As many readers of this blog know, it’s taken me 40 years to buy a sofa. Which, it so happens, is 32 years longer than it took Steve Jobs.

Image via Favim.com
Image via Favim.com

I’ve previously found some comfort in the fact it took Jobs eight tortured years to find his perfect sofa and quietly repositioned my chronic couch commitment phobia as genius when I read that Job’s indecision was due to the same eccentric perfectionism that created the iPhone.

Perfectionism certainly stalled me, as it does often. In this case I feel (reasonably) justified. I do think it’s super important to make a thoroughly researched and mindful decision when it comes to big house hardware. A lot of resources go into creating, building and delivering them. As well as disposing of them once we realize we made a dumb, fashionable purchase.

I think it’s criminal that many of us now regard furniture as almost seasonal.

I don’t want to be the person chucking out a cheap sofa after three years.

I want to be the person who proudly holds on to it, allows stories to attach to it, has it in her life as a familiar totem and who can pass it on in 30 years to a loved one.

How about I outline a few factors I considered in making my decision, and some tips for buying the most sustainable, toxin-free, environmentally credible, practical, timeless, economical sofa possible. (For those not wanting to read all the way to the punch-line: I arrived at the “Leila” three-seater (deep option) by Jardan.)

First up, let’s be real:

  • The most sustainable option is second-hand. No new resources used, no waste going into landfill. Makes sense.
  • The most toxin-free option is second-hand. Most modern couches contain flame retardants that are not chemically bonded to the foam, they are ineffective in preventing furniture fires and are linked to serious health effects. Formaldehyde is used in pressed wood products and may be present in couches that are stain-resistant. With a pre-loved sofa, someone else bore these toxic loads. Clean sailing for you.

I looked into second-hand options for quite some time, and have previously taken on couches from friends and from off the street etc. But I was turning 40 and felt it was time to invest in something that actually suited my needs.

If you buy from scratch:

  • Be practical with the shape. Think about it. Reflect on how you use a couch. I went for a three-seater (I wanted the couch to be a hero piece but not too big for transporting); a deep seat (because I like to lie on my couch, not sit upright); a low back (again, so it can be easily moved from house to house – high backs make it difficult to get around staircases); a little high off the ground (so I can vacuum/sweep under it – ventilation is important, too), but not too high that it wobbles; solid arm rests (to lie my head on, but also to rest a book or a cup of tea). All these things matter to me and the more I reflected, the more I was able to get a very good picture of what style would last me a long time. I also went for a classic shape…not a fashionable one.
  • Buy local #1. Carbon miles matter. The environmental cost of shipping a couch is huge. This includes greenhouse gas emissions, acoustic and oil pollution. Carbon dioxide emissions from shipping is estimated to be 4-5 per cent of the global total. 
  • Buy local #2. When you buy local, re-upholstery and maintenance can be undertaken using the same fabrics and fillers. Plus, it can be recycled under a product stewardship program at the end of its life and turned back into new sofas, padding and frames. I advise checking with whomever you buy yours from that they can do this.
  • Take your time. It’s a big decision, with a big impact. It takes 32 times as much material to make a product than is actually in the finished product that you see.
  • Buy sustainable timber. Research the certification levels in your area. Here in Australia timber should have FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), AFS (Australian Forestry Standard) or EcoSelect labels. This ensures supply is regulated by both state and federal legislation and meets stringent requirements in terms of forest regeneration, biodiversity and protection of native fauna. Here in Australia the forests are managed more sustainably than South East Asia or South America. (Timber veneer furniture will have a lower price, but can’t be repaired and may contain harmful adhesives.)
  • Watch out for chemicals. Your foams and fills need to be CFC-free and use safe fire retardants in the foam. In my sofa, all feather and down used has undergone a ten-stage washing and sterilisation process using 100 per cent recycled water and is naturally biodegradable. Jardan also use water-based glues and stains which don’t produce VOC gas emissions. Be aware, couches or sofas that come via Asia are often fumigated with heavy toxins. Also be aware, many “Australian” brands get their furniture made in… Asia. Check!
  • Choose natural fabrics that don’t contain man-made fibres like polyester or nylon. They’ll break down much easier at the end of the product’s lifecycle and take less processing to produce the cloth. My couch is 100% linen. It’s a very natural linen so it doesn’t need lots of bleaches to alter the colour and uses less water to process the linen fibres into cloth. Avoid stain-resistant fabrics.
  • Check the finish used on the couch. (Watch out for polyurethane finishes and adhesives that may off-gas and add to indoor air pollution.)
  • Look out for extra little things. On my couch, all plastics, even the glides (the small black feet), as well as minor internal components are made from polypropylene and nylon which are 100% recyclable. These things count.
The Leila, by Jardan (mine is a three-seater)
The Leila, by Jardan (mine is a three-seater)

