Delowara Begum, a former school teacher in her late 60s, reminisced about her childhood and her fascination with furniture — sofas to be particular. When she was a school goer, she was captivated by the uniqueness of divans, a rare find at the time.
"Sofas were generally a rare sight in the 1970s, with only a few families in towns having a sofa set. Our sofa was a simple wooden-framed one with large cushions. I can still recall my fascination with the luxurious divan at the chairman's house in our village [Munshiganj]. It was crafted from mahogany wood and adorned with maroon velvet upholstery," she said, sitting on a large lounge sofa at her son's house.
In 2023, sofas come in a wide array of shapes, styles, colours and finishes, making them versatile options for providing both functionality and comfort in various living spaces. Today's designs are not confined to large, space-consuming pieces.
Homeowners now have the freedom to select from corner sofas, suites, divans, love seats, armchairs and more — allowing them to enjoy company, unwind and fulfil various seating needs.
Commonly known as a mid-century couch or mid-century lodge-style sofa, this vintage furniture peaked in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s. These sofas feature splayed and tapered legs and winged back designs, coupled with large cushioned seats and backs.
Today's millennials are often filled with nostalgia when they encounter this style of sofa. "Those big cushions were more than cushions for me and my sister. We'd eagerly assemble them like oversized building blocks, crafting our very own playhouse. Inside, we'd enjoy our snacks and create special memories," said Muntaha Rahman, an accountant at a financial institute.
The reason why divans or other fixed upholstery-based sofas were rare those days is assumed to be its high making cost. The craftsmanship was also relatively new in the sub-continent.
"The wooden-framed sofas with cushions had a lifespan spanning several decades. Maintenance was relatively straightforward as we could simply wash the removable cushion covers; and in case of damaged cushions we could easily replace them.
However, when it came to divans with their fixed upholstery, the only option for a refresh was to replace it completely," explained Delowara.
In Western countries, furniture with fixed upholstery is quite prevalent, and the widespread use of vacuum cleaners has made maintenance both convenient and cost-effective. Nonetheless, due to the climate conditions and higher dust levels in our region, this specific furniture style has remained somewhat elusive. But the advent of various sofa cleaning services available today has provided us with more options.
"I always wanted an L-shaped lounge sofa for my living space and got it immediately after I moved to my new house with my husband. My kids love the sofa and spend a considerable amount of time playing on it. As a result, it gets dirty quite often, and that is when I resort to cleaning services," said Tanjina Lithi, a Dhaka-based practising doctor and a mother of two.
Lithi takes services from a cleaning service named Sofa Cleaning BD twice a year, and it costs her around Tk4,000 altogether.
"From carpet to kitchen hood, we clean everything. But our most popular service is sofa cleaning. The price of this varies with sofa size and type. We have imported cleaning equipment and all of our cleaners are well-trained," said one of the representatives of Sofa Cleaning Service Dhaka.
Nabila Nowrin, a Dhaka-based architect, and the co-founder of Bohu believes that another vital factor behind the increase in upholstery-based furniture's popularity is that people have learned a lot about upkeep and styling.
"To increase longevity, many people use throws on a sofa that works as a protective layer. Besides, sofa covers are also widely available now," said Nabila.
According to popular belief, the sofa was invented in Europe, France in particular. The Victorian era witnessed a notable surge in its popularity. In the Indian subcontinent, the sofa's emergence is strongly linked with the imperial period.
The introduction of the sofa in Bangladesh dates back to the late 19th century, influenced by British colonial rule and the incorporation of traditional materials with distinctive Victorian craftsmanship.
A report by Hatil reads that later, during the British reign, British officials and wealthy locals commissioned furniture makers to produce pieces in the British style. Consequently, many early Bangladeshi furniture designs had a distinctly colonial aesthetic, with elements such as ornate carvings and heavy use of wood.
However, back then, the use of traditional materials and techniques played a significant role in Bangladeshi furniture design.
In the 1980s, the widespread use of steel furniture began, along with wood and bamboo. One of the key factors driving the growth of the country's wood furniture industry is the availability of skilled and cheap labour compared to many other countries.
This enabled manufacturers to produce high-quality furniture at a more affordable price, making it more accessible to consumers in the domestic market.
The contemporary aesthetics
As modern interiors are inclined towards minimalism, sofa styles now embrace simplicity and functionality. The bulky, overstuffed sofas with colourful upholstery from the previous century are slowly becoming obsolete.
"The tufted sofas of the early 2000s are excessively bulky and high maintenance. The tufted buttons store dust and the tight structure of it damages the fabric in the long run," added Nabila.
The modern sofas are characterised by slim structure, geometric shapes and monochrome upholstery, which has an indo-western look to it.
"Due to economic constraints, homes have become increasingly compact, leading to a surge in small flats. This has created a demand for smaller sofa sets and furniture that can efficiently fit into limited spaces. As a result, the designs have evolved towards sleeker, condo-sized sofas," explained Ritu Saha, a recent architecture graduate from BUET.
There is also the involvement of recycling and bamboo-made sofas, which are suitable for open spaces. These make the space look cultured and not busy by giving a much simpler, cohesive look.