Why you should care
Because you liked playing with those snap-together blocks as a kid.
Couches: sometimes hard to move or not very versatile, or you’re spending more time worrying about red wine spills than relaxing. City dwellers are also saddled with the dilemma of being dimensionally disabled. Choice is driven not by love of the object but by the LxWxH.
One answer: Lego. Well, sort of. It took him three years, but Shawn Nelson of Stamford, Connecticut-based Lovesac created the Sactional in 2008, an attempt to improve on something as well-established as a couch. The technology behind today’s modular furniture relies on “caveman technology,” he says. “It took hundreds of prototypes and weird ways of connecting things.” But it came down to a Lego-like solution, only the “blocks” are the base, side, cushion and back pillow. Pieces stack and snap into armchairs, a sectional, a guest bed, a chaise and a movie lounger — and without tools.
The Sactionals are sold in malls, where customers can see in action how the shoe-and-clamp-style brackets connect the bases and sides.
Europe is known as the capital of modular, with options ranging from Ikea’s SÖDERHAMN series to the snakelike Scandinavian Spino, and from the Italian Cloud the to the Swedish Courage sofa. Plus the upscale MAH JONG from France’s Roche Bobois. Retailers are starting to sell furniture in the U.S. with an urban sensibility and to a younger demographic that rents and likely moves often, says Catherine Dash, market editor of Lonny magazine. Buyers “can purchase a piece without fear that it won’t fit into their next space.” Lovesac’s movie lounger, for example, can jigsaw into armchairs, an L-shaped sectional, a guest bed and a chaise.
For a couch that would suit city-dwellers and older millennials, the Sactional is being sold, Nelson acknowledges, in an unlikely spot: malls. And while they are available online, for bigger-ticket items (the movie lounger averages $3,500) a live demo is better. It helps to get you playing with pillows and pushing down on love handles (not technically called that), and seeing in action how the shoe-and-clamp-style brackets connect the bases and sides.
On display in Stonestown Galleria in San Francisco is a 10-seater moon pit that can be rearranged depending on a varied evening’s activities: the couch can split into two and bases can turn into tables. “The modular movement seems to be geared toward individuality and letting shoppers make choices based on what’s best-suited for them and their space,” Dash says.
That includes fabrics. In store, you can flip and feel your way through the swatch book for the zippable couch coverings. Choices include velvet, chenille, leather and phur — if you were so inclined to have a faux fur sofa. Some are machine washable, others dry cleanable. Some are reasonably priced, others expensive. Some can be delivered quickly while other can take six weeks. There are playful accessories, too, like over-the-arm cup holders called “you-drink.” Nelson says the company will continue to release add-ons for existing Sactionals.
But with a premium on individuality these days, there is but one Sactional look. It’s got no tufts, no mid-century tapered legs, no brass tacks. And, when you live in a small space and are not using pieces, you do have to shove them somewhere. As with most furniture purchases, it’s an investment. However, Dash says that for customizable sleeper sofas, the price is average (but much cheaper and more expensive options exist).
Modular might not be for everyone. Many pieces now being released are geared toward younger people who haven’t established a style; the sensibility tends to be “of the moment,” Dash says. Sophisticated professionals who are looking for a particular style that isn’t hipster-ish may have to wait for this new movement to simmer and see if it pushes American furniture designers to novel solutions as it has in Scandinavia, she adds. It was, after all, a Dane who invented the Lego, and a Swede behind Ikea. The U.S. is just getting started.