seater with an inbuilt ottoman (from €1,450). If a sofa and an chaise longue loved each other very much, their offspring might look like this. It's also available in two-seater and four-seater configurations. With any of these, you might also want a love seat (from €1,040).
The love seat is not a new concept in furniture. They were originally designed so ladies could spread their crinolines safely and evolved to allow canoodling in conservative times. Its recent rise in popularity has been meteoric. A love seat is typically upholstered seating, smaller than a large chair and larger than a small sofa, that accommodates one person in comfort and two at a pinch.
Last winter, I stayed in a house with a deeply uncomfortable love seat (I don't know who made it) and I still can't get the memory of it out of my bones. I describe to Finane in detail (he's probably holding the phone away from his ear). Then he laughs. "Was it a sofa-bed?" It was. "It's hard to get a love seat right as a sofa bed," he says. "We have one that actually is comfortable, but it was a long time in the planning."
This unfortunate experience aside, love seats have a lot of positive attributes, especially for those who live in small houses.
"They're very popular," Finane says. "They probably account for about 15pc of what we make. It's definitely hitting the punter who might not have the space for a sofa."
While most end up in the living room, people also put them in kitchens, bedrooms and various nooks around the house. In the Finane family home, their Elijah love seat (from €1,010) sees a lot of traffic. "All three kids can fit in it together to watch a movie, or one adult with the three children across them. If I'm on my own, I curl up in it. It's very curlable. I'm a sloucher, so I'd rather have my feet up under me than on a footstool."
A love seat will be cheaper than a sofa, but not a great deal cheaper. Prices at Finline start at €650, going up to €1,100 for a love seat upholstered in Foxford fabric. The reason for the relatively high prices is that, in terms of its construction, a love seat is more of a reduced sofa than an expanded chair.
"Love seats are brilliant for filling awkward spaces," says Alannah Monks, interior designer. "I have a vintage rattan love seat in my bedroom. There wouldn't be room for a sofa there, but an armchair would look a bit lost."
The love seat was made for a 1980s conservatory, but has been updated with mismatching cushions - some covered in super-posh Sanderson fabric and some from H&M. "I generally gravitate towards mixing high-end pieces with affordable," she says. "You don't need everything to be expensive."
In Monks' household, the love seat is used in different ways by different members of the family. Alannah uses it to withdraw with a book or a laptop. Her children sit in it, side by side, to watch her putting on make-up. Her rescue greyhound uses it for naps (greyhounds don't fit in armchairs, although they will try). And her husband uses it as a clothes horse. "But I try to discourage that."
If you're contemplating a love seat, Monks recommends you take your cue from the available space. A bay window, for example, might be too small for a sofa but ideal for a love seat. Then select your style. Most of the big sofa retailers now sell loveseats - also called cuddlers or snugglers - in the same ranges as their other sofas and chairs. DFS, for example, has the old-school Belucci cuddler (€1,999); the trendy Joules Patterdale velvet cuddler €899; and the French Connection Zinc cuddler (€1,099).
And don't just put one in for the sake of it. It will only end up accumulating junk. And she's not a fan of the French-style hallway love seat, which are generally modelled on antique pieces.
"Having a seat that's there for aesthetics rather than use is not really my thing," she says. "If it's not purposeful, if it's not there for a reason, then it's not going to bring you joy in your home."
Alannah Monks will be styling a 'Perfect Pairings' interiors event for DFS in Dublin on Wednesday, March 25, with JANDO, Dusty Boy Designs, Yvonne Melinn of YSTYLE and TV presenter Triona McCarthy. Tickets from Eventbrite. See also finlinefurniture.ie, dfs.ie, @alannahmonks.