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Quilty pleasures

Comfort-craving homeowners are cosying up to contemporary quilting that tempers nostalgia with the cutting edge, says Nicole Swengley.

December 27 2009
Nicole Swengley

In tough times our homes become a refuge. Wrapping ourselves in familiar surroundings, we nurture deeper emotional ties with the things around us. We treasure heirlooms and place even greater value on quality materials and fine craftsmanship. And it’s these cocooning instincts, coupled with an appreciation of glamorous aesthetics, that account for the recent resurgence of interest in luxuriously quilted and deep-buttoned upholstery.

Chris Sanderson, co-owner of trend forecaster LS:N Global, believes that “homesteading” – enjoying activities that revolve around the home – lies behind the demand: “Homesteading is prompting a greater investment in home life emotionally and financially. From an aesthetic point of view, this means purchasing designs with character and, increasingly, a nostalgic sensibility, such as buttoned and quilted upholstery.”

“People want comfort more than ever in their homes,” confirms London-based interior designer Suzy Hoodless. “They want to feel cosseted, and furniture with a quilted effect is second only to having your duvet wrapped around you. It’s a very elegant look. These are tailored, well-crafted pieces, yet the geometric pattern of the quilting gives them a contemporary feel. We’re using deep-buttoned ottomans in almost 90 per cent of our residential projects, because there’s an immediate sense of cosiness about them.”

Designer Tara Bernerd, CEO of Target Living, observes that “homeowners are growing more discerning about what constitutes luxury. They want more texture and depth to designs. Quilting merges luxury with craftsmanship, so it’s relevant to the world we’re living in. We’re using it on wall coverings, screens and headboards as well as smaller pieces.” Her view is shared by London-based interior designer Katharine Pooley: “The resurgence of skills-based techniques brings back a feeling of warmth. People want home to feel like home again,” she says.

Paul Davies, another London-based interior designer, points out the contemporary twists: “The deep-buttoned technique, so long associated with Chesterfield sofas and headboards, is being reinterpreted as a wall covering with new fabrics and colours, or used on a different scale, for example, as oversized or full-wall headboards.” Driade’s Hoff bed (£3,179) and headboard (£1,683) in quilted white leather, for instance, have a serene elegance that wouldn’t look out of place in a fashionable hotel spa.

Indeed, you only need step inside a chic new hotel such as the Boscolo Exedra in Milan, where the reception area is furnished with Meritalia’s deep-buttoned, velvet-covered La Michetta seats by Gaetano Pesce in hot colours (components priced individually from €1,2,00), to realise that homeowners want their nostalgic leanings reworked in a contemporary way. As a result, they are investing in updated classics such as Mies van der Rohe’s buttoned leather Barcelona day-bed, designed in 1929 and reissued by Knoll in contemporary colours including lime green (£7,495).

Equally, there are glamorous modern designs to choose from, such as Philippe Starck’s new swivel armchair for Driade, Moor(e), whose oval fibreglass shell is comfortably padded and covered with quilted leather (£4,114). Then there’s the new Quilt sofa, chair and ottoman (£7,475, £3,680 and £2,070 respectively) by French designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Established & Sons. The look is sensual and flamboyant, yet the seats are comfortable and functional, the quilted fabric’s firm geometry embracing the sitter while retaining the seat’s architectural shape.

“The Bouroullecs have an incredible understanding of material and form,” says Established & Sons co-founder and CEO Alasdhair Willis. “The patchwork components are mathematical in design as well as decorative, and give a comforting and reassuring feel to these highly functional chairs and sofas. They’re incredibly pared back, yet they radiate comfort and warmth. It’s as if the chair or sofa is giving you a warm embrace, and this strikes a chord with people, chiming with what they are looking for at the moment.”

Quilt has a honeycomb-like skin that uses technically clever, stretchable Kvadrat fabric. Each padded foam shape is moulded onto the seat’s fibreglass shell. “We wanted to focus on the ergonomics, with the shape following the geometry of the quilting,” says Ronan, who giggles when I say the ottoman reminds me of the shell of a giant tortoise. “We wanted to tailor the upholstery so the fabric structure would create an entirely new shape,” adds Erwan. “The design is quite dynamic because the structure pushes you back into the seat, yet it’s also very comfortable.”

A different approach to quilted seating is taken by Jaime Hayón. His Tudor dining chairs commissioned by Established & Sons (from £950) are inspired by King Henry VIII’s six wives, and upholstered in quilted diamond or leaf patterns. “I’m fascinated by Henry VIII,” says Hayón. “He was known to be a man of great culture who loved opulence, so I based my design on his tastes.”

Hayón is no stranger to the glamour conjured up by quilted upholstery. His Showtime collection, designed in 2006, includes a flamboyant, high-backed and canopied chair (£6,520), whose quilted interior appears particularly womb-like in red or aubergine. Meanwhile, the low-backed version (£3,440) offers a luxuriously comfortable seat for dining. Showtime is a key piece for Yoo Design Studio, the interiors division of property investment company Yoo (a collaboration between Philippe Starck and property magnate John Hitchcox). “We’re big fans of the Showtime chair, and Driade’s buttoned Hall sofa,” says Victoria Ridsdale-Smith, a Yoo interior designer. “We tend not to use patterned fabrics, instead using pieces with quilting and buttoning because we feel this is an effective way to add luxurious design interest.”