Why the Leila?

Well, it ticked off every single factor above. Also, I was able to get Jardan to “cut” my sofa in half – with attachment levers – so that it can be transported with ease (since I move a lot). I’ve seen too many people desert a sofa because they can’t get it into their new flat or house. The two halves fit back together snugly and the design of the sofa entails a cover that slides over the whole lot.

Why Jardan?

Well, a few things. I love the aesthetic, I love that it’s run by two brothers who are actively engaged in the art and environmental communities…I followed them on Instagram for ages before committing to one of their sofas and loved being part of their story. Plus, they’re one of the (if not the) greenest furniture company in Australia.

Currently, most pieces in Jardan’s range have the highest possible rating – a Level A – from Good Environmental Choice Australia or GECA (the new standard green labelling required by the Green Building Council Australia). They are only one of a small handful of companies with this rating. Also, Jardan reuse or recycle every bit of excess guff from the manufacturing process. Indeed, the offcuts from the fabric on my couch were used to make tote bags…which I currently carry with me everywhere (I still haven’t bought a handbag…!).

To top it off, the company will become completely carbon neutral this year.

Please note: this is not a sponsored post, although Jardan did give me a discount on the fabric, “cut my sofa in half” and assisted in getting my sofa to me faster…which is kind of funny when you consider the languid pace of my decision.

 

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Have your say, leave a comment.

  • Ali

    My sofa belonged to my great grandmother and is over 100 years old. I’d rate that as sustainable!

    • Jade

      brilliant! I haven’t ever bought a new sofa either, I’m a few years behind Sarah at 32. I also haven’t purchased new clothes (other than underwear and swim wear) in a year and have a personal challenge to see how long that can last 🙂

    • Love it!

  • I have my Grandma’s sofa that I used to sleep on when I had sleepovers at her house. I’ve recovered it to match our house … but I love love love that her 40+ year old couch that moved through several countries with her now lives with me xx

  • Daniel L

    Hi Sarah 🙂
    Congratulations on your new sofa, very nice and smart choice… My experience was exactly the same and the current sofa had to be cut in two pieces in order to safely get through the door frame of the apartments 🙂 It was always hard to choose piece of furniture for me, and still is, for the same old reasons 🙂
    Wishing you a lot of joy and many happy moments on your ‘familiar totem’ and to eventually pass it to someone dear, after many years… 🙂

  • Monkeyfish

    I totally agree with you, in all ways. Yet it has been REALLY hard for me to get out of a poverty mindset and investing more money in things that will last longer! I know in my head that it is the right choice, but when it comes to actually laying out the cash, my gut panics and insists on the cheaper (disposable) option as that has been the way, ever since childhood. Is that totally weird?

    • Marie

      Not weird. It’s just you. If you’ve never looked at a Louise Hay book give one a scan. Both my friend and I started reading her (without knowing) and it’s been quite an eye opener.

      BTW I used to have a similar fear until I realized disposable was potential landfill filler and why was I not worth the best quality I could afford? Also, furniture can be donated, sold or redone if good quality.

    • lovkar

      I can relate to this, we could never afford much, but now I am making the shift to long lasting and quality items 🙂 less buying, less stuff and better quality. Thoughtful purchasing 😉

  • Mini

    Brilliant …. I am just about to move into my own place and need a new sofa (this article could not have come at a better time). I want a sustainable sofa too… second hand is probably a good option but I would really like something with a bit of character and unusual. For my research purposes (so I explore all avenues) does anyone know of anyone in the UK who makes such natural and sustainable sofas??

