Are Sofas with Chaises Out of Style, or Here to Stay?
Whether a compact two- or three-seater or a luxurious unit built for unabashed comfort, the chaise-style couch is ubiquitous. Will its popularity last, or is the chaise’s heyday coming to a close?
“Well, what do you think? ‘Mad Men’ or ‘Wall-E’?”
My partner and I were in search of a new sofa, and so we had come to this colossal furniture store in the suburbs. As we surveyed the tiny living-room replicas staged around us, we noticed that nearly every couch conformed roughly to one of two types. Either they were low, clean-lined midcentury modern numbers or bulky pleather beasts tricked out with power recline capabilities and built-in cupholders.
The latter’s aggressive, in-your-face comfort isn’t our style—acquiescing to it, I’ve always feared, would be the first step of a slippery slope toward poor health—so we turned our attention to the sleeker, Midcentury modern-style sofas. After an hour of test-sitting while being nonstop sold at by an eager, 20-something bro (“this is an hour of our lives we’ll never get back,” I muttered at one point), we settled on a charcoal-gray goliath with a left-facing chaise that looked wide enough to seat the entire Draper family.
We came, we saw, we measured twice, and we conquered. Our new couch made its living room debut in May 2021. Now, having lived with it through all four seasons (as one should do before making a commitment to any relationship), I have some regrets.
The Good, the Bad…
Folks are really divided when it comes to couches with chaise sections—with good reason. On the plus side, this design makes it easy to stretch out without sacrificing seats for others to occupy. (No more bogarting the whole sofa if you want to kick up your feet.)
Ostensibly, it also provides more seating capacity—but practically speaking, that’s not quite the case. Unlike an L-shaped sectional, the couch-with-chaise doesn’t offer uninterrupted back support. Instead, there’s usually only an armrest that mirrors the other end of the couch, so every seat is oriented in the same direction but only one lucky sitter gets to stretch out their legs.
At 46 inches—a full foot wider than a twin bed!—our chaise can actually accommodate two people side by side, especially if they are small or have little regard for personal space. (Alternatively, it provides ample elbow room for, say, one average-sized middle-aged woman along with one or both of her cats and all the blankets, throw pillows, knitting projects, and snacks she requires for an evening spent binge-watching “What We Do In the Shadows.” For example.)
…and the Incredibly Awkward
The main drawback to our couch’s chaise? It’s awkward—really awkward—to get onto. Into? Upon? (Aboard?) In order to occupy the innermost seat, next to the armrest, one must necessarily, if temporarily, abandon one’s dignity. I typically sit on the edge before pivoting 90 degrees and swinging my legs up, but then I’m still obliged to scooch—in kitty-corner fashion, as though my butt is a knight in a giant game of couch chess. Or I can clamber onto the thing facing forward, knees-first, then execute an ungainly twist-and-flop maneuver. (This is not ideal, as it invariably upsets the snacks and alarms the cats.)
And let’s not even speak of what my “dismount” looks like.
Also complicating matters is how wide the whole sofa is. It spans almost one entire wall of our living room, with just enough space on either side to squeeze in a narrow end table. Otherwise, I suppose one could approach the chaise seat from the opposite direction and vault over the arm like one of the Duke boys hurdling into the General Lee. (If one were younger and limber-er, that is.)
Are couches with chaises falling out of fashion?
Are others feeling as disillusioned by their chaise choice as I am? Are couches the new beds? Will sofas keep increasing in size until our family rooms are essentially carpeted with wall-to-wall cushions? What I’m most curious about, though, is whether the chaise couch, along with Zoom happy hours and Dr. Fauci doughnuts, is becoming an aesthetic shortcut signifying Early American Pandemic. To suss out some answers and find out what’s hot, what’s not, and what’s next on the living room landscape, I consulted three furniture and interior design experts.
Coming Soon to a Living Room Near You: Curves and Angles
The design spotlight is shifting from specific sofa components—the chaise, the power recliner seat, the integrated table surface—and focusing instead on shape. Curvilinear couches and chairs are a refreshing departure from the boxy aesthetic of MCM furniture and large, bed-esque behemoths, like mine. If a half-moon sofa is a little much, check out angular sofas, which fall safely in between trendy curved lines and straight-edge tradition.
“Contemporary sofas have become multitasking islands in the center of the living room, adapting to their new function of being one of the places where we rest, sleep, play, share experiences, even work,” explains Monica Mazzei, vice president of furniture design firm Edra. “The angular sofa tends to be modular and customizable, creating the possibility to change the way a room is used.”
This flexibility will be an important quality as Americans continue to fine-tune the ratio of comfort to function to fashion when it comes to furniture. Which leads us to the next Next Big Thing. (Which really isn’t next at all, but a continuation.)
In a World of Cookie-Cutter Couches, Be a Bespoke Settee
Purchasing possibility in the form of a modular sofa has always appealed to homeowners. Now that big brick-and-mortar furniture stores are no longer the norm, companies are increasingly offering—and customers are increasingly embracing—quasi-bespoke options that can be built to order, not unlike a Chipotle burrito. (Are pillows the guac in that analogy? Discuss amongst yourselves.) The ability to mix and match elements until you achieve the absolute perfect piece for your space is easier and more affordable than ever.
For example, consider one such flexible and functional component that’s already on the scene and a harbinger of what’s on the horizon: the oversized ottoman.
“Oversized ottomans are a trend that I don’t see going away anytime soon,” says Christine Kobervig Munger, director of merchandising and sourcing at Fernish. “They give you the best of all worlds—the versatility to use the ottoman as a coffee table, rest your feet on it, position it as a chaise in multiple places, or remove it entirely if more space is needed.”
Making the Whole Home Healthier
Lastly, a feature that focuses not on style, or comfort, or custom choices, but on… health and wellness? Yep. Turns out that coronavirus’s impact isn’t just about outfitting your home office or creating a super-cozy space to ease the sting of being stuck at home in lockdown. Textile manufacturers are now touting “whole-home health” as a new approach to interior decorating.
“Look for antimicrobial fabric to gain popularity as we move into the post-pandemic world,” says Michael Van, CEO of Furnishr. “These fabrics are infused with antimicrobial agents to hinder the growth of microorganisms.”
Antimicrobial textiles aren’t new, but they are being incorporated into homes in novel ways. In addition to upholstery fabrics, our homes may soon see microbe-fighting power in linens, rugs and carpets, countertops, and even flooring.
The Bottom Line
A lot of folks give nary a fig about whether their furniture or home interiors are fashionable, just so long as they have someplace comfortable to sit, lounge, and spend time with loved ones. So sales of chaise sofas aren’t going to plummet so much as they may peter out. Eventually. Possibly. Rather, they’ll take on new forms as we, the sitters, seek new functions for our homes and their components.
“It’s unlikely chaises will ever fall completely out of favor,” predicts Fernish’s Kobervig Munger. However, she adds, “we have seen them evolve as home decor trends change, and as the way people live and use their spaces changes.”
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a chaise to summit before nightfall.