It’s significant, too, that Starck – not known for his espousal of nostalgia – has covered his Caprice and Passion chairs for Cassina with sleek, quilted leather upholstery (from £488 and £594 respectively). “There is something attractive and appealing about quilted upholstery but, as with everything else in design, there must be quality and integrity at its core, as well as relevance for modern homes,” says Ruth Aram, director of London’s Aram Store. “Starck’s Caprice and Passion chairs successfully combine modern materials – in this case chrome-plated steel legs and a glossy nylon shell – with quilted leather seats and, in doing so, they exude a quiet sophistication and understated glamour that appeals to contemporary homeowners.”

Quilted leather upholstery similarly characterises Starck’s Volage collection of sofas, armchairs and ottoman (sofa from £3,296) and deep buttoning is a feature of his leather Privé sofa (from £5,235), also designed for Cassina. Meanwhile, one of the bestsellers in the Cassina I Contemporanei collection remains Gaetano Pesce’s high-backed I Feltri armchair (from £3,173) of 1987, whose sumptuously quilted, fabric interior is as welcoming as a goose-down duvet on a chilly night. “Quilted and deep-buttoned designs employ traditional workmanship methods that we’ve revised and updated,” says Gianluca Armento, Cassina’s brand director. “Often the most successful designs start from long-established, conventional concepts. By adapting the designs and using innovative techniques the pieces become more interesting and original. This is particularly the case with Privé and Caprice.”

It was noticeable at Milan’s Salone del Mobile Internazionale last spring just how many quilted designs were on show. Dutch designer Piet Boon, for example, offered the Kekke dining chair (from £1,150), whose steel frame covered in glossy, black leather looks as chic as a quilted Chanel handbag. Similarly, the quilted leather back of Fendi Casa’s Alba dining chair (price on request) is as sexy as a leather biker jacket. Fendi Casa’s Crystal dining chair (price on request) has an ivory-lacquered, rigid polyurethane frame with a quilted, diamond-effect around the exterior, while Porada showed its deep-buttoned leather Alcide ottoman (from £848) and Minotti paid homage to the trend with its Wearing Button-Down range of leather seating (from £3,570).

The latest designs from Italian furniture manufacturer Nube include a large mirror (150cm x 250cm) with quilted leather frame (£4,565) and a Samoa armchair (£2,989) by Mario Ferrarini, which has a buckled metal frame padded in fabric or leather quilting. Nube also produces Carlo Colombo’s Remind armchair (from £2,505), whose rounded, deep-buttoned high back encircles sitters in a swooping embrace.

An eye-catching, futuristic approach is taken by Tel Aviv-based Arik Ben Simhon. His new upholstery collection merges quilting with high-performance, protective sportswear. Designs such as the Mickey Maxx chaise longue (€4,750), the boxy Flexor chair (from €2,920) and the rounded Goldy armchair (€2,600) take the technique in a bold new direction. “In my work there is memory and humour and I am drawn to comfortable, cocoon-like shapes that mould to the body,” explains Simhon. “In uncertain times I hope to evoke positive emotion and give people furniture that they will want to live with for years – an investment piece, from a practical perspective, but also from an emotional one.”

Simhon’s designs are a far cry from the quiet reassurance offered by that gentlemen’s club stalwart – the deep-buttoned Chesterfield sofa. But several high-profile manufacturers are giving this perennial favourite a new slant too. At the Maison&Objet fair last year Baxter Furniture presented Chester Moon (from £15,400), a comprehensively buttoned-all-over sofa designed by Paola Navone, while Milan’s Salone saw the launch of Fendi Casa’s sleek, button-back Oscar sofa (price on request) and Poltrona Frau’s new Chester One collection, which includes three- and four-seater sofas (from £8,900) and armchairs (£4,950) “larger and deeper than traditional Chesterfield-style furniture to suit contemporary, open-plan spaces,” explains Giuliana Reggio, Poltrona Frau’s head of worldwide communications.

Amusingly, when the Chester One collection was displayed in Poltrona Frau’s showroom during the Design-in-the-City event in Milan last October, it was accompanied by a matching, deep-buttoned punch-bag. This was, in effect, a theatrical prop, created as a symbolic nod to the company’s long-established, furniture-testing laboratory. Yet it clearly chimed with the current Zeitgeist. “So many people have asked if they can buy the punch-bag that we are considering whether or not we should put it into production,” says Reggio.

Meanwhile, the very chic penthouse furnishings created by Taylor Howes at Shilland Properties’ new St James’s Close development in north London are reflected in a bespoke mirror with a beautiful quilted leather frame (price on request). “Quilting provides a hint of glamour and luxury,” says director Karen Howes. “It can be used in both contemporary and traditional interiors. It offers true comfort, which is what everyone is looking for in these challenging times.”

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