Sometime ago Douglas and I began to think we probably needed a couch in our bedroom. We wanted to read in more comfort than we could sitting on a chair and wanted something on which you could also slump, in couch potato way, in front of the TV. Let’s face it: if you’re going to do something mindless you at least want to be comfortable.
We kept an eye out at the redoubtable local auction. Endless couches turned up, whole armadas of them in fact – the sad, the abused, the once proud, the still almost-alright-if-you-ignored-that-stain. Some of them, designed to seat two people, were so mean in their proportions that they were little bigger than a chair. Then something really good turned up (a few weeks back there was a Danish-modern couch) but it was too large for the room.
Douglas’ edict was that the couch should have bare legs, so it went with the vaguely modernist look of the room. If our front bedroom is where my early 19th century neoclassical furniture had washed up, our bedroom is where Douglas’ modernist pieces reside. This includes his Curvesse’ Chair, the beautiful to look at but uncomfortable to sit on, Garth Chester masterpiece.
Then, a semi-fabulous couch and two chairs turned up at the auction, covered in blue Sanderson floral linen. It was clearly a couch that had come from an estate sale – something well preserved from a grandmother’s not too often used front room somewhere. The legs were not bare but it had a plump, come-and-sit-on-me, come hither look and enough space for two and the inevitable cat.
We would be away at the wonderfully weird Putaruru Hotel (about which Douglas will be writing in the magazine Home) when the auction was happening and so he left a relatively high book bid of $320. (Anyone who has bought a couch brand new will be rolling on the floor laughing till tears come out of their eyes at the thought this could be a ‘high bid’ for what is a three piece suite).
Amazingly we didn’t get the usual heart-warming text saying we were victorious. The plot grew thicker. Douglas enquired and was told it had gone for the astounding price of $800 – the sort of price which leads to pin-drop silence down the road. Douglas found out that two sides of the ‘estate’ family had bid against each other without the other side knowing.
This little vignette of inter family dynamics conjured an interesting picture that had a certain amusement value – and we knew that another couch would come along so we didn’t worry too much.
As it happens the couch found its way back into the next week’s sale. This time we were bidding in the room, and we got it for $300. I’m still confused why, if the family wanted it, they didn’t bid for it a second time – embarrassment perhaps.
It was delivered the next day.
The couch is an excellent fit for the room and very comfortable indeed. The strange grandmotherly covering with its blue background and cozy floral bouquets goes well with the slightly icy green walls and even with the somewhat strange Juliet Peter painting – My Thoughts on Vietnam – in front of which it sits. (This is one of Douglas’s recent modernist purchases – and décor-wise it is all right to match couch and painting as long as you buy the painting first).
We were never intending to keep the two armchairs but got them brought up to the house because if the couch was too big, then we would experiment with two chairs positioned next to each other. However the couch fits so the chairs are superfluous.
Douglas, ever inquisitive when it comes to items of furniture, had even at the auction house looked under the seemingly very expensive oh-so-Hawke’s Bay Sanderson linen covers – and what could be seen of the original moquette coverings seemed pretty good. We decide to take off one of the slipcovers and expose the entire chair.
This in itself was a lesson – the covers had been made pre the invention of Velcro and were put together with little hooks and eyes – beautifully done. Usually slipcovers are used to hide crimes – the crime in this case was not excessive wear but décor crime. The original covering were intact and in very good shape but had simply fallen from fashion sometime in the 1950s or 1960s and the suite been revamped with the linen covers.
I wonder if this original couch might have been great grandmothers and the blue version grandmothers – this might explain the family’s interest.
Fashions being cyclical – to our eyes the original coverings were rather beautiful; especially as a more 1920s shape of the chair itself was also revealed. Better still, they have been out of the light and the colours although more muted than they would have been new were quite spectacular. The plan is to send these two chairs – now fresh to the market – back to the auction houses as ‘two art deco chairs’ – watch this space.
There is a little postscript here. The arms of these chairs have those protective linen coverings which grandparents like. The linen had a little soiled where the hands rest. I asked my close friend Shonagh Koea who is the oracle of household tips and she told me the best way to wash Sanderson linen is in cold water with sunlight soap. As I write this they are drying in the Hawke’s Bay sun – inside out of course to prevent fading – and the cats are curled up asleep on their new couch.