Saturday, December 31, 2016

Review: Joybird Soto Cushion Review & Mid-Century Chair Restoration


Because I know you're wondering - I was not compensated in any way, shape or form by Joybird or any of the other brands mentioned in this post. I have virtually no readership, so how the heck do you think I'd snag a sponsorship? Pfft.

You know, just another unexplained 9 month break in posts. No big deal. Carry on.

I started drafting this post back in April, but decided to revive it based on the popularity of my West Elm Jackson Sofa review. It would appear that there's a dearth of sincere mid-century inspired upholstery reviews in the dark and dangerous world known as the Interwebs, and over 2,000 curious sofa shoppers found their way to my last post. 

So, let's do it again, shall we? BAM! THE SEQUEL!

(Why, yes! That was a reference to a LSFYL from RuPaul's Drag Race. Thank you for noticing. Admit it, Sharon totally dominated that song.)

The Chair 

This all started with a humble, simple wish - I desperately wanted a wood-framed, mid-century modern living room chair. At that point in time, I could care less whether it was truly vintage or a replica. It just needed to look and feel right. I searched high and low, but couldn't find a thing that I liked for less than $600. West Elm's Mid-Century Show Wood Upholstered Chair seemed way overpriced at $800+ for any decent color options, and even Craigslist was failing me. It would seem that scoping out antiques in the Sacramento area is an increasingly tough game.

(Note: This was several months prior to the release of Cost Plus World Market's Xander armchair. It comes in a wide variety of colors and the price is right, so if you're still on the hunt for one of these - you're welcome.)

Luckily, the baby didn't roll off the sofa while I took this photo.
And so, I made a concession. I purchased an abused wood chair from an oblivious guy on Craigslist for about $300. I wish I'd snapped a decent photo, but I was (and remain) a busy working mom and in the holiday season while purchasing our first house. So this lousy shot will have to suffice...

See it? You probably notice is dull, deflated, depressingly taupe cushions. What you can't really make out in this photo is that the previous owner not only painted over the original wood grain, but coated it in glossy black lacquer. Not a good look. Oh, and pardon the baby. Getting him to nap back then was a chore and when it happened it called for a photo.

Shortly after we got settled into the new house, I decided to get to work. Luckily, the cushions weren't attached to the chair, so it was simply a matter of taking them off, popping out the support bands in the seat...

The naked chair. Not a good look.
...and then stripping, and then sanding, and then stripping and then sanding. Getting the poly coating off alone took several rounds of Citristrip and scraping. The gunk that resulted was absolutely foul and destroyed a tarp or two. After I got the bulk of the varnish off, I invested in a small sander and went to town. I think I went a little overboard in a few spots, most notably the arms, but the finished product still boasts a fair amount of the wood's original grain. 

I'd originally wanted to just finish the wood with teak oil, but the black varnish left a few irreparable stains. After quite a bit of hemming and hawing, I opted for Minwax's wood stain in Gunstock. In retrospect, I wish I'd chosen a slightly cooler tone, as it almost matches my floors, which are finished in Minwax's Colonial Maple. Nevertheless, the finished product was such a huge improvement upon where it had been just a few weeks before that it was impossible for me to be anything but satisfied.

Fifteen steps down. One to go.
But...those cushions. Yeah, they had to go. 

Which brought me to Joybird. I'd spent many an hour ogling their gorgeous furniture, both in my quest for the perfect sofa and for the perfect chair. My sofa purchase experience with West Elm turned out to be such a disappointment that I'd wished I'd just opted for the extra cost and gone with Joybird. (If I could do it all over again, I'd snag the Hopson Apartment Sectional in Dawson Brindle. Sigh.)

Since purchasing the chair, I'd honed in on the Soto Cushions & Covers but had been hesitating for number of reasons. Primarily the price. $200 for cushions seemed awfully steep, and I was still recovering from my sofa burn, which made me extra-skeptical of the "pet-friendly fabric" claim. Also, I wasn't sure the cushions would fit my chair correctly. After all, the cushions were designed to fit their products, not rescued and refurbished chair. 

