Globe staffer Aruna Dutt is ready to upgrade her hand-me-down furniture for purchases that last. In this new shopping series, she asks experts to help her make buying decisions that are worth the investment.
When it comes to choosing accent chairs, confidence is everything for interior designer Jackie Kai Ellis.
“Design is an expression of how a person sees their space and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks,” says Ellis, a multihyphenate creative director, pastry chef and author.
Ellis quit her design firm job more than a decade ago to study pastry-making in Paris, eventually opening award-winning Vancouver pâtisserie Beaucoup Bakery & Café in 2012. Her bestselling book, The Measure of My Powers: A Memoir of Food, Misery, and Paris, details how she fell in love with the city, which she couldn’t stay away from for long. She now splits her life between Vancouver and Paris, where she renovated her dream Parisian space, Apartment Lafayette, renting it out for stays and photo shoots immersed in classic contemporary design.
Ellis loves using accent chairs as a “decorating device” and for a variety of functional purposes, whether as a tool to draw the eye and add freshness to a room or as a lounge chair in which to relax and drink your coffee on Sunday mornings. “They’re good at multitasking,” she says. But having recently moved to a bigger home, Ellis knows the struggle of buying new furniture while keeping a budget in mind. Here are her tips for finding what is aesthetically pleasing and functional for your space.
Don’t sacrifice comfort for style: “I commend people who are so committed to design that they choose uncomfortable things, but I don’t want to throw my space away. It’s better to have something functional that you hate to look at than something that you’ll never use.”
Only buy what you have room for: Having one chair in a smaller space, or two matching ones in a bigger space is tried and true, says Ellis. “One thing I don’t love is when you have a chair that is an unconsidered choice but takes up so much space in a room, and you don’t love it but it is now the focal point.”
For a small space: An accent chair isn’t the right way to maximize seating. “You’re better off getting a sectional, and using an ottoman as your coffee table.”
Use chairs as a pop of colour: “If you have a colour that’s dotted around the room, accent chairs are a great way to make a statement without painting.”
Big, small or no arms? “I would ask how much do the chair’s arms cut me off from the spaces around it. When something cuts you off it can make you feel cozy, but if it has very big arms, that becomes a block and cuts a visual flow from that space to the rest. Sometimes that’s not what we want in our daily lives, especially if the space is meant for gathering with people.”
Be mindful of location: Never place an accent chair in a spot where you’re never going to sit in it, or “where you feel like the bad kid in class,” says Ellis.
What are the best materials? Texture matters: “I go towards natural materials. There are great synthetics that feel like linen or cotton, and feel alive in some way, or synthetic woods or non-animal leathers, but I stay away from vinyl or latex.”
Where to buy: “Before I go to designer shops, the first place I look is second-hand. Especially if thinking about longevity, vintage pieces have already stood the test of time, and have a classic style that has always been beautiful and will continue to be. Try to find pieces that have good construction, don’t have veneers, that are solid wood, and don’t let fading upholstery deter you. Look at things that can be easily reupholstered.”
Here are Ellis’s picks for three price-points.
The budget chair
Cat’s Pajamas lounge chair, $550 at BLU Dot (bludot.com)
“Though it comes in many colour options, the combination of this tomato-orange, powder blue and men’s suit navy is sharp and eye-catching. The geometric design lends itself well to modern spaces in want of a pop of boldness,” says Ellis.
Best bang for buck chair
Nova lounge chair, $956 at Rove Concepts (roveconcepts.com)
“This is a perfect pint-sized lounger that feels like a chic design hotel lounge piece. It would be ideal for apartments while keeping the cushioned comfort of a larger lounger,” says Ellis.
The splurge chair
Herman Miller Eames molded fibreglass armchair, $1,058 at Gabriel Ross (grshop.com)
“This is a classic design that goes in and out of trends but never out of style,” says Ellis. “It’s an investment piece that will last the test of time, carried from home to home as we evolve our own personal styles. The resale values of these chairs are also very good, in case we change our minds.”