Sofa... so good
When it comes to buying a couch, we like to feel cocooned and cosy, room for the dog is just a bonus
Are you a couch potato? The phrase was coined in the 1970s by a member of the Boob Tubers, a South Californian group opposed to the fad of healthy living. The name "Couch Potato" was adopted by a cartoonist called Robert Armstrong whose publications include The Official Couch Potato Handbook: A Guide to Prolonged Viewing (1983). You could actually apply to become a Couch Potato® by writing why you deserved the title and sending in a list of your five favourite TV shows. The membership of the group was estimated to be in the millions. Sofa manufacturers must have been delighted!
You wouldn't get away with it now. The sedentary lifestyle is a killer, end of story. By 1993 "couch potato" had made it to the Oxford English Dictionary. In 2005, the British Potato Council campaigned to have it removed.
"We want to use another term than couch potato because potatoes are inherently healthy," their marketing manager, Kathryn Race told the BBC. I'm not sure if there was a campaign to redeem the reputation of sofas. It's not the sofa's fault that people overuse it (any more than you can blame the bed if you lie in it all day). According to a recent survey by DFS, a company that makes and sells furniture, the sofa spuds of Ireland are alive and well. Irish people spend 35 hours a week in the winter, and 21 hours in the summer, on the sofa. And more than half of us (62pc) regularly cancel plans for a night out in order to spend time on the sofa.
Irish respondents, the survey concluded, were significantly more likely to cancel their plans than the British. But does that mean that we love our sofas more - or are we just a nation of flakes? Irrespective of how much time we spend on them, for nearly a quarter of us (23pc), it is the piece of furniture that we've given most thought to buying. A sofa is a major purchase. It's an object that people tend to hang on to, buying an average of three sofas over their lifetime. For winter snuggling, DFS has a range of reasonably priced sofas with popular options including the Balboa sofa (€1,679 for a four seater) and the Celine corner sofa (€1,595). In terms of comfort, its designers recommend that you make sure that your furniture has both height and depth.
"Low furniture can make us feel exposed, compared to wraparound cocoon-like seating or high-backed armchairs, which make us feel secure and tie in with the trend of creating cosy nooks."
Glenna Lynch of the Sofa Room agrees. "When families shop for sofas, the main thing that they're looking for is comfort," she says. "It's all about what happens in their house when they shut the door. They might tell me that they have two cats that like to sleep along the back of the sofa and how will it suit the dog?" In the showroom, she keeps an eye on how the families react to the different models. "When the dad sees that the kids are getting comfortable on one of the sofas, that's a huge consideration."
Popular family sofas include the Brandon, which she describes as: "a big deep Netflix type of sofa - the kind that you climb into rather than sit on." It's a customisable design but a three-seater in a cotton-linen fabric would set you back €2,340. The same design in a hardwearing velvet or wool would cost about 8pc more. Velvet, which used to be considered too fragile for a family sofa, is one of the most popular upholstery fabrics. It's a lot tougher than it used to be.
"You can order any of the sofas in very luxurious fabrics, but they're much more expensive," Lynch explains.
"The best rule of thumb is to buy the most incredible fabric that you can find and use it on the smallest item in the room. Then use something else for the sofa!" When couples come in to buy their first sofa, she finds that they give the purchase the same consideration that they give to buying their clothes. Often, they invest in a sofa before they've even bought a house. Popular choices include the Passion: "a clean, square design that fits into any interior." A three-seater in velvet would set you back around €2,200. She's also noticed a rise in single sofa-buyers. "I always thought of buying a sofa as something that you do with your partner, but we see a lot of young men coming in to the showroom. They've got a very strong aesthetic and they've done the research!" It's important to research the type of sofa that you want, but Lynch has noticed a growing frustration among people who have seen a type of sofa that they like online, but can't find it in the shops.
"The people that come in to the showroom know exactly what they want. They're the Pinterest and Houzz generation and that has created a desire. They have a highly developed aesthetic and they're not finding what they're looking for in showrooms around the country." The problem is often that sofas look the part, but aren't as comfortable as you need them to be. There's no quick fix solution. You just have to keep shopping around until you find something that's right. If you're looking for a three-seater in three figures, it's a good time of year for bargain hunting. The squashy Sherbert three-seater chaise costs €899 at Michael Murphy Furnishing and the more upright Diamond three-seater is €725.
In a similar price bracket, Ikea also has a new range called Delaktig, a "collaborative seating platform" designed with Tom Dixon. The idea is that you build your own sofa from its component parts - back rests, arm rests, lighting, and side tables - but the basic three-seater sofa costs €795. With sofas, you usually get what you pay for, so sit on it and see!
Any respectable sofa retailer will also offer advice on finding the right sofa for the available space.
"A sofa takes the room!" Lynch says. "If it's too big or the wrong shape, that can become a problem." Measuring the room is helpful, but it will only get you so far. It's also useful to have photographs that give an impression of the shape of it. And be honest about how you use your sofa. Couch potatoes will need a different design from people who like to perch on the edge of their sofa reading an improving book.
See dfs.ie, thesofaroom.ie, michaelmurphy.ie, ikea.ie