Have you been as perplexed as I was, searching the web for an affordable eco-friendly sofa, only to discover that the pricing is way beyond your budget? There’s something wrong with the fact that trying to do the right thing for your family and the planet is carrying an average price tag of $5000+ for this most basic piece of home furnishings.
Conventional couches are treated with extremely hazardous chemicals, and for years, I have wanted to replace mine but simply could not afford even the least expensive green sofas being offered for sale in the United States. This article has been a long time in coming and represents many hours of research and work on my part. It’s my sincere hope that my assemble-it-yourself organic sofa is going to solve your problems by offering you a solution that many more families will find more reasonable to save up for. For less than $2000, I put together an incredibly comfortable, beautiful organic sofa and I’m going to show you exactly how I did it!
The Zen Of Sofas
For starters, let’s consider what couches are for. This may seem a little obvious, but stick with me here and take a look at your current sofa. You will see that a comfortable seat is comprised of some type of frame enclosing a set of springs or other bouncy material and this is topped with a relatively thin cushion. Finally, the sides and back of the seating are padded or cushioned in some way for the support of your back and arms.
When I realized that my family could not afford a ready-made green sofa, the question I asked myself was whether I could replicate this arrangement of frame/spring/cushioning. I hit upon the idea of a simple wood frame that I could make cushions for. I love plain wood furniture and this would resolve the potential hardship of my having to upholster an entire couch myself. The cushions could offer the softness that the wood frame wouldn’t provide. Unfortunately, we don’t have a carpenter in the family, and so I began by trying to find a local professional who might be able to build me a simple, boxy wood frame. Some of them might have been able to, but not one of them had the skills to create the springy-ness that would need to be embedded in the seat part of the frame so that my cushions would be sitting on something other than hard, unyielding wood (not very comfortable!). For awhile, I was really nonplussed about this.
I found the solution to my problems at a local furniture store in the form of a plain, solid oak daybed. The Mission-style wood frame houses a springy seat bed secured with coils. If you have Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS), this might be the one part of the project that will be most challenging for you. I don’t know what kinds of glues were used to make the daybed I found, and so your search for a safe, completely chem-free daybed will require more work, but it will definitely be worth finding if you can, because every other part of the project will go like clockwork for you once you do. You may need to find a woodworker who can make a custom frame for you.
I was able to go with a ready-made one, having decided that the reduction in chemical exposure that would be accomplished by all-organic cushioning would make my couch about a million times safer than almost anything else out there on the market.
And now, for that luxurious softness!
The most important part of any couch is the part you sit on, and my wonderful new couch owes its seat to an organic, vegan mattress made up of layers of springs, non-toxic real rubber latex and organic cotton batting sewed up in an organic cotton cover. Due to fire laws in my state, I had to have my doctor write me a note excluding the use of wool (which isn’t vegan) and fire retardant (which is carcinogenic) in my custom-made mattress. The mattress is like a dream! A cloud of softness. Trust me, you will never have sat on a couch as fabulously comfortable as this one.
The typical daybed is made to hold a twin mattress (about 39″ x 75″). Fast-forward through some puzzling math calculations and I discovered that King Size bed pillows would fill up the back and sides of the couch almost perfectly, forming rests for my back and arms. I purchased 6 organic cotton King Pillows. I spend a lot of time sitting long-wise on my couch and wanted the end pillows to be twice as cushion-y. So, that’s 2 pillows along the back of the couch and 2 on each end.
The Designer In You
Now that these basic components of frame, springy seat and soft side and back cushions had been seen to, I got to turn to the fun part – the design! While my own home is very simply furnished, I have always enjoyed looking at books on interior design, and my two most favorite styles of design and architecture are American Southwestern and Scandinavian (interestingly, an accurate reflection of much of my own heritage, as well).
What I realized in looking over various design books is that both Southwestern and Scandinavian home decor frequently features furniture items like day beds, old trundle beds and benches that have been converted into beautiful, unusual sofas. All of a sudden, my project seemed really classic!
My next task was to figure out what kinds of fabrics I wanted to use and this is such an important step because it is the feature of the couch that will stand out most. The seat of the couch warrants real, heavy upholstery fabric because it gets the most wear. The side and back cushions can be done with a more delicate textile. The only problem was, I couldn’t find any ready-made organic fabric out there that suited my tastes.
The majority of the very limited number of design houses manufacturing organics have gone with that mod 60′s look, and that just isn’t me. I wanted special colors, special patterns, and that’s when I discovered a company that has literally opened up a whole new world for me.
If you love to sew and you want to sew with organics, you will be so excited about Spoonflower.com, a company that allows you to DESIGN YOUR OWN FABRIC and has several ORGANIC fabric options. I could hardly believe it! Now I could have exactly the fabric I wanted for my side and back pillows and my color palette could be anything I chose.
