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The Big White Couch

’90s-style slipcover sofas are suddenly appealing again.

Photo: Courtesy of The World of Shabby Chic/Rizzoli
Photo: Courtesy of The World of Shabby Chic/Rizzoli

If you happened to find yourself shopping for a new couch at any point over the past decade and a half, you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking there was only one style — the angular mid-century. Now back in style: the enormous white couch. In 1989, Rachel Ashwell released the Shabby Chic sofa — a response, at the time, to the precious ruffled couches of the ’80s. By the early aughts, those rumpled, fat, slipcovered sofas were everywhere from Elle Décor to Warren Beatty’s living room. The sofa spawned dozens of look-alikes, from Pottery Barn’s Slipcovered Sofa to the Ikea Ektorp. Lately, such similar couches can be found in the living rooms of both designers and celebrities. Designer Kai Avent-deLeon’s Bed-Stuy brownstone is centered on a full white couch, and the sleeker but still Shabby Chic–informed Restoration Hardware Cloud Sofa sits front and center in Kendall Jenner’s Calabasas mansion. According to Ashwell, sales of her signature slipcovered sofa are up significantly, and the style has apparently been selling well at ABC Carpet & Home too (it’s called Watermill). Now that people are spending more time on their couches, who wouldn’t prefer deep seats, soft machine-washable cotton, and feather stuffing? Says Phyllis Harbinger, adjunct assistant professor of interior design at F.I.T., “These couches are like comfort food for the external body.”

The Big White Couch That (Arguably) Started It All

Photo: Retailer

Everyone from Jennifer Lopez to Oprah had one of Rachel Ashwell’s extra-large white sofas in the ’90s. Now, a new crop of owners have emerged, like Annie Auchincloss, a home buyer for MoMA Design Store. “When my [ex-boyfriend] and I broke up, he asked if he could keep our Shabby Chic couch,” she says. “I was like, ‘No, I’m taking it.’ So he ended up getting his own.”

A Start-up Slipcover

Photo: Retailer

For those who prefer a sleeker silhouette, new DTC slipcovered-furniture start-up Sixpenny sells sofas covered in cotton, linen, and velvet, with fabric names like Pacific Pearl and Ancient Indigo.

The One That (Might) Have Been in an Episode of Friends

Photo: Warner Bros. Television Studios

We strongly suspect this is the couch Ross tries to bring up the stairs in Friends’ famous “pivot” scene (Pottery Barn is brought up so often on the show you’d think it was an advertorial). This is a very straightforward ’90s option.

Kerry Washington’s (Slimmer) Version

From $3,071

The preferred sofa of Kerry Washington, Kylie Jenner, and Kendall Jenner,
who said during her Architectural Digest home tour, “I feel like everyone
has a Cloud couch, but they really are the best.” The sofa is low with wide arms and slipcovered pillows.

And Maryam Nassir Zadeh’s Custom Rendition

Photo: Maryam Nassir Zadeh

Whenever she Instagrams pictures of her couch, designer Maryam Nassir Zadeh receives dozens of questions asking where she found her “perfect” sofa. Her answer: a custom job by Billy Cotton. “It’s my favorite shape,” she says.

Nancy Meyers’s Set Designer’s Go-to

Photo: Retailer

Slipcovered sofas abound in Nancy Meyers movies like Something’s Gotta Give. Film production and set designer Beth Rubino says that some were reupholstered George Smith frames.

A Meyers Alternative

Photo: Retailer

For a non-custom Nancy Meyers–esque living-room look, Phyllis Harbinger points to ones by New York firm Avery Boardman.

Ikea’s Inexpensive (and Extremely Popular) Model

Photo: Searchlight Pictures

The company seems to be actually phasing out the classic Ektorp and replacing it with the nearly identical Uppland, but for now the original is still in stock on the website.

ABC’s Big White Best Seller

Photo: Retailer

Along with the Watermill, ABC has been selling quite a few of Cisco Home’s Dream Sofa, which is “nontoxic” with “natural rubber” cushions, according to ABC’s Executive Vice President Colleen Newell. “People seem to want something that represents wellness and cleanliness.”

*A version of this article appears in the December 21, 2020, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

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The Big White Couch