    • nadineb

      Yes! If you search for Matthew Hilton’s Oscar sofa it’s made from sustainable materials. Sold by SCP in the UK. Oscar is my dream sofa, but sadly the carbon miles involved in getting it to Melbourne make it completely out of the question 🙁

  • Natalie

    Hi Sarah (and everyone else willing to give me an answer :-)This is a little bit of topic, but here goes. I was diagnosed with hashimotos a few weeks ago and decided to cure this thorugh a sugar free diet, sans gluten and lactose. I am also a pescatarian. The thing is, I really struggle with binge eating/emotional eating/overeating and through your new book (I LOVE it!!!) I read that a spoon or two with nutbutters could help. I tried that, but nuts are really difficult for me to digest right now and frankly, I just want to eat the whole jar when I first start. However, I have experienced that raw chocolate or a cup of coffee usually helps when I get the urge to overeat or eat sugar, but I also know that you encourage people to go cold turkey (in your program) the first 6 weeks. My question is, should I go cold turkey and eat nut butters and just deal with the stomach aches, or should I still include a little sugar and instead eat a piece of dark chocolate or a cup of coffee when I get the “sugar rush”? I am sorry if this is a stupid question, but I am a little bit helpless atm. Everything I eat makes me react in some way, its quite tiring. Thanks for reading! Love from Norway.

    • Elle

      You can still drink coffee during the 8 week program. Don’t eat nuts if they make you sick ! What about carrot sticks or cucumber with various dips? Or some smoked salmon on a rice cake ?

      • Natalie

        I know, but as Sarah mentioned below coffee or other stimulants is not favorable for people with hashimoto’s. I will try some rice cakes with avo or salmon! Thanks for your answer! xxx

    • Hey Natalie, thanks for being so frank. A few things…
      – hashimotos and eating issues means you will have blood sugar ups and down…be kind to yourself about this. It’s not “your” fault.
      – you really need to get off sugar to help with hashis
      – getting off sugar will help with food obsessions. I relate. I truly do.
      – nuts can cause stomach upset – hard to digest. Go easy on them.
      – with hashis it is better to avoid too many stimulants.
      – meat protein is best for hashis…if you don’t eat red meat, try eating extra fish, especially oily small fish. This will REALLY start to ease things.
      Check out my AI posts. I share a lot more there…
      xxx

      • Natalie

        Thank you for answering, Sarah. This really helped. I will check out your AI posts as well. xxx

      • Colette

        Hi Sarah,
        Just on the topic of what is best to eat if you have Hashis, I noticed a few recipes in your new book (which I love by the way) contains oats. I have thyroid antibodies but not full blown hashis. Do you think it’s okay for me to eat oats?
        Thanks, Colette

  • Elle

    What’s the approximate cost of a Jardan couch?

    • Sarah

      We used to stock Jardan at work. Price depends on your upholstery fabric but for a basic 3-seater you’d be looking at anything between 3.5-6K for plain fabric.
      As someone who has been to their factory several times and have dealt with multiple members of their business, including the owner I would never buy from them again for various reasons.

      • Elle

        That’s interesting. I guess you don’t want to divulge the reasons ? 3.5-6k is insanely expensive for a couch in my opinion and there is no way I could afford it.

        • rianz

          I think the price is part of the point Elle. It should feel expensive, so that you appreciate the weight of your decision and make the item last. Too much cheap stuff on the market that we don’t think twice about chucking out. Plus, when we buy a “cheap” item, it’s actually incredibly costly for the planet and thus everyone on it… in the long run. If companies that make “cheap” furniture actually had to pay some kind of tax for the damage they are causing the planet (and therefore would have to charge more for their products to cover costs), goods from companies like Jardan furniture would start to look remarkably… well… cheap!

          • rianz

            Just to clarify, I didn’t mean that Jardan is charging extra to make you think carefully about your purchase. I meant that, all things considered, the price tag is probably a true reflection of what it actually costs to make a piece of furniture.

