Loose covers are not only practical, they also have a relaxed charm that is appealing to a new generation, says Giles Kime.
Among the Swedish artist Carl Larsson’s many watercolours of the house he shared with his wife, Karin, and eight children, is one of their sitting room that radiates a pleasing sense of domesticity — a discarded newspaper and shoes, a sleeping dog, a rug hung nonchalantly over the arm of the sofa. But it is the blue-and-white striped loose cover of the sofa that does most to enhance the relaxed feeling of this elegant space. Larsson painted it in 1895, a time when Victorians, such as the family of another artist, Linley Sambourne, were living among buttoned, fringed and tightly upholstered splendour at 18, Stafford Terrace that remains a monument to the Victorian decorative exuberance (both artists’ houses are open to the public).
As with so many of the key ingredients in classic decoration, there’s a deeply practical rationale behind the loose cover: namely, that it can be washed and changed at will. In the past, they were often fitted to protect furniture or changed according to the season. They also soften the look of a sofa or chair by hiding its legs.
Another sentiment that Larsson’s beautiful watercolour expresses, oh so eloquently, is that loose covers have the smart, but relaxed appearance of a linen suit. They are one of the pillars of the furniture-making philosophy of Maker & Son, the Sussex furniture company launched by Alex Willcock and his son, Felix Conran. Apart from the fact that loose covers that are in constant use, will last longer and can be cared for much more effectively than fixed covers, they also reduce lead times (the company’s range of handmade Song armchairs, footstools and headboards can be delivered in less than 48 hours).
These chairs are typical of Maker & Son’s highly innovative approach to its work, from mobile showrooms to manufacturing in locations on the doorstep of key markets in the UK, the US, Australia and New Zealand. Having started with an extensive range of sofas, chairs, footstools and beds, there are plans to expand into other areas, such as tableware and storage.
However, at the heart of it all is a human-centred approach to design that focuses on comfort, pleasing good looks and longevity, rather than style for style’s sake. The Larssons and their huge brood would doubtless approve.
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