So I passed the buck and asked my husband to get them for me for Valentine's Day. I figured that if I hated them, I could always pass some of the blame and shame onto him. 

I'm a horrible person. I know. And you've been waiting for a review. So here we go.

Look, Ma! New Joybird cushions!

Joybird Soto Cushions & Covers - Pros

Aesthetics -  4 out of 5

Yaaaaaaaas! So full, so plump, so well-formed. They truly transformed the chair. Though my refinishing helped, the cushions really made it scream "I was manufactured hella long ago!" once more. I do wish that the color were just a smidge more mustard rather than marigold. (In case you're wondering, I went with the Bentley Daisy fabric - more on that later.

Comfort -  4 out of 5 

The Joybird site says, "The well-stuffed cushion features an unbeatable blend of high density polyurethane foam that allows the seat to keep its shape through daily use, plus layers of fiber for added comfort." And yes, it's comfortable. It it the first place I want to sit when I walk into the room? Meh. Granted, that says more about the height of the chair than the cushions themselves. 

Durability -  5 out of 5 

In case you missed it, I opted for the Bentley fabric in Daisy. This fabric is described as "Bentley is a superior plush chenille-like fabric with a deeply striated texture. Yarn-dyed and densely woven to give a rich and substantial texture, Bentley provides the soft comfort of Chenille with exceptional durability." Now, if you'll recall, I've been burned on supposed "pet friendly" fabrics before, but Joybird does it right. Nine months later and there's not a cat scratch or a stain to be seen, which is remarkable as I was worried the textured fabric would be a magnet for cat claws. Also, the cushions have completely kept their shape. That polyurethane foam? Legit. I'm really, really impressed.

Joybird Soto Cushions & Covers - Cons

Price -  2.5 out of 5 

I'll admit it - $200 is steep for just cushions. While I definitely think that in this case the value lives up to the price, it may not by do-able for the average Millennial consumer. The entire Xander chair at Cost Plus is currently going for $249 - not a big jump from the cost of Joybird cushions. (It's also worth noting that the Soto cushions are currently on sale for $160 at Joybird.) If your scales are more tipped to short-term aesthetics vs. quality and durability, you might be better off seeking a cheaper alternative. For me, having cushions that could stand up to my upholstery-hungry cats was well worth the extra cost.

Time -  2 out of 5 

If you're used to waiting for custom-made pieces, 10 weeks is nothing. But in the age of Amazon Prime, the cost of craftsmanship can feel like a ridiculously long and painful wait. Order well in advance. Try to forget about it and then you'll be super surprised when they show up on your doorstep. And remember...

Aftermath and Conclusion

I'm pretty sure that my next sofa will be from Joybird.  Expensive? Kind of. But you know what's more expensive? Buying poor quality sofas from the usual suspects every three to five years when your seat cushions are pancakes and your cats have dug a hole into the lining in the bottom and built a cat kingdom inside your couch and are inviting the squirrels inside for diplomatic meetings. True story. The cat kingdom, not the squirrels. That I know of. 

Do your thing. Buy your cushions. Or don't. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Review: West Elm Jackson Sectional Sofa

I want to preface this post by pointing out that I rarely make purchasing mistakes. I conduct my research before making any major purchases, and I thought I did my due diligence before purchasing the Jackson Sofa from West Elm.

Unfortunately, in this case, I think made a mistake. And who can blame me? There are so few comprehensive West Elm furniture reviews out there. So I thought I'd contribute mine so that others don't make a similar mistake.

Let's rewind a bit, shall we?

The Quest for the Perfect Sofa

The Macy's Ava Metro Sofa after five years of heavy use.

Back in 2009, I purchased the Ava Metro Sofa from Macy's. Actually, my parents purchased it for me as a Christmas present, but I digress. At $699, it was my priciest piece of furniture, and would continue to hold that honor until June 2015, when I purchased the sofa that's the subject of this post. I prefer to buy vintage pieces, but sofas kinda need to be new.

