So I declare that giant oversized couches and seating are officially dead. Not for me to decide or declare, but saying it anyway. Even Restoration Hardware has come out with that apologetic ad and its new Big Style, Small Spaces catalog. And as a side note, their baby and child line also has some nice smaller pieces like this iron Parisian side table I just ordered during their July 4th sale.
But back to the topic at hand! One classic piece that has fought its way back to the forefront of fashion is the camel-back sofa. Common as ice in Alaska in its big early 20th century revival, it fell out of favor as dated and grandma-ish, since everybody’s grandma had one! For me personally, it was designer Windsor Smith who led the charge in pulling it out of its old lady depths, with her oft photographed and changed example in her own home. In one of its earliest published incarnations it was a soft sea-foam green, partnered with that amazing Indian octagon coffee table I am perpetually obsessed with. I have to thank Kristen Kerr of Simply Smitten for the link to where to get one… But back to the sofa – it is the Gwen Curved Arm Sofa from Smith’s own furniture line.
Its most famous version was in her iconic pink living room, featured in House Beautiful and later put on the cover of their pink issue. I have this memory that designer Kathryn Ireland gave her the amazing blue embroidered textile she used to recover it, but I can’t remember if that is actually true.
The side angle view with that amazing upholstery job…
Here’s a later view of the same room. Sorry, while the wall art and inlaid chair are fabulous, this room looks absolutely bland with the modern sofa and table in comparison to its pink incarnation above. I love the wall color of both spaces, but wish the camel-back was still here in this one.
Never one to rest on her laurels for a minute, she is always changing things around. I am feeling too lazy to track the chronology of it all, but the ceiling moulding tells me this is a different room than the one above – the sofa is now in her family room.
So not to get off topic into a Windsor Smith design crush or to fight with those who would argue it was Ruthie Sommers who resuscitated the camel-back on that very first Domino magazine cover – an equally valid argument in my book – I want to offer up the ready availability of these sofas in great condition at truly inexpensive prices in antique and secondhand shops around the country. Pick a fabric, whether it be bold David Hicks style, ethnic embroidered, humble ticking, velvet, or even a more avant garde choice, and you’ll have the most modern, streamlined, practical piece for your home. The charm and comfort of them lies in the fact that almost their entire length and depth is devoted to actual seat space and not wasted on oversized puffy arms or big loose cushioned backs.
Camel-back is a casual name for a sofa with a curved center hump and scrolled arms, first encountered in the late 18th and early 19th century as the whole concept of sofas and settees was invented. Prior to that there were chairs, but the idea of sitting in comfort was new. Those three famous “cousins” Chippendale, Sheraton and Hepplewhite, cabinet makers in the late 1700s, were influential through the early to mid 1800s when styles changed, only to become popular again in the early 20th century Colonial revival craze. Those are the pieces that are easily found today.
This is how easy it is. Last week while doing the rounds at Point Pleasant Antique Emporium, I could not believe how many nice, inexpensive camel-back and Sheraton style sofas they had out on the floor.
And this was just one large multi-dealer shop! Produced in huge quantities for the last hundred years or so, those from the 20s-40s are the best made so don’t forget to shop your grandma’s attic.
I am not the only one with camel backs on my mind. Michael Penney recently sent a recovered camel-back on its merry way from his new shop – Penney and Company – covered in this fabulous blue ikat.
Ally over at From The Right Bank took a Sheraton style settee from this…
…to this, with some Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and new velvet upholstery.
You all know I have been drooling about Nightwood‘s deconstructed pieces for a while now. Katy Elliott just posted their custom Parker Sofa as an idea for recovering her family heirloom camel-back. The linen upholstery on this piece has such an organic feel.
It makes such a play on its own vintage-ness by having exposed sides (and maybe back),
I’ll follow up tomorrow with my favorite modern version of a Sheraton sofa, great for those who can’t bear the thought of buying one secondhand!
More Real Locations in New Jersey…Antiquing Along the Northern Shore
Ume Blooming…Maybe Pantone Should Have Called Their Color of the Year Plum Blossom?
Wabi-Sabi Essence in Brooklyn, Courtesy of Nightwood
Image credits: 1-4. via Windsor Smith, 5. Veranda January 2012 via Simply Smitten, 6. Domino via Style Court, 7-12. me, 13. via Michael Penney Style, 14-15. via From the Right Bank, 16-17. Nightwood via Katy Elliott