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Tip 14: Forgo the coffee table.
We have yet to corral a coffee table into our living room. Erm, what we designated in our minds as the living room. In reality, I’m referring to a corner of our small space that our neighbors decided would better fit as a bedroom for them. Regardless of the designation, the room where we have a couch and a projector has yet to hold a coffee table.
I just haven’t come into agreement with one.
I used to own a coffee table. It was a big and bulky thing that I came across at a consignment store when I was first (and finally!) moving out of my parents home – at the ripe age of twenty-three. I rationalized to myself its bulkiness, saying that the solid wood meant that it would last. “Heavy-duty” was the word I used, when explaining the table to Mike that evening. I convinced him to accompany me the next day to “look at it”, but really I meant “pick it up and take it home”.
It had drawers (two in fact) for storing things. The upper drawer was topped with glass, so that you could look in on the display. It always felt cluttered though, so all it did was collect dust. The bottom drawer was worse. It collected junk. If things disappeared, that would be the first place I would look.
What’s more, when we moved into our small space, a 900-square-foot loft without any doors, the coffee table we owned took up what felt like half of the living room. Since it was a solid wood table, without legs or airiness beneath, it made our space seem divided and small(er). Plus the dark colored wood – an almost black-grey kind of brown – absorbed much of the natural light.
We ended up donating it to a family in need, which was its only saving grace. But I’ve been hesitant to add a coffee table again since the trauma of criss-crossing between the guilt I felt for getting rid of it and the hatred I felt for its unbecoming qualities.
I suppose today’s post about forgoing a coffee table originates from negative experiences with mine. We have been making do with a tiny side-table, which I also have half a mind to donate. At least it’s easily movable to the corner of the room, allowing both of us to lay out a yoga mat in front of the couch.
I do prefer the flexibility of a side table. In fact, I’ve considered multiple flexible options in lieu of a coffee table, such as ottomans and foot stools in the form of tree stumps.
Below are a few contenders, in case you are also searching.
+ A camp stool – for the sole purpose of putting tired feet up onto something. I love this stool because you can fold it up and stash it against the wall or behind a console, for a less cluttered look.
+ Maple nesting tables, of the stackable variety, to reduce real estate when not in use.
+ A mushroom tree stump, for holding a drink or two. Bringing natural elements in, without buying more houseplants.
+ A step stool, which has dual-use for shorties such as myself.
+ Actual ottomans, in a rich sienna leather. Extra seating when gatherings resume post-COVID.
I would say that the first rule to outfitting a home is knowing thyself. And when it came to finding a couch suitable for our living space, I had to know myself very well before pulling the trigger. Reason being, well, I prefer things to be aesthetic and beautiful, but I also expect them to be affordable. Not cheap, by any means, but not a grand gesture either. There were so many considerations with buying a couch including finding a sustainable option that I could live with, finding a couch that wouldn’t break the bank, finding one that elevates the space aesthetically, and lastly, finding one that would be functional enough for large gatherings in a small space. The solution that ended up satisfying all my requirements was found in the magic of reupholstering a used couch.
The first couch I ever fell in love with was the iconic Cloud sectional at Restoration Hardware, but I could not find it in me to be agreeable with the price point which approached $10,000. Then, it got worse when the second couch we fell in love with was a Timothy Oulton leather sloucher that neared $14,000. Both of them exuded class and style but also reeked of a money drain.
So, I dragged my feet for years on buying a couch for our home. I alternated between bemoaning my lack of a cloud and praising our hand-me-down pleather sleeper of six years. We considered more frugal options but kept landing on the fact that they felt cheap in the material sense. Some days, I felt more at peace with my decision. Other days, I was a wreck.
One afternoon three days into our marriage, a year and a half into our first home, I came across a YouTube video of a re-upholstery of a couch. After a few astute observations, I came to the realization that a majority of couches on Instagram are nothing more than the iconic couch from Ikea named Soderhamn. World renowned as the most versatile couch, I found it had potential especially after learning that a handful of couch cover options made the couch transformable into a Restoration Hardware look-alike.
An already fairly priced option, I decided that we could be more frugal (what’s more frugal than an Ikea couch?) while also being sustainable if I could find the couch for sale on Craigslist, used and unwanted. Being a fairly popular and mass-produced couch, I found that it was not difficult to do. In fact, there were three decent options close to my home. After finding a fairly new and well-taken-care-of Soderhman not more than 10 miles away, I decided to pull the trigger.
We bought a three-seater and ottoman in a color apart from ideal for $350 (originally $599) with the plans of extending the foundation into a sectional that can seat 6 people. In order to do that, we decided to buy an arm-less seat to add to one end of the sectional. We could have waited to find one on Craigslist at a bargain price but due to an eagerness which could only result from waiting for years for a viable couch option, we decided to go ahead and purchase the arm-less seat new at a local Ikea for $229. We chose the same color to match the already existing used couch so that we could live with it until we were able to remake the fabric. We removed the existing arm rest on used couch and tacked it on to the new arm-less chair that we just bought, transforming the previously 6-foot couch into 9-feet long. Below, you see the original fabric of the Ikea couch – a dark blue cotton.
