Multipurpose furniture Rising in North America after Beating Europe, Japan

It is not enough to get a sofa to be a sofa.

If the sofa can double as a coffee table and two armchairs, and even storage shelves, as is the case with one camping couch sometimes when space is tight, it will help.

The multifunctional Camp Couch is created by the upscale Japanese manufacturer Snow Peak, which recently opened boutiques in Portland, Ore., and at the trendy SoHo section of New York. Though its $749.99 (U.S.) price tag might be steep compared with other camping products, some customers see it as cheap compared with other couch options — and a lot more versatile.

“The truth is that living spaces are getting smaller, people are moving back to cities, and while individuals throughout the nation are willing now to exchange square footage for geography, they do not need to sacrifice their lifestyle,” explains Lisa Blecker, marketing manager at New York-based Resource Furniture, among the biggest providers of “changing furniture” in North America.

The answer for many individuals is folding or multifunctional furniture which makes spaces flexible and comfortable.

“Straightforward, dual-purpose furnishings are absolutely on trend today,” Blecker says.

Multipurpose furniture is nothing new, says Sarah Coffin, head and curator of product design and decorative arts in the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. It has been popular because at least that lifts made apartment buildings possible, and emerged in Europe and Asia a century or more ago, she says.

“This sort of furniture was very common in the 18th and 19th centuries,” Coffin says. “The thought that a chair can be pushed in or a side folded down to make more space has been around for some time.”

“Think of a phone table where the seat fits into a vanity table which houses a pull-out stool{}”

And there was camping furniture In the 17th century, “people had to travel with their own furniture and carried something such as a writing box, which opened with a leather surface for writing and small drawers for pencils and ink,” she says.

“And the Koreans and Chinese had chests of drawers with carrying handles so that they could be brought aboard boats,” she adds.

In a similar spirit, market furniture like furniture tables and the Murphy bed which brings to mind camping furniture that was colonial-era but has gone mainstream.

Chain stores throughout the country cater to a growing demand for furnishings that are both flexible and hip. Stores like REI also have gotten into the act. At REI’s shop in New York, as an sofas, rocking chairs and dining chairs are offered together with the array of camping equipment and tents.

“I would say 70 percent of the customers buying this sort of furniture intend to use it inside,” says Mike Martin, a manager at the store, located only a block from New York University.

He notes the shop’s display of Japanese “outdoor lifestyle” dining and living furniture. “It is really popular with students looking to furnish their apartments,” he says of multipurpose furniture. “And the cool thing is that you can use it on a balcony, take it to an outdoor concert or even camping.”

Blecker says her company’s furniture has gone from niche market.

“Our products are pricey, but they are much less expensive than the cost of going, or of expanding a house. Instead, they permit you to make a whole lot more of this distance there is,” she says. “Home sizes are decreasing as people opt for prime place as opposed to bigger area, and even for those in homes, transforming furniture makes for spaces that are more versatile{}”

Due to the high cost of bigger transforming bits (Resource Furniture’s folding bed with integrated couch can range from $5,000 to $20,000), many families have a tendency to select a couple of important high-end items, like a bed, sofa or console-to-dining table, and complete the remainder with less expensive products.

“The No. 1 thing people do not want to give up is a real bed. So they may be purchasing a wall mattress from us and filling out other things like desks at CB2 and end tables from IKEA to put it all together,” Blecker says.

Much of the tendency toward spaces that were versatile and attractive started in Japan, moving to Europe and then here, she says.

Martin, at REI, agreed, saying brands on camping like Snow Peak appeared to lead the way.

“It is cool to have something that works good in your apartment but you could also … just fold out of the way so that it does not take up precious space,” he says.

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