Shared from the 8/13/2020 Southampton Press - Eastern Edition eEdition

Fashion & Decor STYLEHAMPTON

A Comfy Couch Can Make A Home


Steven Stolmanis a designer and writer living in Southampton Village.


The couch formerly known as “Big Brown,” now reupholstered in sand linen. STEVEN STOLMAN

“A chair is still a chair, even when there’s no one sitting there,” goes the classic Burt Bacharach/ Hal David song. A sofa, however, can be a different story entirely, as was the case with the one that’s been in my life for the last 10 years or so. It started off as a thrift shop find, a great big custom sectional sofa that I could never have afforded to buy new. I had just returned to New York after a long absence to take a job that I really didn’t want but needed in order to move on with my life. I had no intention of staying in the city for all that long — and took out a one-year lease, sight unseen, on a cookie-cutter studio apartment in an enormous white brick building. Having bought a new bed, rug and TV, I figured that I could live with just that and little more, as I was surely going to be the only person who ever crossed the threshold. “A less expensive substitute for a hotel room” is how I justified the expense at the time. Plus, it had some reassuring comforts like a squadron of uniformed doormen and a dry cleaner in the basement. The sofa was purely circumstantial. I had heard of the amazing Housing Works thrift shops from friends in the interior design industry. Placed in various locations throughout the city, they were the recipients of clients’ unwanted furnishings and showroom samples from New York’s top decorators. Proceeds benefited HIV/AIDS research, care and homelessness. So one day, I took a detour from my usual route home (the dreaded 6 train) to visit a location close to my office in the Flatiron district. The sofa caught my eye immediately — like a big Labrador retriever up for adoption at an animal shelter, all cuddly and a deep cocoa brown velour. It was clearly custom made for someone fancy, as evidenced by the designer label underneath one of the weighty cushions. I couldn’t believe the price tag — $200. I grabbed the tag and took it to the cash register, not even bothering to look for tears, stains or nicks. It didn’t matter. I knew that someone, sometime paid a quantifiable designer many thousands of dollars for this behemoth, and by divine provenance, it was going to go home with me. It barely fit through the front door of my apartment, and there was even some discussion of having to take the door off of its hinges until the movers finally managed to shimmy it inside. But after they had set it up and departed, my supposed “substitute for a hotel room” instantly turned into a home; one that I ended up living in for a decade. The sofa gave me confidence, and in time I began to have friends over for cocktails and family would even come to stay — including my sister and her kids — with at least two of them camping out on “Big Brown.” Honestly, it was more comfortable than my lousy Sleepy’s bed. It also became my command center, the best place to be for morning coffee, daytime teleconferences and an after-work glass of wine. Whoda’ thunk that someone’s used and discarded sofa would become such an important part of my life?

When it came time to say goodbye to New York City and move on to a new home and a new life chapter in Southampton, I couldn’t imagine leaving the sofa behind. After all, it had seen me through so many milestones — several challenging jobs, my first book, my marriage, the loss of my mom, my husband’s lifesaving surgery at NYU/Langone. It was like a member of my family, and therefore there was no other choice but to have it come with us. We moved out of the city in a two-day flurry at the beginning of December. Who knew the chaos that would come in the spring? But at that time, it was perfectly routine, what with a team of movers compressing the detritus of a rather major part of our life into a few plastic storage bins and some random pieces of furniture encased in quilted pads and miles of packing tape. Within an hour, everything had been wheeled out on dollies and loaded into a truck headed out east.

In addition to the sofa that meant the world to me, there was a rug, a few odd tables and other assorted thrift shop finds — most notably a Heywood Wakefield chest of drawers and a Mies van der Rohe chair. Even though I am not an interior designer, nor do I play one on TV, I’ve worked with enough of them — some of the best in the business — to feel that I could probably cobble together this “stuff” in enough of a way to make it work in our new summer home. An artful upholsterer here in town replaced the brown velour with Belgian linen the color of wet sand, following every single line of the original, including the “baseball stitching” on the cushions that made the piece so distinctive. I added accent pillows cut from Tillet Textiles, one of the last artisanal hand printers around, choosing a pattern that was a favorite of Jacqueline Kennedy, as seen in an iconic photograph of her as a young senator’s wife at her Hyannisport, Massachusetts, getaway. I had it printed on Sunbrella, so the pillows could migrate to the chairs on the patio when desired. All in all, I’m rather pleased.

The proof, they say, is in the pudding. I find myself curling up in the exact same place on the sofa — the lefthand corner — that I did for all of those years when it served as the command center in that sunless one-room apartment. In a new place, mercifully flooded with sunlight, I’ve already started to dent the exact same cushion that I spent endless hours plumping back into shape over the years. But this is where I still drink my morning coffee and doomscroll the news of the day, digging deeper into the cushions the more that I read. Sometimes I even balance my laptop on one of the Tillet pillows as an impromptu writing desk. At day’s end, it remains my go-to safe place for a glass of wine. In light of all that is going on outside of our front door these days, it’s not a bad place to be.

It started off as a thrift shop find, a great big custom sectional sofa that I could never have afforded to buy new.

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