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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

Can Sofas Take Abuse and Still Look Good?

Over the years, I’ve become a big fan of furniture that is both pretty and practical. I’ve made the mistake of buying furniture that was pretty and got quickly ruined. (Good-bye cream linen chair!) I’ve also been stuck with furniture that is all function and no form, like the oversized dark brown faux leather sofa and loveseat recliners in my beach condo.


My husband and I bought the condo six months ago as an investment property, a place we would rent out and occasionally enjoy ourselves. That it came fully furnished was a mixed blessing. Although the place was ready to rent day one: YAY! None of the furnishings, and I mean not one piece, would I have picked. As my brother summed up when he saw it, “It doesn’t have the Marni touch.”


But until the place started generating a little money, I didn’t want to sink more into it. Still, I didn’t stop thinking about how I wanted the place to ultimately look. I want a lighter, seashore vibe, a color palette of sand, ivory and pale aqua.


The big brown faux leather sofas were not part of that vision. Plus, at 40-inches high, they blocked the ocean view, which was the point. To their credit, however, they did their job. They stood up to sunscreen, sweat, sand, wet bathing suits, and anything else a renter could throw at them and did.


My mission became to find a sofa that would do all that and also look pretty.


I pictured a two-piece sectional, ideally 10 feet by 7 feet, with a back height around 36 inches, enough to lean back on but not too high to block the view. I wanted a performance fabric in my light color palette, and I wanted it to be on sale and in stock. That’s all.


This required the patience of Mother Theresa, and the persistence of a bloodhound. I watched online marketplaces, and went to model-home-furniture sales, estate sales and discount furniture showrooms. If I found sectionals that met most but not all my criteria, say, right price, right size, wrong fabric, I walked away. Months passed. We lived with the brown sofas.


Then, on Mother’s Day, when no husband can refuse his wife’s wishes, I told DC I wanted to go sectional shopping. Three stores later, I saw it: a pale aqua sectional, exactly the right size and configuration, and the floor sample was half price. I nervously checked the fabric: Crypton.


Some things in life are too good to be true but are still true.


I flashed back 15 years. I wanted to recover a chair my dogs had ruined. I’d heard about Crypton, a soil-repelling fabric that was pretty much indestructible. The website claimed the fabric “resists spills, stains, mold, mildew, bacteria and odors.” Sure, I thought, but it probably feels like artificial turf. I decided to test this fabric and write a column. The company sent samples, which felt surprisingly soft. I then did my best to destroy them. I scribbled on them with marker, poured cooking oil, coffee and red wine on them, ground it all in.


Water and dish soap bounced the stains right out. The fabric didn’t look rubbed out from scrubbing, and it dried without a water ring. Had it not been for this experience, no way would I have bought a light-colored sofa for a rental unit. I handed the saleswoman my credit card.


Back at the condo, I listed the sofa and loveseat recliners on Facebook Marketplace. The set sold in 12 hours for $350. The buyer came and brought a flat-bed trailer and two strong family members with her.


“They’re perfect!” she said when she saw them, and actually screamed. She then told me she had two young kids and two dogs, including a golden retriever rescue puppy. (If she had told me about the dogs up front, I might not have accepted her money.) She’d had a sectional she loved that was only a few years old, but the puppy had chewed it up, and it was a dog-fur magnet. “I’m such a clean freak,” she said. “All the fur was driving me nuts. Nothing will stick to these!”


She was right about that. Later, she texted me a picture of the sofa and loveseat perfectly at home in her family room with her kids and dogs. My sectional arrived the next day and also fell perfectly into place.


Like I said, some things are too good to be true but are still true.


When choosing a workhorse piece of furniture for a well-used living area, you can have both style and function. It comes down to the material. Here’s how to choose:

·      Know what you want. Before you start shopping, know the look you want, how you want the piece to perform, and its threats (kids, pets, sun exposure, grime). Determine the sofa’s ideal size and your budget. This way you won’t cave in and “make do” when you find a piece on sale, that doesn’t check all the boxes.

·      Opt for synthetics. Over the past 15 years, synthetic performance fabrics such as polyester, acrylic, and synthetic blends, have replaced natural fabrics, such as silk, linen and cotton, in homes. Fabrics like Sunbrella, once used strictly on outdoor furniture or in commercial settings, and Crypton are among them. This is partly because they’ve gotten much softer and wear so well. Leather and faux leather are also solid choices.

·      Ask about rubs. Rubs is an industry term that measures a fabric’s durability. A machine rubs fabric to find at which point it begins to break down. Anything over 15,000 double rubs is considered heavy duty. The wear rating on my new sofa is 100,000 double rubs.

·      Be patient. One decorating lesson I have learned the hard way is before you change a place, it pays to get to know it; that is live in it.


As summer approaches with its sunscreen, swimsuits and sangria, we’ll be ready.


CAPTION: Sofa swap —These workhorse faux leather sofas weren’t the right vibe for this beach condo but were perfect for a home with active kids and shedding dogs. The new sectional is a better fit, and, because it’s covered in performance fabric, will withstand abuse. Photos courtesy of Marni Jameson

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