By Nancy McKeon
FEAR OF COLOR is everywhere in furniture these days. Arm chairs in ivory crouch warily next to cool taupe, both cringing at the bold approach of . . . medium gray! Next to those guys, navy blue looks kinda edgy. Teal velvet across the salesroom floor? Totally over the top. Over there in the midcentury-modern wing of the Internet we see an occasional burst of burnt orange, but things calm down soon enough.
Until you enter the new fun zone. Not talking about kitschy stuff like the Rotary Hero Giant Food Stool in the shape of an ear of corn ($210) or Pizza Beanbag Chair ($60) over at Urban Outfitters. I’m talking about crewel embroidery set on fire, blossoms magnified and appliquéed to tight-back arm chairs. Chairs that make you say, Wha??? And then, just possibly, Wow!
Now, of course, anyone can have any chair upholstered in almost any fabric, as long as you have an eye for design and a reliable upholsterer, or a designer who has both, and in the latter case you’re probably shopping to-the-trade showrooms for $4,000 chairs, not online retail sites for three-digit pieces. (Quick question: Which one requires more gumption? Your answer is your answer; there’s no right or wrong.)
The mother ship of boho, pattern-on-pattern pieces is probably the French stalwart Roche Bobois and its let’s-go-sit-on-a-mattress-on-the-floor Mah Jong collection of modular pieces. Mah Jong began life in 1971 as a very plain-Jane form-driven idea by the painter/designer Hans Hopfer and is now a dizzying spectacle of colors and stripes and who-knows-what-else by such designers as the late Kenzo Takada, Jean Paul Gaultier and Missoni. It’s possibly a bit too much fun for something whose basic floor-cushion module costs several thousand (each piece is hand-made) and still requires you to be able to get up from the floor. (I just spotted a vintage six-piece corner sectional, 18 cushions in all, by Kenzo for a little under $26,000 on the resale site Pamono.com.)
Close enough, to the floor at least, is Roche Bobois’s Bombom collection by Joana Vasconcelos, introduced last year. Everything is highly customizable, but according to Fast Company, prices start at $6,705 per lozenge-shaped piece.
Back down here on Earth, Anthropologie, the older sister of the very youthful Urban Outfitters, seems to be having the most fun with furniture. The Ellie Tamsin Dining Chairs are one example, the Flowerbed Tamsin ($118), below left, Adenia Tamsin ($108) are two others.
Anthropologie’s fizzy approach to furniture runs to upholstered chairs as well.
But there are other players in the world of less-expensive home goods. Cost Plus World Market has a few surprising offerings.
The Layla Upholstered Armchair, shown above, is $699.99 and comes in two more traditional, subdued prints (but where’s the fun in that?).
Two offerings from Cost Plus World Market are more conventional, but each hits its style mark. At left, the ivory and blush Davenport Armchair, $299.99 on sale, features those cherry blossoms we’re longing to see. The Noemi Dash Print Chair in charcoal gray and ivory at right, $349.99, has the midcentury profile that appeals to young households. Both at Cost Plus World Market.
The Frontgate catalogue’s younger sister, Grandin Road, has two worthy entries into this let’s-break-the-living-room category of furniture, the Astrid and Cecelia Embroidered Armchairs. Each features exploded crewel embroidery on cotton linen, is $499 and has a compact (15 inches in diameter) matching ottoman, $169.
Since the Wayfair site seems to sell everything, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there are some less-conventional offerings there. Less boho and more Diana Vreeland (at least the one on the right) are the Liam Barrel Chair in Cowboy Black, by Zipcode Design, $181.99, and the Ronda Barrel Chair, by Bloomsbury Market, on sale for $169.99. Note that both frames are partially “manufactured wood,” a/k/a polystyrene plastic. Both can be found on the Wayfair site.
The Kenway Upholstered Loveseat in Piñata Tuxedo claims Mexican folklore as its inspiration (there are two other prints available). It’s 51 inches wide and midcentury in silhouette. It’s $1,099.99 at Cost Plus World Market.
If your living room needs a real jolt of color, you could always opt for Roche Bobois’s Bubble pivoting armchair, designed by Sacha Lakic and available, for starters, in this topaz green, jade green, cedar yellow, orange, ruby red, fuchsia, mauve and more, around $4,840. Entirely handmade, it required the development of a fabric—Techno 3D, black jersey topped by a honeycomb wool—that could stretch in all directions.
Would that pocketbooks could do the same.
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