Good Bones, Great Pieces

Good Bones, Great Pieces

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781613124758
Publisher: ABRAMS Books
Publication date: 09/01/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 464,057
File size: 17 MB
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About the Author

Suzanne and Lauren McGrath are a mother–daughter interior design team who operate the design blog Good Bones, Great Pieces. They live in New York City and Rye, New York.

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There's no other sofa capable of taking on quite as many roles as the love seat, and that's why we love it.

Not to pick favorites, but the love seat is probably our most beloved — no pun intended — multifunctional piece. We are both continuously attracted to its lovely proportions and its ability to "fit in" in almost any room. It's a classic rotatable piece that can be bought for a first apartment as the main seating option, be moved to your next home and paired with a bigger sofa in a larger living room, and it can sit at the foot of your bed once you get that spacious master bedroom you've been waiting for. Love seats are also fantastic when you're working with a large or oddly shaped living room where it's appropriate to create two or more separate seating areas. There's no other sofa capable of taking on quite as many roles as the love seat, and that's why we love it.

The very first love seats were made in the late seventeenth century — one of the first was known as the Knole settee, named after its first home, Knole, in Kent, England. In fact, modern reproductions of this piece are still being made today.

There is no right or wrong love seat for any room — because of its smaller dimensions, it is difficult to make a mistake. In fact, the love seat can be a great opportunity to bring in a daring shape or color that you might not want to commit to in a regular-size sofa. But a sofa of any size is always a big investment for your home, so it's important to choose one that is well made. Like any type of seating, you should try out the piece you're considering purchasing. Reupholstering can be expensive, so definitely take time to examine the piece closely to be sure that the basic construction is good. Are the seat cushions the perfect combination of soft down feathers and polyester Dacron? We like 50 percent polyester Dacron, 50 percent down, but this is a matter of personal taste (kind of like choosing the pillows you lay your head on at night). Is the seat cushion deep enough from front to back for you to sink into? Is the seat back pitched slightly backward to allow you to sit comfortably? Well-made love seats can range in price from $1,000 to $5,000 and up. Keep your eye out for sales — if you're going to buy a sofa at a retail store, you should never pay full price. Remember: Furniture goes on sale just like clothing.

In a first apartment, especially in New York City where space is at a premium, there's often only space for a love seat, a coffee table, and a small chair or bench. But just because your space is small doesn't mean you can't create the perfect living area. We see lots of spaces where oversize sofas are crammed into a tiny room, making the space appear even smaller than it is. In the wise words of legendary decorator Dorothy Draper: "A technical knowledge of architecture is not necessary to know that a huge stuffed leather chair in a tiny gold and cream room is ... as much out of proportion as the proverbial bull in the china shop" (Decorating Is Fun!, 1939). For pint- size apartments, less furniture is more, but it's all about scale. Before you go shopping for a love seat, measure the wall in front of which your sofa will be placed. Choose a wall that allows for two side tables at least twenty-two inches wide (each) on either side of the sofa. Including these pieces will ultimately make your love seat more functional. Remember: You don't have to buy a huge sofa just because it's your very first purchase for your very first space. Find a piece that suits the dimensions you're living in now. There will always be a place for the love seat in your future.

The most expensive thing we bought for Lauren's first apartment after she graduated from Bowdoin was the love seat (even though it was on sale). We went for the pretty gray ticking stripe because of its neutrality — yes, stripes and patterns can be neutral. What's more, the exposed wood legs have casters on them, making it easy to move the piece around a room. We're big fans of exposed legs on sofas for two reasons: They're easier to clean under than sofas with skirts, and they eliminate the possibility of the dreaded shoe-polish stains from men's and women's boots.

When you're young and constantly moving, love seats make getting up narrow hallways and around tight corners much easier than if you are hauling the average-size sofa. While decorating Lauren's first apartment, we made the mistake of not measuring width of the extremely narrow staircase to her new apartment before buying the love seat. On move-in day, after much pushing and pulling, we finally came to terms with the fact that the sofa was not going to make it up to the second floor — not by the stairs, that is. In a stroke of sheer genius — and with the help of her very friendly neighbors — we were able to bring the piece up through the adjacent brownstone and hoist it over the back terrace onto Lauren's. So, word to the wise: Make sure you not only measure the wall your piece will be going against, but also measure the width and height of every door and hallway it has to pass through to get to your apartment.

