Multipurpose furniture Rising in North America after Beating Japan, Europe

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

At times, particularly when space is tight, it will help if the sofa can double as two armchairs and a coffee table, and even storage containers, as is the case with a Japanese camping sofa popular among city dwellers.

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 a lot of individuals today is multifunctional or folding furniture which makes little spaces both comfortable and flexible.

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

Gadgety, multipurpose furniture is nothing new, says Sarah Coffin, curator and head of product design and decorative arts in the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in Manhattan. It emerged in Europe and Asia a century or more ago, and has been popular among American city dwellers because at least around the time that lifts made big apartment buildings possible, 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 the Murphy bed, multifunctional tables and camping furniture which brings to mind colonial-era camping furniture but with a compact, contemporary sensibility, has gone mainstream.

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

“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’s 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, much of it made in Europe, has gone from niche market to widespread in the last ten years.

“Our products are costly, 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 shrinking 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 pieces, 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 versatile and attractive smallish spaces started in space-squeezed Japan, moving to Europe and then here, she says.

Martin, at REI, agreed, saying Japanese brands like Snow Peak appeared to lead the way on camping furniture which could just as readily be used indoors.

“It’s cool to have something that works great in your apartment but you could also … just fold out of the way so that it doesn’t take up valuable space,” he says.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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