There's a piece making the rounds lately about a terrible couch from West Elm. The notion of the article is, here's this hip $1,200 couch—the "Peggy"—that folks are buying in their late 20s when they want to move up from Craigslist finds or Ikea offerings, but really it's terrible and breaks right away; and that lots of people have had this experience. So I don't really care about that, but there was one thing in the article that really got my attention:
I went into two different West Elm stores and asked patient employees what they thought of the Peggy and if they would recommend it to somebody. ... In both cases, I asked what the expected lifespan is for a West Elm couch like the Peggy. Both store employees told me that between one and three years was normal for a couch with light use.
We're thinking a lot about our own couches here. The couch and big chair that we bought when we moved into this house are ten years old, and the dog has loved being on them for nine and a half of those years; not to mention the three kids when they came along, the two of us, and countless visitors. There have been many pillow forts. And yet I'm dismayed and disappointed that the covers are getting threadbare and are suffering lots of little holes (and a couple gigantic ones). And our other couch? My parents got that one when I was a baby. Sure, it's been reupholstered once and has a slipcover on it now, but it's still hanging on.
Talking to some other folks about my reaction to the West Elm article, I was gratified to hear that they too thought one to three years was unreasonable—but I think the majority view even among sensible people of my acquaintance is that you shouldn't expect much more than five. I just don't know what to do with that. I was thinking about furniture a while ago (just after we started our epic, house-wide furniture-moving project—still in its middle stages today) and it occurred to me that couches are a pretty new invention, relatively speaking. At least for the common folks, a couple chairs around the stove would be all you could look for by way of relaxing seating. Maybe a rocker. Wooden chairs last longer than five years, I believe.
Generally, I admit I'm too ready to believe that, since I obtained a thing once, I should be free from having to do so again. Shoes, for example, need to be replaced with some regularity, it turns out. Jeans. Socks. But I don't think it's unreasonable of me to expect twenty years out of my couches. The money is bad enough—even worse is the trouble and effort of actually managing the replacement! And what happens to the old couches? Landfill? They're not getting sold on Craigslist, if they're breaking down after one to three years!
Clearly, many people are still making solid, reputable couches, so I shouldn't overreact to this one failure of common sense. But West Elm also sold a lot of Peggys, so. Modern culture is weird.