When decorating first apartments, we're almost always on a tight budget, so we usually spend the most money on the love seat or sofa to ensure that it will endure lots of wear and tear. In the living room of a friend's small apartment in the East Village, we chose an elegant Louis XVI–style love seat with uniquely small dimensions (fifty-one inches in width). This piece is a nice combination of materials with its plush seat cushions and elegant wood frame. Choosing a love seat with such classic lines allowed us to be more daring with some of the other choices we made in the room. One of the first pieces we found, a Lucite-framed reproduction of a Paule Marrot textile, became the launching pad for the space's color scheme. Any classically trained decorator will tell you to commit to a rug before you decide on any of the other elements in a room, but sometimes it's okay to start elsewhere if you're particularly inspired by a certain piece. For this room, the artwork took on the role of the carpet in dictating the colors and tone of the space.

While scrounging around in a local consignment store, we spotted a contemporary Warren Platner for Knoll–inspired coffee table for $175. It had been painted green by its previous owner, and we thought it provided a nice contrast to the traditional form of the love seat. This piece may not have cost a lot, but it adds so much to the space. To get around making the living area feel too table heavy, we chose a modern brass standing lamp for one side of the love seat.

In this apartment, there wasn't room for even a small chair without making the pint-size living room look jam- packed with furniture. To avoid this, we found an elegant tufted mid-century-modern bench with bamboo-style painted legs that seamlessly fits below the built-in bookshelves. Here, the bench takes up very little floor space while providing double the seating in this tiny alcove. This piece was a wonderful addition to the living space because two can sit on it comfortably when there's company, and when it's not in use, it can be tucked right under the bookshelves to maximize the usable space.


We like to re-cover sofas once the fabric starts to fade, but it's also nice to do it when you want to change the overall feel of a room. Upholstering a sofa is no easy task, and it's best left to professionals. Ask to see samples of reupholstered pieces or visit the workroom of the upholsterer you're considering working with. If you decide to invest in re-covering an old sofa, it's a good idea to refill or, if necessary, replace the seat cushions. This way, not only will your refurbished piece look good, it will feel good as well. If you'd rather purchase a new piece, you'll find that many retail furniture stores offer different in-house fabric options for upholstering their pieces. Alternatively, if you see COM (Customer's Own Material) displayed anywhere, the retailer allows you to use your own fabric instead of the one supplied by the furniture store. This is a great way to get a well-made, quality-guaranteed piece from a retailer with a more custom result.

1 DO YOUR HOMEWORK Verify the exact quantity of fabric you'll need with your upholsterer before you purchase. You don't want to buy more fabric than you need.

2 CHOOSE THE RIGHT FABRIC Use an upholstery-weight, unfussy fabric. This is the key to a long-lasting upholstered piece.

3 CHECK THE FABRIC WEARABILITY CODE (the industry's guidelines for determining the strength and best use for a fabric). The higher the number of "double rubs" a fabric can sustain, the more durable it is. More than 15,000 double rubs classifies a fabric as heavy duty.

Moving to a bigger space? The love seat acts as a great balancing piece in a larger living room where more seating options are necessary. In our house in Rye, New York, we created an intimate place for family and friends to gather by pairing a larger sofa with a small love seat. The curved tight-back French-style love seat, found at a closeout sale of custom upholstery, is covered in a white glazed cotton that makes it one of the most heavily rotated pieces in the house. This sofa has lived just about everywhere because of its neutral color, clean lines, and accommodating size.

One strategy when designing large rooms like this one is to keep all of the upholstered pieces in neutral, complementary colors and then add color with accessories like pillows, throws, rugs, and artwork. At the back of the room are two built-in bookshelves that present another opportunity to add color. Edith Wharton wrote in her 1897 book, The Decoration of Houses, "Those who really care for books are seldom content to restrict them to the library, for nothing adds more to the charm of a drawing room than a well-designed bookcase: an expanse of beautiful bindings is as decorative as a fine tapestry." We like to organize books — some vertically and others horizontally — with the largest books stacked horizontally at the bottom of the bookcase. Including a collection of interesting objects — ceramic pieces or wicker baskets or framed prints — adds an eclectic feel.

In this New York City apartment decorated by color-confident interior designer Miles Redd, a vibrant sapphire satin upholstered camelback love seat helps to create a seating area that is separate from the main one. This can be an especially effective technique when you're working with an oddly shaped room. "We didn't want the typical circle-around-the-fireplace plan in this long, skinny room," explains Redd. "Putting the sofa here at one side of the fireplace created a nook outside the hallway, but within the living room, for guests to perch on during cocktail parties. The homeowner loves to entertain and has a very doors-wide-open sensibility, so it was nice to have another seating area in the room without ruining the flow of the space."