Enter the re-upholstery project. As I mentioned in the introductory comments of this post, making a house a home requires a knowing about oneself. And although a DIY sort of re-upholstery project would have been the most frugal option and possibly the most sustainable option, I also knew that it was not the right one for me. Apart from possibly hacking off a finger during the renovation, I was not eager to start a feud with my husband who will likely be dragged into this project of “mine”. Plus, after watching the video on Youtube, I was enamored with the ease of having a well fitted sheet sent to my door and using zippers as an easy way for me to “reupholster” the couch. Call me spoiled, but the price was well worth the effort and time saved, both of which are arguably more valuable resources.
I went through a lot of options but landed on Bemz after noticing that they had a recycled fabric available. I spent hours perusing the available colors (and there are many!) and sent five complimentary swatches to my home. After much debate, we decided on a Silver Grey linen fabric instead, for the sole reason that it felt better to the touch. As much as I liked the idea of ordering an up-cycled fabric, I just could not negate the fact that the feel of the linen supersedes the desire to be as ethical as possible. I suppose this is what it means to be human.
Bemz also provides couch remodeling enthusiasts with alternative leg options. It has the legs 14 cm and 18 cm in height in a variety of colors and shapes. We opted for the shorter of the two which happens to be the original height of the Soderhamn because, as you can probably tell from the Cloud and the Sloucher, I prefer low-lying couches. I primarily wanted to change the silver legs to a wooden variety that made the couch look more Scandanavianly mid-century modern and less, shall I say it, cheap.
You can also choose to have a loose-fitted cover that acts as a floor-length gown for your sofa, but we opted for the traditional style with the legs exposed so that our Roomba can sweep undisturbed underneath the couch. That decision boiled down to practicality and my preference for spotless cement floors. After all this consideration, we were finally ready to order.
I waited patiently until a 20% off sale email landed in my Inbox. For those who can’t wait, first-time buyers do get a 10% off code after an email subscription. Happy to say, ordering was a breeze. It took about 2-3 weeks for the cushions to be custom-made, but once shipped, took only two days and a weekend to arrive at our front door.
When it arrived, I couldn’t wait to put them on. I begrudgingly followed my husband’s wishes to wash them before trying them on, and since they were linen, we chose to air dry them to avoid chances of shrinkage. Which meant I had to wait until the next afternoon to put on the new covers. I woke up early, scarfed down breakfast, pulled out my roommate’s steamer and lovingly worked at straightening out a majority of the wrinkles and creases. In the afternoon, we tackled our project.
Between the both of us, the project which involved a 3-seater sofa, a sectional chair, and an ottoman took 2 hours. This was after I mistakenly confused the ottoman base cover for the single chair cover and we have to disassemble the arms and back one more time to swap the two. Which proves the point that we made the right choice in not doing a DIY version of this endeavor. Surprisingly, we finished unscathed, with our relationship still intact.
The couch looks just as good as the Restoration Hardware Cloud Sofa, and feels fantastic too! You can’t even tell it’s an Ikea couch. The fabric from Bemz really dressed up its appearance but also softened up the cushions. The wooden legs really elevated the look as well. I am so glad we choose to swap those out, too.
The one gripe I have with Bemz covers, though, is the packaging it came in. All couch covers came in big plastic bags and the legs came in bubble wrap. I wish they would ship it with less plastic. Its partial saving grace was that the plastic is made of 50% recycled material and is recyclable itself. I would still have preferred paper wrap, though.
Overall, we saved a LOT of money. Below, I write a breakdown of our spending.
3 seat Soderhamn Sectional + Ottoman used from Craigslist – $350
Arm-less Soderhamn Section new from Ikea – $229
Bemz Covers + Legs – $668
GRAND TOTAL = $1,247.00
That is 13% the cost of a Restoration Hardware couch! More affordable couches of similar design found on websites such as Article lie in the $1900 range. Mid-range couches such as that of West Elm lie in the $2k-3k range. So yes, I am VERY very happy with the financial savings!
And the best part is that these covers are replaceable and washable, a factor unignorable by two cat parents. We have a second set in the form of the original blue grey covers from Ikea as well, for back-up. In all honesty, the OG covers grew on me and we are considering it as an alternative for the moodier winter months.
It’s wonderful that down the road, “getting a new couch” simply means “getting a new couch cover”. The flexibility that Bemz offers allows for a long-term sustainable option. They have many fabrics including velvet, cotton, and linen, all in differing colors. They have styles that cover the legs and styles that don’t. Even the leg options are versatile in shape and color. Lastly, Bemz also makes covers for other types of Ikea couches, thus increasing the range of probability. The number of combinations are endless so I have no doubt that people can find a vibe and feel that works for them.
How about you? Any couch hacks of late?
If you are interested in learning about how to reupholster a couch DIY style, check out this blogger’s advice on the matter. For more Bemz inspo, check them out here.
For those who like the look of our couch but wish not to make the endeavor, I made a quick roundup of modern couches that are akin to our own.