Ava wasn't the most beautiful of couches, but she had one major thing going for her - durability.  She was structured and was constructed of that kind of strange microfiber fabric that showed every brush of a hand but could survive the nuclear holocaust. And considering we had two cats that exhibited rare but aggravating periods of destructiveness, we were grateful for her high performance and vowed to continue opting for non-woven microfiber or velvet fabrics in the future.

Okay, let's jump forward. Picture this - Sacramento, 2015. I'm nine months pregnant and in full-blown nesting mode. I just want a place to put up my feet during my maternity leave, and the chaise sectionals at West Elm, Crate and Barrel, Joybird, and CB2 are looking positively dreamy.

And then, it happens. West Elm has a sale.

I'd been eyeing the Peggy sectional for quite awhile, but with a price point of nearly $2,300 (pre-tax) in my fabric of choice, I was understandably hesitant. So when I saw that the the similarly-styled Jackson Sectional was listed at a mere $1,279 and was in available in the "high-performance" marled microfiber fabric, I just had to jump.

A family nap on Teddy's first full day home. The last time this has ever happened.

My son and the sofa were delivered within hours of each other on the hottest day of the year.  Needless to say, we definitely got some good use out of our new sofa in those first few months.  Now that both Teddy and the couch are over eight months old, I've had some time to compile my thoughts.

West Elm Jackson Sectional - Pros
  • Aesthetics -  3.5 / 5 I have to admit, this couch is pretty darn cute. It's got a slight mid-century vibe, but doesn't veer into kitsch territory, so it works well within a variety of decorating styles. The tufted pillows are surprisingly structured, and can be flipped and rotated easily. The seat and chaise cushions are not reversible, which causes some uneven wear, but this is due largely to the fact that the chaise itself can be configured to sit on the left or the right.
  • Comfort -  3.5 / 5 Pretty cushy. In fact, maybe a touch too cushy. I think it could use a tad more cushion structure. My only real complaint is that the chaise is about a foot too short. Notice how I had to curl up in the picture above?

  • Adaptability - 5 / 5 Holy moly is this ever a cool feature!  We had in configured in one direction in the old house, and then flipped it in the other direction once we moved.  Great for people like me who like to rearrange their living room every once in awhile.

  • Price - 3 / 5 Again, this ran (and continues to run) a lot cheaper than the Peggy.  And, to be honest, I think it's more comfortable. Would I say it's affordable? No. But it's at least somewhat comparable to similar chaise sectionals I've seen at Macy's or even Ikea.

    I'm glad I went with the cheaper sofa, because my issues are mainly with the fabric, which I'll get into in a second...

West Elm Jackson Sectional - Cons
West Elm's "high-performance" Marled Microfiber fabric.
  • Durability - 2/5 West Elm describes their Marled Microfiber fabric as follows:

    "High performance, low maintenance. As hardworking as it is welcoming, this light, heathered gray microfiber not only has a great marled texture, it also resists stains."
    So you'd expect such a high performance, hardworking fabric to be able to endure daily use, right?  Not so much. Though the marled microfiber is definitely stain resistant, it's less of a traditional microfiber and more of a tight weave. According to my research, microfiber typically consists of fibers less than 1/5 the diameter of a human hair. The fibers in West Elm's Marled Microfiber fabric are considerably thicker. If I were to guess by eyeing one of the frayed threads that have popped up, I would say it's close to 2 times the diameter of a human hair.

  • And guess what happens to weaves when exposed to high traffic? You guessed it - fraying and pilling.  Almost immediately.  And forget about having pets.  Anyone who knows cats knows that weaves, even tight ones, are cat claw magnets.  Hell, they make cat toys out of weaves. Had I known that West Elm's Marled Microfiber consisted of such thick fibers, I would have shelled out the extra dough for the Performance Velvet.

