27 July 2018
Furniture that does more than one job is a godsend in a small home – here’s what you need to know before you buy.
In this practical series, we ask experts to answer your burning home and design questions. Here, Christine Gough, interior design leader at Ikea Australia, shares her top tips for selecting multi-functional furniture for a compact home.
If you’re struggling with clutter, a lack of space or a shortage of storage in your home, multi-functional furniture can really help. So what makes for a multi-functional piece? It is flexible, performs more than one function, and it can be moved around or customised to suit your needs. It often also includes storage, giving you a useful home for clutter so you can create a clear and inviting home.
Here are a few of the most useful designs to consider.
Image: Delaktig range at Ikea
Modular sofas allow you to personalise your seating so that it fits your space – and your needs – perfectly. Choose from a ready-made combination of sofa pieces, or create a new combination to suit your home.
Modular sofas are designed with many functions and possibilities in mind. Many contain hidden storage, while others can be converted into a sofa bed to house an overnight guest. You’ll also find styles with removable covers so you can update the look of your sofa with ease.
‘Open-source’ furniture takes the idea of personalisation one step further. Ikea’s new modular Delaktig sofa (designed in conjunction with British designer Tom Dixon) has an aluminium frame and the set-up can be endlessly configured to suit your changing needs – add a side table, a lamp or two, move an armrest or change the cover, for example.
Storage or nest tables
If space is tight, pieces that do double duty, such as a coffee table with shelves or a storage basket, are a boon. They provide the perfect spot to store cushions, magazines and kids’ toys. Choosing a design on castors means you can also move it to different spots in a flash.
A nest of coffee tables is also a great option for a small space. It offers endless possibilities – pull the trio apart and use as separate side tables when you have friends over for drinks, or place them side-by-side to create one long coffee table for takeaway pizza night.
Furniture with concealed storage
Ottomans are an incredibly useful piece of furniture for any living room – they can act as seating, footstools or even a makeshift table to pop a book or magazine on. Select one with hidden storage inside, and it will provide you with a handy extra spot to store blankets, throws and the kids’ play things.
What are the most useful features to look for in a multi-functional piece?
- Customisable: You should be able to personalise it to suit your style and living needs.
- Neutral colours: Shades of grey, taupe and stone will co-ordinate with most colour palettes, and can easily be updated seasonally with the addition of pattered and coloured cushions and throws.
- Flexibility: Look for features such as removable covers and castors that make it easy to move pieces around or switch up the look of your space.
It’s not just furniture that’s gone multi-functional, it’s rooms too. With many of us moving to smaller homes and open-plan living increasingly the norm, the number of activities that happen in each room has increased. Once upon a time, our living rooms were used for socialising or watching television, but today you might eat dinner there, play games, listen to music, fold laundry and even exercise.
To get the best from a multi-functional room, position furniture to create zones for different activities, such as dining, socialising, work and exercise. Be led by the space and your lifestyle needs, and not by convention. If it works better in your space to have a pair of modular sofas positioned back-to-back or side-by-side rather than a traditional sofa set-up, go for it.
When positioning furniture, factor in foot traffic too. There should be enough room to move through the room comfortably.
16 March 2018
In a world of flat-packed and mass-produced, how do you know if your new furniture is made from the real deal?
Before navigating a market flooded with fake wood and faux fabrics, consider the following expert tips and buy with confidence.
How to recognise real timber
“As makers we have the opportunity to use a variety of beautiful hardwoods,” says designer Nathan Day. “Australian timbers like jarrah and blackwood, and North American species like oak and walnut are classics. People love them because they machine beautifully, are stable, and age gracefully.”
“As makers we have the opportunity to use a variety of beautiful hardwoods,” says designer Nathan Day. Photo: Nathan Day Design
Designer Karl Young from Saltwood Designs uses solid timbers that are sustainably sourced and recycled. “There is demand for furniture made from existing pieces of the house. I’ve made vanities and tables from old roof timbers!”
While 100 per cent timbers are readily available in various guises, Day has noted an increase in man-made versions. “Reconstituted timber products, plastics and other materials are creeping into the market. They are processed to look like wood with stains, which is meant to make them look expensive.”
Despite the inferiority of laminates and particle boards, Young maintains that they do serve a purpose. “The substrate may not be a sustainable one, but in using veneers you are cutting down less trees, and if done right they will still last and look beautiful.”
Walnut and oak bedside tables. Photo: Saltwood Designs
Check the material’s origin and buy from someone who represents trusted design brands. “Ask them to point out differences in quality in material, construction and finish,” says Day, “and avoid replicas. They are nothing more than a cheap imitations.”
Designer Karl Young from Saltwood Designs uses solid timbers that are sustainably sourced and recycled. Photo: Saltwood Designs
Meet the maker
“Find out their values,” says Young. “They should understand your needs and as the client, be involved from the very beginning – from design through to finished product.”
Weight and firmness
Consider the product’s weight and press your nail into its surface to gauge denseness, before comparing your findings with authentic wood species.
If the colour of the wood isn’t natural or stained, it may not be 100 per cent genuine.
“You get what you pay for,” says Day. “Quality generally costs more.”