        • Sarah

          I don’t want to go into it too much and of course I’m not going to name names or anything like that. Their product is produced ethically and sustainably, yes (while imo still overpriced compared to other brands with the same ethos ie Molmic) but the way they deal with people, especially the people who used to be their stockists before they went retail was disgusting. Lets just say I know a few people who relied on selling their product to make a living and are now struggling because they had about 8 weeks notice to stop selling Jardan or else. Of course, I don’t expect people to stop buying it due to their attitude being disgusting because there are still a lot of people who love their product but I myself as well as many people in the industry that I know of, will never buy from them again.
          Rant over haha

    • Hey Elle, around $4K. I think this is an investment. I plan to keep it for 20 years. The warranty covers 20 years, too. Much better than 5 x $2K over 20 years.

      • Elle

        Yes that’s true. I hope you enjoy it.

      • Marie

        Agreed. And with such good quality the sofa can be sold or updated down the road. I also look at the possible price per use (purchase price/ multiple uses over time – very common in business) for more expensive items. For example my hubby has very good taste in clothes and items can get pricey but if we can pay cash (or off by month end on credit), it fits great and he thinks he’s going to get good wear out of it he buys it…guilt free. So enjoy your new sofa Sarah! Better then a cheaper sofa that wouldn’t bring as much enjoyment and or durability – that would be a waste of money.

  • mw

    Can two people lie on it comfortably ?? Or semi-comfortably ? The armrests look a bit skinny and hard. Yes I saw the cushions .. but when you are lying down is it so low that your neck gets cranked a bit ?Or is it so long that when you lie down your head doesn’t need to be propped up against the armrests ? Can a guest sleep on it in lieu of a spare bed ?

    • Ha…yes, two people can lie on it. The arm rest is perfect height for resting your head. And Yes, it becomes a king single when you remove the back cushions. Another reason why I bought it…will have to add this to the post.

  • Emma_G

    My couch and armchairs are second 1960’s numbers that I’ve recovered and a silky oak day bed which I also recovered. Actually most of my furniture has either come from my family (my bed belonged to my great grandmother) or bought second hand and refurbished/repurposed. It was never an exercise in sustainability at the time – I was sentimental about some pieces – and just liked the look of other older pieces. Also, it has been a lot cheaper than buying new furniture. But I love this post because the time will come when I need to invest in something new (be it whitegoods, a couch, a tv etc…) and this post reminds me that there is quite a bit to consider.

  • Marie

    Now that we can afford it my hubby and I definitely look for Eco friendly (esp. NON off gassing) as much as possible. The last non EF but was a LazyBoy (apologies to fans of) chair on sale and perfect for my then multiple pre surgery back BUT OMG the smell made me soooo sick! We did everything, and I mean everything to help to no avail. Because we were running out of time for my first surgery we read a tip to dust with baking soda and wrap in plastic TOTALLY along with a blanket over top. It took almost a year but I can now sit in the ‘naked’ chair (not vice versa LOL). Having just been diagnosed with a rare form of AI my hypersensitivity now makes senses. If you are AI please put your health first and either look for good quality used furniture or save up and buy one with the last amount of off gassing…trust me, and Sarah, and others, it’s WELL worth it and helps support a growing industry. Smaller, independent craftsmen type furniture makers can sometimes be cheaper, better made and you’ll know exactly where materials come from.

    Glad you finally found your sofa! Many of us can relate to wanting to make the best choice we can…and why not, it’s a big purchase you want to last right?

    • gosh a year – that’s terrible. totally understand the sensitivity…a curse/blessing!

  • Stefanie

    HI Sarah, I also have a Jardan couch (nook) and while there are many things I love about it, the low back is really uncomfortable UNLESS you are lying on it all the time. Its not a great couch to sit on. How do you find the low back for sitting on??

  • lena

    Your couch thoughts are refreshing and reinforce why I plan to have my lounge “suite” forever. It has seen 35 years of our family growing and I love sitting in one of its comfy chairs daydreaming.

    .

  • MissCarole

    Our 2 sofas are second hand. Nobody believes us because A – they still look new and B – nobody believes that someone was about to get rid of them! Our living room furniture cost $100 (for 2 sofas, 2 coffee tables and a sideboard! Can’t beat that.

