The new season’s designs are arriving in the furniture showrooms now and, judging by the chairs and sofas filling the floors of the most fashion-forward stores, a different aesthetic is making a bid for space in our living rooms. The straight edges and clean lines that have been a byword for chic modernity for so long have been replaced with voluptuous curves and softness.
Ayala Serfaty’s Doula stool ($15,000) from the Shastool series perfectly captures this new mood. Wrapped in generous, down-filled folds of felt composed of thin layers of wool, silk and linen, which have been laid down and pressed together by hand, Doula is one of the latest pieces to emerge from this mixed‑media artist and designer’s studio in Tel Aviv. “Much of my upholstery work is related to my long interest in three‑dimensional surfaces,” says Serfaty. “Here, the folds intensify the softness of the surface. I really believe that the home should reflect soft, organic qualities.”
Dutch designer and art director of Moooi Marcel Wanders is also turning soft. His Cloud sofa (from £4,227), a composition of rounded shapes formed from moulded foam, evolved from the designer’s desire to create a seat that would make its users feel like they were “falling into the softness of a white cloud that looks like cotton candy”.
Francis Sultana’s Anita armchair (£12,960) and sofa (£16,200) are equally playful and cocooning. Swathed in kidassia goat hair – a material the designer fell for while working on a private commission, despite the fact that it has to be painstakingly cut with hairdressing scissors so that it falls properly – on a patinated-bronze frame, the sofa and armchair are part of his inaugural capsule collection that was inspired by haute couture and Hollywood. “The armchair is like a big fur coat,” says Sultana, “while sitting on the sofa is like being engulfed by a pair of bears.” But though comfort is, of course, vital in an easy chair, high-end pieces of furniture such as these must please the eye as much as the body. “I have been trained to make furniture that functions and comfort is a crucial factor in a sofa or armchair,” he says, “but these are also highly sculptural works. The materials – goat hair and bronze – are beautiful and the forms are very unusual, so these pieces will be like bombs that will explode the room setting.”
According to James Mair, founder of the London furniture showroom Viaduct, daring design such as this is increasingly popular. “Round, curvaceous shapes are comforting, which was an appealing quality during the recent economic crisis,” he says. “Now that the market is improving, the curves are developing and becoming more sophisticated.”
It’s a mood reflected in MDF Italia’s new Mia armchair (£2,134), which has recently arrived at Viaduct’s London showroom. This plumply inviting chair is something of a departure for the Italian brand, which is best known for its elegantly understated, clean-lined furniture. Designed by Francesco Bettoni, its unusual, compact and rounded form is attributable to the fact that it has been filled with both variable-density polyurethane foam and padding. “The soft design was inspired by the simple gesture of folding a cushion,” explains Bettoni. “We wanted to make the whole collection more domestic and welcoming. Mia is a sanctuary for relaxing moments.”
London-based, Canadian-born designer Philippe Malouin has pushed the new voluptuous aesthetic to its limits. His Mollo armchair in foam and fabric (£3,030), produced by the British furniture brand Established & Sons, is composed entirely of foam with no rigid inner structure at all. “We wanted to create an armchair that challenged traditional manufacturing techniques,” explains Maurizio Mussati, CEO of Established & Sons. “There is perhaps an assumption that a soft, comfortable upholstered chair needs a solid structure or internal scaffolding in order to support it, but Mollo is composed of foam all the way through. It is a completely fresh answer to the armchair.”
Malouin describes its creation as a “happy accident”. Determined to create a chair that was supersoft and comfortable but didn’t rely on injecting a frame with self-expanding foam, as most soft seating does, he began experimenting with tubes of upholstery foam, bending them at 90º angles to keep a very curved external line and running tight stitches over the top to form the seat. The final, velvet-covered version, which was unveiled at the Milan Furniture Fair earlier this year, is almost unchanged from the initial prototype. “I don’t believe that soft seating should look stern,” explains Malouin. “That’s not the point of an armchair or sofa. Their function is to offer the highest level of comfort, and Mollo not only does that, but it also looks as though it does.”
Roche Bobois’s aptly named Bubble sofa (from £3,960) and matching ottomans (from £885) also speak so eloquently of comfort that they challenge classic notions of elegance. The sofa is more conventional in its construction than Mollo (the bi-density-foam seat and backrest are supported by a wooden frame), but each item is upholstered in a technically advanced, three-dimensional fabric, which stretches in two directions to cover and contain the spherical shape, and has a supersoft, “honeycombed”-wool top layer.
Bubble’s designer, Sacha Laki, believes that the outstanding comfort of both chair and ottomans is sufficient to dispel any reservations his clients may have about their unusual appearance, and he is confident that they will have broad appeal. “For me, Bubble is a metaphoric representation of a cloud,” he says, “but the design is open to many different interpretations. Round shapes are reassuring and positive and give the impression of comfort, so they’re always coming back into fashion.”
Sultana is similarly confident. “We live in a world where we perceive pared-down, straight-edged furniture to be elegant and good-looking,” he says, “but at the top end, people are now looking for more individuality and are starting to drift away from safe good taste towards more adventurous, curved designs.”
Some may feel that the move from polite straight lines to chairs that resemble fur coats and sofas sporting spherical mounds wrapped in three-dimensional jersey, however beautifully made, is a big one to take in a single step. Fortunately, Patricia Urquiola has designed a modular sofa system that bridges the two extremes. Created for Italian brand Moroso, Love Me Tender (from £4,980) has all the key features of the soft, round style – plump backrests, generous quantities of cushions and seductively tactile wool-jersey upholstery – but in this instance, the Spanish designer has combined them with rather delicate wooden legs, so that the overall effect is surprisingly light and elegant.
Perhaps it takes time for our eyes to adjust to a new type of beauty, but these sofas and armchairs are so irresistibly comfortable that most of us will be beguiled eventually. The curator and internationally acclaimed trend forecaster Li Edelkoort, who has been watching this move towards a softer form of design for some time, perfectly sums up the appeal. “All these cushioned and inflated items spell comfort and quality of life,” she says. What more could one ask of a chair?