I decided to go with a Southwestern color palette (earth brown, coppery terracotta and turquoise accents) and with a naturalist theme that would be at home in any Scandinavian summer cabin, though with a North American twist. Using pen and ink, Adobe Photoshop and Spoonflower’s services, I created a fabric featuring woodpeckers, sapsuckers and tree trunks in a silhouette, white-on-copper palette. For birding aficionados, I’ve even got the mysterious Ivory-billed Woodpecker in there. Birds and trees have got to be some of the dearest things on our good Earth to me, and I decided my couch could reflect this, making my home furnishing very authentic to my family’s personality.
To keep costs low, I purchased plain earth brown organic cotton from another shop for the backs of the pillows, using my luxurious organic cotton sateen Spoonflower fabric just for the fronts. The heavy-duty basketweave organic cotton upholstery for the mattress cover was a big investment, purchased from yet another company, and it will stand up to years of use.
To complete the picture, a couple of throw pillows, made of pale turquoise organic cotton sateen and remnants of the woodpecker fabric, and stuffed with organic cotton stuffing lend that bright touch that speaks to me of clear skies on lovely days. The fronts of the organic throw pillows are done with hand-pieced quilting in the monkey wrench design – a symbol I’ve always theorized resulted from encounters with Native American arts.
A Small Adjustment
The height from floor to the top of the seat of a typical couch is about 17-20″. The thing about the daybed-frame/mattress combo is that the seat ended up being way too high off the ground. My solution to this was to go down the road to a local woodworker who obligingly shortened the legs of my daybed for me to the tune of just $15. All he had to do was make 4 quick cuts and the whole piece of furniture was then the correct height for comfortable sitting.
Where I Got My Materials And Exactly What They Cost
Custom Organic Vegan Mattress: The Natural Mattress Store
Organic Cotton Upholstery Fabric For Mattress: Harts Fabric
Organic Cotton Throw Pillow Stuffing: Compostable Goods
Organic Cotton King Pillows: Organic Textiles
Custom Designed Organic Fabric For Fronts Of King Pillows: Spoonflower
Solid Organic Fabric For Backs Of King Pillows: Fabric.com
Organic Cotton Throw Pillow Fabric: Near Sea Naturals
Pillow Stuffing $25.50
Upholstery Fabric for Mattress $181.45
6 King Pillows $239.85
Custom Fabric $72.90
Backing Fabric $20.00
Throw Pillow Fabric $12.00
Day Bed $489.41
Day Bed Carpentry $15.00
*Purchase of daybed and quick carpentry to legs were done at local shops. You can find a daybed at just about any local furniture store.
*I didn’t have to buy scissors or thread or pins. I already had those in my sewing box so the cost of such items is not included in the total.
How Much Fabric Will You Need
It took 5 1/2 yards of upholstery fabric to cover the mattress. I did this as simply as possible, like wrapping a gift box. I cut the fabric into two pieces, laid one on the floor, put the mattress on top of it and then laid the second piece of fabric on top of the mattress. I then folded the fabric, just as you would wrapping paper and whip stitched all around it. For the large back and side pillows, I ordered 3 yds. of the plain brown cotton and 3 yds. of the custom woodpecker fabric. This was exactly enough. The two throw pillows required less than 1 yard of the turquoise fabric.
Could You Replicate This Project For Less?
Yes, I believe you could. The major investments in this project were the mattress, the daybed, the organic king pillows and the upholstery fabric. One item that I think you could likely find a better deal on is the daybed itself. Mine is a bit expensive at $489, but I was just so glad to find the solution to my whole framing needs at a local shop, I decided to pay this price and support a local business. However, I’m betting you could get one for as much as a couple of hundred dollars less, and you might even be able to find something really cheap used. Just make sure it’s in good shape.
The mattress and pillows are not going to come much cheaper. Organic mattresses are expensive and that’s the bottom line. I was so happy that I could find a really reputable, caring company to custom make a vegan model for me, with my doctor’s note. I do recommend that you check out the shop I linked to. They really know what they are doing. I was very lucky to find a deal on the organic king pillows. I needed six of them and considering that most organic pillows run around $80-$160 apiece, I was really excited to encounter a two-for-one deal at the above vendor’s Amazon.com storefront, associated with their website. $239 for 6 big organic pillows is actually a steal, given current market pricing. I was especially excited about these pillows, which have an organic cotton cover and are filled with USA grown organic cotton. Very nice!
