Friday, September 9, 2005

The Right Couch

We live in a large house with many rooms and many couches but the most comfortable are in our least used room, a Tudor bunker we designed in our basement on our first and only renovation to our 1813 Federal home. I knew the room would be seldom used because of its far distance to the kitchen. The idea was to have a place for my husband to go to but no one wants to be away from Mamma for long, I guess, so I have gotten rather used to everyone swarming around the kitchen--and if not hovering in the kitchen, they are watching television, reading or playing games in the adjacent living area.

But despite this cozy picture of domesticity, we've had this pressing problem of family room space. Despite the amount of actual living spaces in our house, few are cozy enough--or child-proof enough--to be called a family room. I do love the presence of the past and the many layers in my husband's family home--including the ones we have added--but we do live in a home, not a museum. One can only have so many parlors--and we love ours for Christmas and larger get-togethers--but there must always be one central family gathering spot that you shouldn't have to fuss over. Today's trend towards the "Great Room" in architectural design actually makes sense. The Great Room is now the "keeping room" of the 21st century--adjacent to the kitchen or an extended part of it, the Great Room is at once parlor, family room, rumpus room and 'Great Hall' (as many span two stories).

Our "great room' is the same size as seven other rooms in the original part of our Federal home (the ell, added later, houses the kitchen and several other spaces chopped out of former woodshed): c. 15'x15'. The design challenge of this room is that it has a fireplace, centered on its western wall, flanked on either side by an exterior door and a window; a window, a bookcase, and a door (to the kitchen) on the north wall; a door to the pantry, a door to a dish closet, and a door to the hall on the east wall; and, finally, a long wall space and one door leading into the front parlor. For those who are counting that is six doors, 2 windows, a bookcase niche and a fireplace, all on approximately 60' of total wall space. Its twin room on the east side of the house (our house was built as a Federal duplex for two brothers and their families) works well as a dining room. Most furniture in a dining room is naturally drawn to the center of the room. Both of these rooms were the original kitchens before the ell was added--they would work as 18th century kitchens centering around the fireplace. But with so many doors it is difficult to put anything along a wall.

Thus, any couch(es) must hover, island-like, in the center of the room, and after almost 10 years of marriage we find it works best if the couch faces the fireplace (not that we light it that much). Meanwhile, as this is our primary television viewing area and we have five people in our household, it is essential that everyone be able to see the television, even if necks must be craned and bodies contorted. [NOTE to readers: Early New England houses were not designed for "family entertainment centers", let alone wide-screen televisions. Our as-large-as-we'll-ever-go television is angled into a corner to the right of the fireplace on an old dropleaf table. Surprisingly, it works.]

Several years ago in some sort of agophoric stupor, I think, we bought a large plump chintz-covered couch at a large new furniture chain store. We generally don't buy new furniture but find it handy for things like couches and chairs your children might spend hours of their young lives on (and that includes kitchen furniture which also requires that the occasional marker or paint spill be able to smoothly blend into the decor). This particular couch was not only down-filled and thus way too cushy, it is about four feet deep. For short people like myself, that means to approximate comfort by lining one's tush up with the back of the couch also means having both feet stick out straight ahead of you with no hope of reaching the floor. Meanwhile, your bum starts to sink into the back of the couch between the down pillow "supporting" your back and the couch cushion which slowly creeps ever so quietly towards the floor. At the end of an hour of "Six Feet Under" you are practically ready for embalming yourself. You can lie on this couch but children fuss and complain about no room and it IS possible to drown in the sea of eighteen throw pillows that come with the thing. So in hindsight I realize I was attracted by the fabric and the idea of a plumpy English throwy couch like so many in magazines. (And I won't even confirm or deny that the backdrop of this couch is creame-colored. Furthermore, the other reason we bought it was that it had a very comfortable Queen bed tucked inside it. That feature has been used once but only at the peril of our guest who was almost launched into the fireplace when they tried to put the bed back the next morning...)

Last December, my husband and daughter went off chair shopping without me. They came home not only with one taupey-blechy super soft and pillowy Lazy-Boy type contraption but two! Now I admit, this chair is comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, but not only does it render instant hyper sleep at any point in the day but it has the aesthetic nature of a frowsy old dress and takes up a good quarter of the room. I immediately had mine cancelled but I admit to having sat in my husband's on many occasions since. So for the most part we've had an increasingly dingy uncomfortable couch (that my kids use as a giant napkin, by the way, when not leaping full bore into its piles of throw pillows) and Snoring-Husband-in-Ugly-Chair cramped by the book case and just barely clearing the door to the kitchen. If you recline, forget room to walk in.

So today we found a dream scenario. First of all we chose our two loveseats (which will approximate an L-shaped sectional in front of the fireplace--or if the television factor were not present could face each other in front of the fireplace) and chair and ottoman (my husband's idea--we will sell the couch, perhaps, but definitely the LazyBoy). We chose them by comfort first followed by a close second of "Will Cath's feet actually reach the floor?" and finally by appearance. The fabric selection was also based on durability and the "how will it look if we spill wine or grape juice on it?" factor. The fabric is a leafey Victorian-esque foliated pattern with greens, burgundys, taupes, and a bit of blue. It was surprisingly easy for the two of us to agree on furniture and fabric and fortunately we found a combination of comfort, old-cushy clubiness, support and attractability. Imagine, a couch with an X-factor? My husband even consented to the new coffee table idea I had for games, food, a laptop computer, and God forbid, feet! His one criteria is that I not position the loveseats in an L-shape approximating a sectional--well, sssh, we won't tell him that the corner piece area will now have a floor lamp.

We even spoke of opening up the two parlors into one, as we have discussed before, but not this year. Oil prices are too high and I'm envisioning a lot of comfey cocooning this winter--no draughts, thank you--just off the kitchen, where I can hear the news while cooking, where my kids are reading or playing games in absolute harmony, and my husband is happy in his chair with his book or an old movie that I'm supposed to be arranging via satellite (more about that decision another day).

So we will turn the main house down to 55 degrees--ideally--fire up the fireplace or don more throws and blankets and sweaters and live in our "Great Room" with the right couches and run up to our bedrooms at night and crawl in very fast to our beds, soon to be warmed by the piles of blankets. I'll keep you posted as to how it all works out. In the meantime, on to the classifieds: " FOR SALE: One large sleep-sofa couch (slept on once), great bones, needs good cleaning, must like Chintz or maybe a slipcover and a tolerant man; one "like new" LazyBoy, only six months old, needs nice home, preferably with well-intentioned worn out man and one tolerant woman."


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