The small-scale coffee table in front of the love seat is a perfect illustration of a balanced pairing of sofa and coffee table. As a general rule, the coffee table in front of your sofa should be slightly lower than your sofa, at a height of about twelve inches above the floor. This coffee table was a piece that Redd had not planned on including originally, but fell in love with as the project evolved. "I'm a big believer in having a floor plan; but great objects are what make a room beautiful rather than a very rigid map," explains Redd. "You have to be flexible if you find a piece you fall in love with."


1 BANG FOR YOUR BUCK. Pillows present a great opportunity to add a new texture or lux fabric into the mix. You may not be able to afford to upholster a large furniture piece in your fabric of choice, but you could certainly have a few special pillows made out of it.

2 ASYMMETRY IS THE NAME OF THE GAME. Place two pillows on one end of the sofa and one at the other. Using odd numbers of objects is a good general rule for accessorizing.

3 BIGGER ISN'T ALWAYS BETTER. Anything larger than twenty-four by twenty-four inches is probably going to overpower a sofa, especially a love seat.

4 LESS IS MORE. More than five pillows on a regular-size sofa or more than two on a love seat starts to make the piece look overcrowded.

In our house, we placed a pair of matching love seats (though they certainly don't have to match to work!) facing each other on either side of the fireplace. It's rare to find a pair of antique or vintage love seats, but when you do, it's a great excuse to create a living space around them. A small black and gold coffee table found at a consignment store is the perfect size to go in between. A pair of love seats also look chic pushed up against the walls on either side of a fireplace or on either side of a wide entranceway. When you have a pair, it's nice to have the option of setting them across from each other (as we have) or splitting them up and putting one in another room of your home. As you can see, there certainly isn't a shortage of places to put one.

A love seat in the bedroom is a great spot to read a book, drink your morning coffee, put on your shoes, or drape your clothes over for the next day.

We're always moving furniture around the house to create new arrangements with what we already have. So, when we've grown tired of using our pair of love seats in the living room, we'll bring one upstairs to the master bedroom and totally reconfigure the living room. The side tables on either side of the bed were found at a thrift store. We were initially attracted to their unique curved legs; it wasn't until we brought them home and inspected them that we realized they were made by Kroehler, a now defunct but once quite reputable American furniture maker. A couple of coats of BEHR Castle Path high-gloss paint later, our pair of side tables looked instantly modern and fresh. We chose to preserve the solid brass hardware, but changing out the hardware on an old piece can be a great way to give it a little extra personality.

The mini love seat at the foot of this five-year-old girl's bed was found by Miles Redd at an auction. He decided to leave the bright green upholstery because it was such a beautiful color. When these miniature furniture pieces turn up at house auctions and estate sales, they are always highly sought after because it's so difficult to find well- made upholstered children's furniture today. The zebra wallpaper is an archival Scalamandré print introduced in the 1940s; it was on the walls of the homeowner's favorite childhood restaurant, Gino (now closed), on the Upper East Side.

When we designed the dining room of this New York apartment, we knew that our client's post-college daughters would be living in it while working and attending graduate school so we wanted to create a space conducive to lots of fun dinner parties. The best recipe for a functional entertaining space is lots of seating. With eight chairs around the oval table, as well as this chic armless love seat, there's plenty of room for everyone. The settee is upholstered in an elegant damask (an ode to Fortuny but at a better price point) while the graphic, Greek-key pillows give the piece a modern edge.

Although the color scheme of the apartment is quite sedate, we took every opportunity to layer tints and shades of the predominant colors of beige, caramel, and brown. On the walls in the dining room, we chose an intense Farrow & Ball bisquit beige called Clunch, paired with our favorite creamy white Benjamin Moore trim color, Ivory White. To draw the eye up and highlight the architectural elements of the room, we painted the space between the cornice molding and ceiling Benjamin Moore Pale Oak. This is a great trick to make rooms feel bigger, and the ceilings higher.



When shopping for love seats, we tend to favor ones with a tight back. Too many loose cushions on a small sofa can look messy. The standard Louis XVI–style love seat is a foolproof form that looks good pretty much everywhere, while the reverse camelback (F) helps bring a new and unexpected shape into any room. The Bridgewater (D) is one of the most comfortable love-seat styles, as they are usually fairly deep. You can find some of the best love seats at antique warehouses, where they've often come from a custom upholstery shop or are one-offs designed by interior decorators. These are great pieces because they're well made but also unique.


Excerpted from "Good Bones, Great Pieces"
by .
Copyright © 2012 Suzanne and Lauren McGrath.
Excerpted by permission of Abrams Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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