What do armless sofas, Edison lightbulbs and Marcel Breuer’s strappy Wassily chair have in common? They are all, according to designers in an article in WSJ this month, as impractical as they are ubiquitous. Some have even achieved icon status, despite the dearth of comfort they deliver. “As designers, we can make anything beautiful, but if it’s not functional, what’s the point?” said Kendra Nash, an interiors pro in San Carlos, Calif.
(Cut to Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” character struggling to perch on a futuristic seat so reductivist, he falls to the floor.)
If you have fixated on the look of blinding exposed lightbulbs, for example, we encourage you to open your minds to a lamp with a minimal or even frosted-glass shade to help diffuse the light instead.
We believe beautifully sculptural yet uncomfortable chairs should function only as short-term seating, confined to, say, an entryway. At the very least, add a cushion.
Here, seven pieces that make design pros shake their heads but that they see again and again in peoples’ homes—plus suggestions for what to buy instead.
The Hans J. Wegner Flag Halyard Chair
This chair is a beautiful sculptural piece and definitely makes a statement. But unless you’re going to lounge in a reclined position, it’s not going to get a lot of use. A great option to use instead is the Knoll Womb Chair and Ottoman, which is comfortable enough for lounging but also upright enough that when used without the ottoman, you can easily sit, have drinks, talk.” —Juliette Calaf, designer, Miami
Farmhouse-Style Dining Benches
“These are something I see quite often and consider very impractical. If the person in the middle has to get up, one of the other two also has to get up. They are also very uncomfortable, with no back support, and rarely have cushions. There are so many low-profile dining chairs available that practically tuck in under your dining table. They provide back support and are much more comfortable than one of these benches.” —Nina Magon, designer, Houston
In high-traffic areas get beat up, show every flaw—they just aren’t practical. Matte painted finishes are a great alternative and hold up so much better over time, but if you’re really set on a lacquered finish, try it on a table base rather than the top.” —Sara Hillery, designer, Richmond, Va.
Uncomfortable, hard plastic that instantly shows condensation from a sweaty back or backside. If you’re looking for the fun and reflection Lucite provides, we recommend a drink table or something else you don’t need to sit on.” —Kendra Nash, designer, San Carlos, Calif.
Chairs in a living room without upholstery on the seat like the Eames Molded Plywood lounge chair. Chairs can be comfortable and chic (even architectural!) at the same time.” —Melissa Warner Rothblum, designer, Los Angeles
The clock starts ticking when you sit in a chair without any seat upholstery—eventually no matter how pretty it is, it gets uncomfortable.”
“While chic and a great way to add color in a room, poufs are totally impractical. Who wants to sit on a mushroom stump in someone’s living room when you’re in a skirt and heels if you are a day over 40? Sometimes they are the perfect way to fill up a space and round out a living room, but I would add something unexpected instead like a great midcentury bench or painted Gustavian piece that you feel more comfortable sitting on without your butt hanging out.” —Susan Taylor, designer, Los Angeles
It feels like you are sitting in the dunce seat.
“I love tufted sofas like chesterfields, but they are very uncomfortable unless you like a very firm seat. Since they’re tufted everywhere, there is no give. If you insist on a chesterfield, opt for a tufted style with loose back cushions and an untufted seat.” —Sarah Stacey, designer, Austin
We love the look of an armless sofa, and they take up less room, are easy to move, and more affordable than their bigger siblings. Add extra back cushions which you can position as desired.
The downside? With no armrest to rest your arm or head, they can be less comfortable to curl into at the end of each day.
*This is an edited excerpt from a story that first appeared in Wall Street Journal.