    Also, the seat cushion covers are already getting a big baggy.  They get pushed toward the front of the cushion, making the seam uneven.
  • Value and Longevity - 2.5 /5 Yes, I just listed the price as a pro. But value is the perceived benefits received divided by the perceived price paid. If I'm honest with myself, I can't see this sofa working for my family for more than another couple of years, and so what originally seemed like a reasonable price now feels exorbitant.  Remember, my $799 couch lasted me five years. For me, the value of the Jackson Sectional falls short.
Aftermath and Conclusion

I ended up contacting West Elm about the problem, and they provided me with a small amount of compensation for our trouble.  Still, I'm feeling a little down about the whole ordeal.

Sofas are tricky.  There are so many factors to consider when purchasing the bedrock of your living room. In the case of this purchase, I think I went against my better judgement and prioritized aesthetics and comfort over durability. Next time, I'll be sure to put a little more thought into the potential lifespan of a piece before shelling out the dough.

I'm not going to tell you that the Jackson Sectional isn't worth the money, because for you, it might be. Your lifestyle and needs might be vastly different from mine. But, in my case, the purchase was a dud.

May the upholstery fabric odds be ever in your favor.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

And we're back.

It's been over two years since I've updated, and what a two years it's been! Here are the CliffNotes of what you've missed...

1. Pregnancy
The road to expanding our family had a few bumps, so we were thrilled (and, let's be honest, terrified) when I discovered we were expecting right before the Thanksgiving holiday.

37 weeks and feeling fabulous.

Despite being warned that I'd be fat and perpetually sick, my pregnancy was legit amazing. If I could, I'd be pregnant all the time. I looked great, I felt great. Labor sucked, but I've been told that's a thing. Pro-tip: Don't eat a vending machine Hot Pocket immediately before being induced.

2. The Layoff
After months of rumors, the axe finally fell.  In early March, my team and I received news that we'd be out of our jobs within a month and a half. And so began the period of...

3. Job Searches, Offers, and Decisions 
Talk about awkward. Five months pregnant and out of a job, I made it my mission to apply to any and all jobs in a 50-mile radius that appeared to even be a minor skills match. The experience was not what I expected. Within a month, I had three job offers and a couple of additional interviews scheduled.

Sometimes I disclosed the pregnancy, sometimes I didn't. I learned to trust my instincts and believe in my own value as an employee and an ambassador. In the end, I accepted a dream of a marketing and communications position with University of the Pacific. And if that didn't make me feel lucky enough, they also hired some of my favorite co-workers from my previous job.  Go Tigers!

I get to work here. Seriously. How gorgeous is the Pacific campus?

Though everything worked out for me in the end, the experience of searching for work while pregnant really encouraged me to reflect on feminism, privilege, and mentorship. More on that to come.

4. Baby Teddy
Number four on the list but number one in our hearts, our Theodore (also known as Teddy) joined our awkward little family last July.

Two-month-old Teddy, ready for his first day at Baby School. 

I'll post a formal introduction (and probably loads of media documenting his every breath) later, but here's an obligatory adorable photo. He's as sweet and good-natured as he looks. He's as happy as a clam and loves everyone he meets. I feel so fortunate to be this little guy's mom.

5. Bertridge
And then, as if we hadn't already had an insanely eventful year, we decided to buy a house as 2015 was drawing to a close. We ended up finding a small, somewhat bedraggled postwar minimalist house on a lovely, tree-lined street and fell hard and fast for it, even though it didn't have some of the things on our wish list.

After what seemed like an extended wait, several major repairs (roof and floors, and a whole-house paint job (thanks, Dad!) we settled into our new home, which we dubbed "Bertridge" - a nod to our family nickname and the wealth of pavers and stones in the backyard.

I kind of dropped the ball on taking before and after photos. In fact, I've yet to take a photo of the exterior.  The one above was included in the sale listing several months back.  I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but...more to come.

So...yeah.  That's the gist of it. I decided to start using this old junker of a blog again because my writing skills are getting a bit rusty and I need a repository for all my home improvement project stories and furniture reviews. (I'm not happy with West Elm, at the moment.  I'll explain why later.)

In short - hello again!  I'm now a power mom and a homeowner, but still as awkward as ever.  I have lots of opinions and I want to discuss them with you.

P.S. I'm due to become an aunt any day now and I couldn't be more excited about it.