Modern furniture aesthetics and design (or lack thereof)

I loathe shopping for furniture in a retail setting.

Just before we moved back to Nebraska I sold our couch. We liked it quite a bit (and it was a great buy), but every time I sat down in it my allergies flared up.

We planned to replace said sitting tool with something, or somethings, after we moved. In particular we hoped to find a click-clack (sometimes called a flip-flop) couch. Their styling is less garish than many others, and we like to be able to accommodate visiting friends. Apparently these glorified futons aren’t all that though, and we can’t find them in most retail stores anyway. We also thought of a recliner for the wife to read in.

Her neck has bothered her in a bad way since we’ve moved, and we were both hoping that a different sitting situation would rectify that. So we started looking around. Craigslist and the Facebook Marketplace are very slow here in central Nebraska (apparently auctions are the in thing), so we resorted to shopping retail style.

Buying new furniture is not something the wife and I are accustomed to. Most of what fills our dwelling we were given, I salvaged and fixed up or I built. Cushy chairs are a little more complicated than beds and dressers to fabricate though, especially when you don’t exactly have a wood shop at your disposal. That said neither of us were prepared for the garishness or the cost of the furniture retail store.

First off, the garishness. Of the, for example, 100 recliners in a furniture showroom only three seem to have any aesthetic sensibility. Most appear thrown together (i.e., not designed) and cheaply built. The upholstery is strange in most instances and also seems lacking any serious consideration.

We couldn’t imagine paying money for most of these products, especially at the prices plastered on such monstrosities. Why is it that so many new chairs costs as much as the used cars I’ve purchased?

Leather chair

One of the less offensive recliners we saw in our search, via cameraphone.

In the end I bought a used chair from a pawn shop. It’s quite clean, although it seems to have previously rested in the presence of a smoker. The offending smell isn’t too overpowering since the object is vinyl (a requirement buying used for people with allergies, if you can’t find leather). Hopefully it will buy us some time to save some money and find something we actually like.

I wasn’t shy about my dislike for the selection at the furniture mall. The salesperson responded more or less by saying “to each their own.” I have to wonder, though, if our aesthetic sensibilities as a culture haven’t more or less succumbed to the cheap and unconsidered sensibilities of overstuffed furniture factories. That’s what there is to be bought, and most people won’t question it. They’ll look around a little, find the ones they like best and be happy.

Not me. I have higher standards and, while I don’t aspire to snobbery, am proud of those standards.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

3 Responses to Modern furniture aesthetics and design (or lack thereof)

  1. jim janknegt says:

    We had a click-clack couch that we liked a lot. (I didn’t know that was what they were called). It got a lot of abuse from my daughter growing up so was eventually retired to my studio.

    I totally agree with you on big furniture stores. I have found things I like in Pottery Barn, Ikea and Restoration Hardware.

    The last time we bought furniture we bought a leather couch, chair and ottoman over the internet. They looked exactly like the ones in Pottery Barn but were a lot cheaper. It was a while ago and I can’t remember the web site but we are happy with the purchase. That is the most money I ever spent over the internet for sure.

  2. Bette Drummond says:

    You are so right. I have yet to find a simple, overstuffed chair that accommodates my short legs (feet rarely touch the floor in any chair) and the short distance between the back of my knees and the back of my b___. I feel like I’m lying down in most chairs and couches. I have a 15 year old Sears swivel rocker that pretty well fills the bill, but do you think I can find another???????? Nooooooo. And now I’m looking in Guadalajara and still Noooooooo. My current plan is to take the bottom off the chair I have now (the aparatus that makes it swivel and rock), take it with me to GDL along with photos and measurements and have one built. That is VERY common there. If you have the photos and measurements, they can build ANYTHING. And cheaper than store-bought.

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