Check for surface colour. Most woods turn a shade of gray, darken, become redder or lose colour, if exposed to the elements.
Grain lines should run consistently over the edge of the table. If they don’t, it could be veneer imitating timber.
Check for growth rings formed by the yearly growth of a tree. They are difficult to properly replicate.
How to recognise natural fabrics
When it comes to soft furnishings, plant-based fabrics like cotton and linen, and animal fibres like silk and wool are the most coveted. They look expensive, offer breathability, natural temperature regulation and superior durability.
“Fabric choice comes down to its end purpose – colour, pattern, texture and budget,” says Sarah Elshaug from Maitland Interiors. “By starting with the end-in-mind we ensure the fabric is fit for purpose and durable.”
Polyester blends masquerading as linen are the most common misrepresented fabric says Elshaug. “Using a synthetic means you are sacrificing on comfort and that luxurious feel of a natural fabric.”
Elshaug says while inferior, cheaper blends do have their place. “They offer stain resistance and colour fastness, so in a family home, opting for a sofa covered in polyester blend fabric will ensure longevity. To the untrained eye it can be hard to tell which fabric is what when looking at it,” says Elshaug.
Need-to-knows when purchasing natural fabrics:
The burn test
“Find a safe spot outside or in your laundry trough where you can burn a section of fabric,” she says. “When you burn a fabric and it turns to powder, it’s natural. If it melts and beads up like plastic with a sweet odour, then it’s synthetic.”
Feel and weight
“Gauge weight, quality and content,” she says. “I pay attention to how a fabric feels in my hand or moves when I give it a shake. Not only does it help determine its authenticity, it also tells me how it will behave.”
“Fabrics sourced from a reputable show room will have a data sheet specifying its composition and testing that has been done to meet Australian standards,” she says. “Sight this documentation and if you’re not satisfied, move on. With a global economy, we are spoilt for choice and can source beautifully made fabrics from around the world.”
20 April 2017
So you’ve bought your first house. And now you’ve got to furnish it. Money’s tight all over, especially for young adults and first-home buyers, but odds are the cheap-and-nasty stuff you had when you were share housing has done its dash.
When to comes to big furniture purchases, look at getting classic pieces that are built to last, says Triana Odone of King Living. “If you’re on a budget, don’t purchase based on trends that won’t be chic in a year’s time. Stick to buying a quality-made piece that’s built to last.”
“Take the time to do some research and really think about what style of decor you prefer,” says Odone. “Do you like quite simple, contemporary designs without big cushions? Do you like sofas and chairs that you can really curl up in?” Once you’ve got an understanding of your style, think about how you’re going to use your living room – where you’re better off spending a bit extra on quality construction, and where you can save money, too.
When you’re setting up your new home, invest in good quality “weight-bearing” pieces, like sofas and beds. Photo: Jane Ussher
“It’s pretty simple,” says Odone. “If it’s a weight-bearing piece of furniture, it will need to be well-made if you want it to last and to remain comfortable over time.”
When it comes to buying a sofa, make sure you get one that really suits the way you live – in other words, do you sit up straight, curl up in the corner with your feet tucked underneath you, or do you stretch right out on the sofa?
There’s no wrong answer to the question, but whatever you do in your living room, you should do in the showroom, Odone says. There’s no judgment.
When you’ve got a well-made piece of furniture, it can last for decades. Photo: Jane Ussher
If most evenings you’re horizontal with the remote in your hand, what’s the point of perching on the edge of the sofa, or just leaning back for 30 seconds? That’s not going to tell you what you really need to know.
Get your shoes off, stretch out – is it wide enough? Long enough? Are the armrests at the right height? Will you need a couple of toss cushions to really get yourself sorted for an evening of chilling out?
If you love to entertain, and your sofa can expect to have three good-sized blokes parked on it during most televised footy games, you’re going to want to get a sofa with steel frame construction.
In a small home or apartment, flexibility is important, too. Photo: King Living
Yes, it costs more than one that’s made with a lesser-quality frame, but it’s not going to collapse unexpectedly in the middle of the game, and you won’t need to buy a new one every two years.
On the other hand, you can save money on smaller decorative pieces such as coffee tables, side tables, cushions, lamps and rugs.
“Those are the non-weight bearing and decorative items that don’t need to be durable in the long-term. When you’re just starting out, a flat-pack end table will work just as well for you. Later on, when you’ve got more money, you may decide to upgrade,” says Odone.
Smaller pieces will give your room personality. Photo: Jane Ussher
When buying staple pieces, keep your style of living in mind. If you’ve bought a small apartment, you might want to consider furniture that doubles as storage. If you’ve bought a large family home, keep the flexibility and fabric of the furniture in mind. Many sofas, beds and ottomans do double-duty as storage solutions.
Once you’ve found a sofa that fits you in terms of structure, you’ll want to consider how hard-wearing you need the fabric to be.
Removable covers are a great idea, says Odone.
In a small home or apartment, consider furniture that does double-duty. Photo: King Living
“With high-quality construction, there’s no reason a sofa can’t last for decades. You may need to reupholster it after several years, and the foam or batting in the seat cushions may need to be restored or replaced, but that’s still less money than buying a new sofa,” she says.