Small People, Gargantuan Furniture

I was spending the afternoon with my good friend Donna.  We had nothing in mind except for having a little mindless fun.

As we drove along a street in a heavily commercial Austin neighborhood, I noticed a store I hadn’t been to in more than a decade.  An expensive furniture store that was having a big sale.  Sold!  I veered the car into the parking lot and Donna and I went in.

All the sale merchandise was lined up on the parking-lot level, decorated with big discount signs.  We wandered around aimlessly, weaving a path through couches and end tables and lamps, strewn carpets and large vases.  Salespeople were gathered there with big, cheery smiles on their faces, but it was late and the day was hot.  They were also fanning their faces with some of the discount fliers.

“You see anything you like?” I asked Donna.  Of course, she didn’t and neither did I; we were the salespeople’s basic nightmare — bored and haphazard gawkers who kept our purses closed.

But we were already there, unloaded from the car, so we went inside the store — up flight after flight of stairs, all carpeted in heavy oriental designs.  That was when I first understood what I’d missed in my 10 years’ absence from furniture stores: Furniture has grown alarmingly in the past decade.

Couches were as big as tennis courts — massive, in fact.  You could put an entire kindergarten class on any one of them and the kids would disappear into the folds.  Beds, too, were massive — so tall, you’d need a ladder to get onto one, so broad you could roll over and over for days before you fell off the other side (the old kingsized bed has now become the California king, it seems).  One immense number, composed of two queen beds, could have served a whole slew of sister wives.

Every horizontal surface teemed with pillows and cushions (which made me think of my husband, a man with a vendetta against multiple pillows.  This has become a stress factor, given there is no way you can have a house staged and on the market without investing in an armada of pillows.  “I hate pillows!” my husband screams at least once a day, hurling an armful of them across the room.)

Donna and I traipsed up and down stairs, pushed through endless “bedrooms” and “family rooms” and “dining rooms.”  The more I looked, the smaller I felt.  I’d come into the store a normal size, and 20 minutes later, I’d begun to feel tiny.  Could that be the point?  Could today’s furniture on steroids be addressing this country’s little image problem with our obesity epidemic?

“Who buys this stuff?” I kept asking Donna, who continued to tell me it was bought by interior decorators with unlimited budgets for homeowners with McMansions to fill.  By this time, she and I had taken to poking each other and giggling as incoherently as two small children.  What can you do but act immaturely when the world makes you feel tiny?

We traced our steps back to the parking garage, where the discounted furniture languished and the salespeople looked up hopefully.  Every step closer to the car, I felt myself growing taller and more normal-sized.  Goodbye to munchkin status.  I was ready to rejoin the real world.

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read one of my favorite rants about how the capitalization of a certain profession is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!

9 comments… add one
  • Thanks for making me laugh out loud over your husband and the vendetta against pillows. I needed that. So much!

  • Steve Link

    Tell James that he is not alone; perhaps we can have a pillow toss-off sometime. We have SEVEN pillows on the bed in the master bedroom, NONE of which are the pillows we actually sleep on.

    The size of sofas in the furniture stores is why in 2010 (much to my spouse’s chagrin) we have the same, simple tuxedo sofa we bought in 1975. It’s on it’s fourth reupholstery. The manufacturers simply don’t make what used to be a “normal” sized sofa and haven’t for years. Each time the sofa reaches the need for replacement or reupholstery, I obligingly shop with the bride. But sitting on each new one on the showroom floor, I feel like the Lily Tomlin’s Edith Ann sitting on the oversized chair. The only exception was the $6,000 Henredon sectional we found, during the most recent decennial outing, at the furniture outlet in San Marcos–reduced from it’s $11,000 original price. Like I was going to pay six large for a SOFA!

  • What a fun post! Reminds me of my last furniture purchase. Sven was determined to have a leather couch in my victorian house in Cambridge. He found one he liked at CostCo ten years ago. We went up to the city for the delivery. The delivery truck arrived. The couch was wheeled down the ramp. We carried it up the steps and into the front hall. That was when we realized it was too big to get in the front door. Ugh! Fortunately Sven is a handyman, so he took the door frame down and we managed to succeed in brining the couch in. There it still sits. And, it’s not going anywhere. I have noticed since then that new items in furniture stores are made for giants. No way any of it fits in Victorian homes with windy staircases. What are the manufacturers thinking? I think you are right. These items are made with decorators and McMansions in mind.

  • Cindy A Link

    Ha. I would recognize the “flights and flights of stairs” anywhere. And felt exactly the same the last time I was in Louis Shanks. Our den is oblong and there was no way a Paul Bunyan couch would look good in there. Also, I was afraid I would be among the odd coins and combs and dog toys found under the cushions at spring cleaning.

  • I live in a tiny little cottage. While sometimes I crave a bit more room to move, less is often more.

    What many Americans who live in McMansions seem to do is fill their lives with over-sized stuff and endless clutter and then run with checkbook in hand to folks who make a handsome living helping them to weed out the excess. Crazy!

  • Ruth, I didn’t know you were a fantasy writer. I love this post.

    So, Alice’s Wonderland was really a furniture store. Who knew?

    Tell your husband you’ve learned the reason for tons of throw pillows. They fill in acreage on today’s sofas so you don’t start a chain of echoes when you cross your legs while sitting on one.

    And those vast beds! You could buy one, declare it a nation, apply to the U.N. for aid, and beat recession.

    ***Steve: $11,000 for a sofa? Did it have wheels? Four-on-the-floor?

  • Steve Link

    Winston: My thoughts exactly. I am old enough (and cheap enough) to have paid hundreds–rather than thousands or tens of thousands–for a car. The original price on the sectional was the purchase price of my parent’s home.

  • I HATE/LOATH all that gigantic furniture! I am petite, really short/small, and feel like a midget in most modern furniture stores. Live in a modest cottage-style 40s home, which cannot accomodate monstrous furniture.

    Several months ago, I was searching for a sofar to put in my den. Looked everywhere, overwhelmed with the big sofas. But when I was at a thrift shop, I found an older sofa (70s) in excellent condition. Bought it for $25.00 and it was even delivered FREE. I love it, and have a smallish glider rocker (70s) that’s perfect for me. I call my den the ‘midget’ room, no men allowed — just for myself & my petite sisters (I’m a widow, live alone). My formal living room has larger furniture, BUT still not the gigantic stuff. Heck, even on that furniture my feet won’t touch the floor when I’m sitting on it!

  • Wayne Link

    I recently began looking for new furniture for my family room and I am really frustrated. I am 5’6″, 160 lbs.. I would love to find a three cushion sofa in the 70″ to 72″ range. A love seat around the 52″ range and a chair no wider than 30″. IMPOSSIBLE. Nobody makes them. I can’t believe no-one is filling an obvious market for these products.

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