Thursday, April 12, 2012


This essay appeared in Prairie Times last summer. Let me know what you think. Leave a comment and I'll love you forever. Thanks!

The Real Purpose of Furniture
By Susan Sundwall

If you took a random sampling of, say, fifty people and asked them what the real purpose of furniture is, you’d get some pretty interesting answers. For instance, mother’s of toddlers might tell you that a sofa has two purposes. One, to be a sort of indoor trampoline and the other as sanctuary for runaway Cheerios with an occasional bit of dog biscuit or princess puzzle piece for company. That sanctuary being under the cushions, of course. It doesn’t seem to matter if the sofa was originally purchased by a dewy eyed bride trying to channel Martha Stewart as she dithered over a dozen choices in the furniture store. Perhaps the one she chose did go well with the lamps Aunt Lois gave her as wedding gifts, but its real true purpose was hidden until baby came along. If only she had spoken with a few toddler moms first. Perhaps there’s a third purpose if the sofa has a loose pillow back, but fort building also requires blankets so we won’t go there.

Then there’s the kitchen table. I think the original intent for these long flat pieces was to give us a place to eat a family meal. But how silly of those “original intenters” to limit a big flat surface like that. When my son walks in the back door with his tiny daughter fast asleep in her car carrier, the whole kit and caboodle goes right onto the kitchen table. She’s at eye level for us grown ups and out of the way of the dog, floor crud, and her big sister, who’s two. The table is also where my hubby stands when we need to change a bulb in the track lights overhead. It’s where I set my cookie racks for cooling holiday treats, plop jars of hot jam to cool, and where I throw junk mail, you know, until I can sort the bad stuff from the sorta good stuff like 20% off all my purchases at CVS (until Tuesday – better act fast).  But for eating at? Oh, come on. It’s not your Grandma’s kitchen table anymore. It’s an all purpose – uh – flat surface, that’s there when you need it for whatever. Oh, and the kitchen chairs, especially the sturdy wooden ones? Definitely for holding up coats, book bags, plastic grocery bags full of craft items for your third grader’s class project, and the perfect comfy place for the cat to catch some shut eye.

Let’s wander into the bedroom to peek at the lovely four poster bed. Most of our random samplers might reasonably assume a bed, with all the fluffy pillows, the handmade comforter, and eyelit bed skirt is for sleeping. Mostly they’d be right except for the hide and seek factor. Why do kids always think no one will look under there? And when they’re caught, the chance of scurrying out and getting to “home” ahead of the seeker is ridiculous, but no matter. I guess it just seems so perfect while they’re under there trying not to giggle as they peek at the seeker’s slow moving sneakers. I’ve often thought a great hiding place for money would be in a zippered compartment at the top of the mattress, right under the sleeper’s heads. I mean, who would even think to look there?  And you could count your money every time you changed the sheets.  

Out on the patio we have yet more furniture and have you seen what’s available these days? My stars, some of it is almost too gorgeous for the outdoors. Of course the best stuff , and what you really want, is anything that will make a good train. Oh, you’ve never made a train from patio furniture. Okay, here’s what you do. Find a nice long piece of yard and set down the engine, that’s chair one. Line up several more behind this one, in a long row, leaving some leg room. Then at the end of these chairs set two, side by side, facing the opposite direction, to serve as the caboose. If you’d like to place a pillow in one or two of the chairs, this can be your luxury seating area. Make sure you have a few snacks to pass out and a cool conductor’s hat if you can find one. Four-year-old train loving kids will flock to your yard like pigeons to a parkway underpass. And they’ll love you for it. You might even have an adult or two to contend with.

Not long ago, my son and daughter-in-law commented on how comfortable our living room sofa is. It’s a huge old plaid thing and weighs a ton. The grand kids love to run to it from my recliner across the room, crashing with delight onto the still springy cushions. There are no loose pillows so there’s excellent back support and it’s long enough to sleep on, all stretched out, should the need arise. If we ever get rid of it, I hope it holds a place of honor at the county dump having served it’s purpose most beautifully for however many years we own it. When you come right down to it, the real purpose of furniture is to be useful in accordance with the rules, regulations, passions and delights of those who own it. And if the random sampler wants to put that down for my answer, it’s all right with me.    

Image: nuchylee                                       Free Digital Photos


  1. Who can pass up on a "love you forever" promise? Especially when one is sitting at their kitchen table with a pile of catalogs on it along with folders to sort through and add to from another pile, plus a cat trying to catch my fingers taping away on my laptop. And I don't even have a dining room table. Great essay, Susan ~ and an even greater blog!

  2. Cindy - You are on the "love list" LOL I'm glad you can relate to the article. My grand kids had every pillow off the sofas the other day to make a runway for three little models. So darn cute. Thanks for your comments!