The fabric situation is another one where there is definitely some pricing leeway. Organic upholstery fabric (for that matter any kind of upholstery fabric) is going to be expensive, running $20-$40 per yard. You may be able to find a sale happening and luck out, significantly decreasing your investment for the 5 1/2 yds. it will take to cover a twin sized mattress.
Additionally, I didn’t have to use custom made fabric for the fronts of the big king cushions. I could have found the cheapest, ready-made organic fabric and gone with that. You can find some solid organic cotton fabrics for around $10/yd., sometimes less, so if you don’t need to be as artistic in creating your safe, organic couch, you could lower the overall price tag in this way. You might be able to make your own organic sofa for something more like $1500 if you find good deals. In any case, you will be spending a fraction of the amount that you would for pretty much any ready-made organic couch on the market.
But Will It Feel And Look Like A Bed Instead Of A Couch?
Back to the ‘zen of sofas’, remember that a couch can be anything you want it to, so long as it meets the basic requirement of providing comfortable seating. I think the alternative, creative approaches to couches taken in Scandinavia and the Southwest are actually miles more stylish that the big lumps of bulky upholstery sitting in most conventional furniture stores.
However, I think it’s really interesting that once I got my organic sofa all assembled, the actual seating area and overall size of the furniture piece is almost the same as that of the traditional couch we had before. The back pillows take up the space that the back of the old upholstered couch did and the seat is just a few inches deeper from front to back (which is actually extremely comfortable and luxurious, letting both you and your spouse put your feet up at the end of a long day farming!).
I also think the fabrics you choose will determine whether your organic sofa looks bed-ish or couch-ish. In the shop where we bought the daybed, it was being displayed with many pastel, fluffly, flowery chintz cushions. That made it look like a bed. My naturalist bird and tree design and color palette make this piece of furniture look completely different, and really not at all like a bed.
How Comfortable Is This Wonderful, Affordable Organic Sofa?
Think of it this way – you can get pretty cozy on a nice couch, but it’s to the mattress that all of us retire for sleep. With the daybed solution, and a really awesome organic mattress, you have the ultimate comfort of a bed every time you sit down. Choosing the correct firmness of mattress is important here. Ours is about medium-firm and it offers some give without letting us sink way down, which wouldn’t be comfortable for sitting. Doubling up the king-sized pillows where you rest your back most often is also, I think, important for giving you enough cushion-y support. You might decide to buy 8 pillows instead of 6 if you want equal support on the back and arms of the couch. Because we tend to sit sideways 90% of the time on our couch, we really only needed this on the arms.
The Form And Function Ideals of America’s Arts & Crafts Era
A couple of decades into the 20th century, people began rebelling against the cluttered, overdone fluffiness of Victorian-era home design and decor. Architects and designers decided to go back to the basics of creating a human living space by asking themselves questions like, “what is a chair for, what is a lamp for, what is a table for?”
Out of this thought came the Arts & Crafts movement which resulted in some of the most beautiful, functional homes and furniture ever created in this country. By using the simplest possible lines and the best available materials, rooms were re-invented as real living places rather than show-piece parlors in which few people enjoyed spending real time.
I think we’re in a similar, though somewhat different, fix now in the first decades of the 21st century. We work like crazy to earn money, but what we can get for our dough is of depressingly poor quality. Flimsy particle board furniture swathed in chemical-laden synthetic fabrics? Why should our hard-earned cash result in nothing better than this for our home and our family?
Here at VeganReader, we initiated the Reskills column to help get Americans thinking about how they can start doing for themselves again, just as our forebears did. Whether you are growing your own food, sewing your own clothes or coming up with your own non-toxic furniture solutions, chances are, you will end up with far better goods than you could buy anywhere. The downgrading in overall quality of goods available on the American market today is pretty epidemic, and American homes are filled with shoddy, toxic products. Even the homes of the very wealthy are filled with polyester! In my eyes, this warrants a re-thinking of how we budget for what we really need.
I would rather save up to be able to create an organic couch than to purchase the newest in entertainment systems. I really need to be able to sit down – I don’t need a new TV/DVD/Blu-ray/Stereo/iPod/whatever. By prioritizing my family’s needs, we were able to budget for and accomplish something that is absolutely essential to the comfort of our home while cutting down on possible toxins in our home environment, as well as on our home planet. It took quite a bit more effort to figure out how to do this than it would have if I’d just plunked down the money for a conventional, ready-made couch, but I rejoice that I had the chance to make a considered personal choice about this. This choice feels good to me, and I so hope that the time and research I put into this project will make your own decisions and work a lot easier to accomplish. I’m hoping you can take my idea and personalize it with your own fabrics and tastes so that the most comfortable seat in the house is in keeping with your family’s unique style.
A small and cozy revolution, just in a new way of thinking about couches? Could be.