When a sofa resembling a floating ice pack – complete with recumbent polar-bear backrest – won this year’s prestigious Salone del Mobile Milano Award for best product in the furnishing category, it hinted that homeowners may soon be turning their backs on the boxy seating that has shaped interiors for so long. Now that a desire for greater sensuality prevails, designers are responding by creating sofas that are curvier, more characterful and often more cocooning than their angular counterparts.
“We’ve seen a noticeable rise in demand for curved sofas,” says Nicolas Roche, creative director of Roche Bobois. “People are looking for alternatives to the more formal arrangement of two straight sofas facing each other, or the classic L shape. A larger, curved sofa can accommodate as many people – but in a more sociable way. As an architect, I’m aware that curved sofas work very well in contemporary homes: rounded, organic shapes help break up the hard lines of modern interior architecture and add a sense of flow.”
While the award-winning Pack sofa (from £16,910) that wowed in Milan is undoubtedly a one-of-a-kind maverick, what’s striking is its transformation of a functional object into a playful metaphor for a relaxed lifestyle. Designed by Francesco Binfaré for Italian brand Edra, its freeform shape offers an inviting domestic universe from which to work, play and doze, while its cosseting faux-fur upholstery reiterates that this is a place to unwind. It’s little wonder voluptuous sofas are in favour right now.
Take Brenda, a bespoke sofa (£6,300) handmade by Richard Ward, founder of WAWA, who originally trained as a sculptor and now designs furniture in east London. “My client wanted it to be a talking point, to match the violet colour of her favourite designer jacket and to be comfortable enough for the whole family to pile onto for an evening watching films,” says Ward. “I was drawn to designing upholstered furniture by the potential for creating flowing, three-dimensional curves. It seemed to me that the sculptural qualities of upholstery were not being exploited. Why force a soft, yielding material into a rigid, angular shape when it is crying out to be liberated into exuberant, adventurous forms?” Brenda was designed to introduce a sense of movement. “I also took inspiration from the animation of waves, billowing clouds and the swelling of sails in the wind,” says Ward.
London-based interior designer Joanna Wood’s clients are increasingly choosing rounded forms to give traditional seating arrangements a contemporary twist. “A sculpturally curvaceous sofa can create a visually strong statement in a hallway or an intimate seating area in a reception room,” says Wood. London-based interior designer Niloufar Bakhtiar-Bakhtiari of NBB Design, known for her flair in combining interior schemes with contemporary art, is also a fan. “Curves echo the human body and look welcoming,” she says. “We like to create a metaphorical circle where people can sit and communicate, so a rounded sofa works well and uses less space than an angular shape.” Sofas, she believes, are suitable for any room – even bathrooms – and her studio recently launched NBB Recline, a bespoke service offering designs such as a deep, two-sided sofa with a central backrest for use in large spaces.
Nor are curves limited to a sofa’s silhouette. Marcel Wanders emulates Michelin Man’s tyre-like plumpness in his new Boutique Botero design (from £4,490) for Moooi. “I wanted to go against all those skinny sofas and explore a curvier, more sensual design with a slightly oversized shape that envelops you,” says the designer. This autumn, Roche Bobois also introduces a longer, more curvaceous version of its playful, cocooning Bubble model (two-seater, £4,440; three-seater, £4,520) designed by Sacha Lakic, and debuts Paris Paname (£8,627), a gently curving multi-seater by Bruno Moinard.
Another attribute of curved sofas is they can appear to float in a space, “adding fluidity and sensuality,” explains Chicago-based interior designer Holly Hunt. “They create interest and balance in a rectangular space and connect us, inviting interaction in a way that a straight-sided sofa located against a wall cannot,” she says. Her favourite is Vladimir Kagan’s Sloane sofa (from £19,080), a sleek comma that fosters an intimate ambience when two face each other. Equally glamorous, Curve (from €8,780), handcrafted in maple and upholstered in fine leather or fabric, is the highlight of Donghia’s new Alchemy collection.
