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Soft Furniture Hard to Ignore

Los Angeles — Whether filled with beads or foam, soft furniture is positioning itself as an alternative to traditional chairs and sofas as it moves up the value chain and beyond the juvenile realm.

Some vendors of non-furniture products also are looking to the category for alternatives: new distribution channels. Sleep Innovations, Hudson Industries and Mogu are among vendors offering soft furniture.

Virginia-based Hudson Industries acquired Gold Medal, a producer of soft beanbags, about 10 years ago. The company's sueded beanbag retails between $69 and $139 in sizes ranging from 84-inch to 128-inch circumference.

Traditionally a player in the specialty therapeutic pillows and pads business, Hudson acquired Gold Medal “to take the beanbag thing upscale and not service the low end,” said Lonnie Scheps, vice president of sales and marketing. Preferring instead to manufacture an American-made, more fashionable product targeted to teenagers and adults, he said that Hudson decided to cover its polystyrene-pellet-filled chairs and loungers with microfiber. “That made all the difference,” Scheps said.

Also, he said, using polystyrene, which tends to hold its shape, rather than Styrofoam, which can flatten over time, added to the products' quality. Gold Medal products are found in airline-carried Skymall magazines, and, according to Scheps, are the only products of their type carried in JCPenney stores, catalogs and Web site.

Sleep Innovations has entered a licensing agreement with The LoveSac Corporation that makes it the exclusive manufacturer and retail distributor for the product.

Salt Lake City-based LoveSac's foam-filled sacs are similar in shape to traditional beanbags, but feature removable and washable covers in fabrics including microsuede, velvet and fur. The company's Original Oversized Sac has been used on several television programs and is owned by a number of celebrities.

Sleep Innovations will expand the brand into traditional sleep products, including pillows, mattress toppers and accessories.

Mogu, a manufacturer of bead-filled, squishy pillows, also is branching out into soft furniture, with plans to move more aggressively on that front in 2005.

An older hand in the business is Fun Furnishings, based here. The company was founded 11 years ago by Laura Lind, who couldn't find “reasonably priced, nice looking quality furniture for kids — something that was a step up from the low end of the market.”

Lind used high-density foam to construct the company's “little soft sleeper,” noting that there is not a lot of air in the upholstery-grade, fabric-covered product.

The sleeper (retail starts at $150) and companion chair (retail starts at $130) are placed in national children's catalogs and over 200 independent juvenile furniture retailers, while also finding an outlet on Target's Web site.

So, what has made the retro beanbag genre fashionable again? Making the old new, said Hudson Industries' Scheps. “What is interesting is that anything with a trendy curve can end unless you give it a twist or tweak, so we went upscale, made it more basic and brought in appealing and functional fabrics,” he said.

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