Uncomfortable Truths About Comfort

Design seminar encourages defying convention and embracing realities of human interaction

“It may be recognized as award-winning style,” said John W. Smith, at his “Comfort is Great Design” seminar, “but a kitchen bar with stools facing forward and diners shoulder-to-shoulder discourages lively interaction. The goal is to create rooms that look terrific and facilitate conversation. Sustainable comfort is generated by your understanding of the subjectivity and science of livable design.”

Smith, President of Willem Smith Furnitureworks of Fairfax, VA, believes that designers have both an obligation and a tremendous opportunity to re-evaluate room layouts that may be esteemed by the industry. “While the evaluation of comfort is very personal, it also involves science. The first step is to focus on the ergonomics of the environment at the macro level to optimize room livability. Then, at the micro level, select individual pieces based on their attributes relating to comfort and relationship to each other. There is no better way to instill confidence in your client than by educating them about why your design looks and feels good.”

You can’t see it, but you will feel it

The science of seat comfort involves many dimensions; angles, depth, height, pitch, and their relation to the body. “The most critical measurement is the length from the back to the floor,” said Smith. “We all suffer from back fatigue as we age. Lacking full support while being vertical leads to pain. Cushion quality impacts the level and duration of seat comfort. Unlike dovetail joints, which can be seen and ascribed a value, elements like cushion and frame architecture are hidden, and their relative merits are a mystery to consumers. Designers who take the time to explain the relevance of comfort features inspire trust.”

Smith recommended the application of his “20-5-1 Rule” to assess the micro and macro levels of environmental comfort. “The brain is your friend but also a trickster. When you look at a room setting from 20 feet away, your eyes help create a visceral emotional response. At 5 feet away it’s about behavior; how the room flows and connects with you. Move to 1 foot away, and the experience becomes tangible and sensory. You have to evaluate each stage independently. An “I love it” at 20 feet may corrupt your assessment at 1 foot. Your mind wills your body to be comfortable in a setting it loves. Finally, ask yourself ‘Is it designed to look at or live in?’”

“Classic wing chairs were designed centuries ago to keep people warm in drafty homes, not to encourage chats between occupants,” said Smith, who places several common seating options on his “You May Want to Rethink That” list. “Chaises look inviting, but if you have guests over, they will perch awkwardly on the end, not lie down for the full lounging effect. Have you ever seen two people in a loveseat who look like they’re yearning for more personal space? How close to the swivel chair do you plan to place the drinks table?”

You can’t know what you can’t feel

“Sit it to believe it,” is Smith’s company tagline, and the final advice he gave his audience of designers and retailers at his April seminar. “Leverage your time at Market for your research as a comfort connoisseur. Apply the “1 Foot Rule” throughout the 11.5 million square feet of showroom space. In this increasingly virtual age, your clients will be relying on your comfort assessment and recommendations. Be ready to re-think and re-evaluate certain core design paradigms. Your objective is to be able to offer your clients insightful, practical, and meaningful advice for optimizing their layouts and furnishings to maximize their comfort and happiness.”

Schedule Your Market Seminars

As you plan your next trip to Market, be sure to take advantage of the opportunities to learn from our industry’s leading experts. Just visit the Events section in early August, if you’re looking for Fall Market, or in early February for Spring, for a full listing of educational offerings. Don’t forget to check back regularly – exhibitors may add events until just a couple of weeks before Market.