Crescent shapes also stood out at this year’s Salone del Mobile. One of the sleekest is the Audrey (from £7,280), designed by Massimo Castagna for Gallotti & Radice, which has a low, partial backrest and looks particularly glamorous in ochre velvet. “Flowing curves, upholstered in sumptuous velvets, are a fantastic way to create a focal point,” says Annalise Fard, director of Home at Harrods. “We are seeing a shift away from pared-back designs with straight edges towards styles with curves, and the Gallotti & Radice collection that we recently introduced is attracting significant interest.”
Sheetal Sachdev, founder of online furnishings specialist Treniq cites the Tokyo (£3,150) by Spanish brand Moanne as evidence of sofas’ evolution from rigid and boxy to smooth and rounded. Its curve is emphasised by two brass bands running around an upholstered, solid-wood frame; and the sculptural Don Ignacio (from £5,868) by French brand Hamilton Conte, whose sinuous lines take inspiration from 20th-century American, Italian and Scandinavian designs. A modular version (from £11,806 for two pieces) can provide multiple configurations of its anthropomorphic shape.
Still, many of us enjoy the embrace of a sofa with a higher back and sides. A comforting sense of enclosure characterises Nido (£3,690), designed by Alessandro Buccella for Vibieffe. Handmade with a pine frame and beech legs, its curvaceous, upholstered back and sides sweep around a deep, single-seat memory-foam cushion. Even more cocooning is the Icaro (from €7,616), described by its maker Flexform as a “nesting refuge”. Its solid-ash, curved frame is left visible so the sofa looks as attractive from the rear as the front. This new piece, launched in Milan in April, marks 10 years of collaborating with designer Roberto Lazzeroni for the third-generation, family-run Italian company.
As designers unite character with comfort, their use of materials is growing more imaginative. A powder-coated steel frame in a choice of over 200 colours – including gold, mercury and platinum grey -– gives the Stay sofa (from £8,970), created by Slovenian designer Nika Zupanc for Sé, an oversized back with a theatrical flourish (the seat and back are upholstered to order). French designer Thomas de Lussac gives the leather-seated Loval sofa (£3,750) a sci-fi look by using a sculpted resin structure. Meanwhile, the Utah two-seater (£3,750) by Portuguese brand Bitangra has a base of brushed-copper tubing, with velvet upholstery bringing glamour and comfort.
Pair velvet upholstery with free-flowing lines and the result is undeniably seductive. Over the past year Habitat has a seen a 150 per cent increase in velvet upholstery orders, with bold colours such as emerald, orange and purple accounting for over half these sales. One of its bestsellers is Isabel, a curvy-back sofa (£995) by Matthew Long, whose velvet upholstery is available in red, orange, purple and emerald as well as more restrained sage, taupe and navy. “It’s a modern take on a traditional chaise longue with a dramatically curved back and rounded profile,” explains Polly Dickens, Habitat’s creative director. “Advances in technology and tailoring allow for much more fluid shapes than the boxy, modular look, and we’ve had great success with voluptuous, cocoon-like designs that emphasise comfort,” she says. “By contrasting curved, organic designs within a room’s angular framework, it’s possible to heighten their visual impact –- this is driving the current trend as people want standout pieces.”
Portuguese brand Ottiu takes the impactful, voluptuous and velvety combination to the next level with Swanson (£4,350), a design inspired by Hollywood actress Gloria Swanson. Vintage glamour is also conjured by Ottiu’s Margret sofa (£5,405), inspired by 1960s singer, dancer and actress Ann-Margret: its curved back and arms create an embracing sense of enclosure, while rich velvet upholstery is offset by polished brass feet. Equally alluring is the Charming sofa (£7,878) from young Italian brand Adele-C, founded by furniture maestro Cesare Cassina’s daughter, which pairs boldly coloured velvet with an exuberant shape.
Sculptural, sensual and statement-making – it’s no wonder these curvaceous new designs are proving irresistible.