  • Sophie

    I had a sofa I loved and would have kept forever, except with the kids climbing and jumping all over it, it lasted 6 years. It was quite a good quality one. Now I’m not sure what to do. It has been badly ripped up, and I would love to get it re-covered but have heard that is extremely expensive.

  • Helen K

    Love this post! We have two sets of couches p we are very fortunate. The first set we took quite a lot of time to choose – we decided on a king furniture modular set which can be joined to make a bed (great for kids sleepovers), the arms can be swapped to rearrange, etc, and very hardy (nice hardy covers, which can be taken off for cleaning, and neutral in tone, with low back, and not too heavy). Our second one was being given away by a colleague from work – great condition, long enough for any adult to stretch out on, and with two armchairs which, while not matching, tone in really well. We fell very spoilt – but nice to reuse! (that’s the case for most of our furniture – the King furniture is our only main purchase)

  • www.livetolist.wordpress.com

    Good on you for having the conviction to follow through with all your commitments. I wish I’d been this patient!

  • Mudlark

    Surprised to see the promotion of Jardan here. And the AFS and Eco-select labels. I can see how easy it would be to accept the claims without investigating, but there is a lot of evidence to show these labels and companies are simply cashing in on our concern for forests.
    In fact AFS certifies wood that is obtained from bulldozing old growth forests and endangered wildlife habitat. It is the ‘loggers-own’ brand. Disappointing to see otherwise great living and food ethics marred by this.

  • Sonia

    Im 39 and brought my first ever new sofa last year. Before this Id only owned one second hand sofa, that I brought with my ex. It was a two piece horrible brown thing. When we separated he insisted on taking half of it, yes thats right half the sofa! I was like what the hell, take it. I hated it anyway and embarked on a clear out of everything ….I de-cluttered! At the same time I through myself into a new job that sore me move to Melbourne. For 12mths I sat on a yoga mat eating my dinner and watched TV on the floor in my expensive intercity terrace house. All my friends kept telling me just buy a sofa, its not like you can’t afford one! At first I didn’t really care, I was flying all over the country and OS for work, I was never home, why did I need a sofa!!! Well, when I finally collapsed from over work, not dealing with the previous crazy job and my relationship brake up, I realised I had nothing to collapse into. I imediately embarked on furniture. I spent 2 months researching styles, fabrics, environmental credentials…..etc etc. Finally I selected fabrics and had my dream comfy sofa made to order. I even sourced out a great guy (http://www.ridgydidge.com.au) who custom designed a coffee table made from recycled timber from historic Melbourne buildings to match. Relief… I would be fine now I was going to have furniture! I waited 2mths for all this to arrive.

    Sofa arrived while I was OS, I got home exhausted sat in my newly furnished lounge…….. the comfy sofa didn’t fix a thing! In the coming months I quite my job and sold my property. Through purchasing furniture I realised that high paid prestiges jobs, material items and massive mortgages was not what I was looking for in life! My family and friends thought and still think Im made. Who walks away from all that!

    Today the sofa and coffee table sit in a storage unit as I travel the world, putting my skills to better use – helping people. I currently live in Indonesia working as a volunteer english teacher. I eat well, live simply and never been happier and healthier.

    Lucky I brought a sofa that was timeless and made for comfort, it will still be relevant when I return….when ever that may be 🙂

    PS. Iv just discovered your blog, love the topics and honesty to your self. My own journey has shown that to be honest to ones self is the greatest gift we can give.

  • Kerry

    Jardan of course! I have been following your blog for years (I was diagnosed with Hashimotos and Coeliac Disease 4 years ago) and I remember reading about your decision not to buy a couch. I love minimalism so I totally get that! We have always had to have a couch as there are 4 of us and in that 4 some very dedicated couch sitters. But I love that you decided on Jardan. I have only Jardan furniture and bought BOSKO, which is Leila without the loose cover, 10 years ago. It is in a great high quality neutral fabric and I sill love, love, love it. In fact I had to buy another couch, for another room, 4 years ago and went for the same again. Great choice enjoy!