It must at first seem obvious. Designer cushions and designer sofas are clearly parts of the same thing. You can’t have a sofa without cushions, after all. That would just be a frame.
Only the cushions referred to when a person normally talks about designed cushions are not the ones you sit on, but the ones used as a kind of cherry on the cake – the throw cushions, which may even be removed before the sofa is used for its intended practical purpose of supporting a sitting or reclining body. So clearly the designer cushion is not a part of the intrinsic definition of the item we think of as a sofa. It may not even be an intrinsic part of the item we think of as a designed sofa: which is clearly different from the normal sofa.
Or is it? A designer sofa, after all, shares so many qualities with an off the shelf sofa that it can be hard to put a finger on the difference. Both are designed to be sat on – even if the off the shelf sofa has been designed by a computer rather than a human. Both have legs or are supported in some way so they sit upright on a floor.
Also, some designer sofas have arms while others do not. This is also true of off the shelf sofas. At which point, we have to ask whether what we are investigating here is even the suite of properties that go to make up a sofa – or whether there is some other inherently objective definition of sofa-ness to which we can refer when we think about furniture.
Plato maintained that there was a universe of ideal forms, which the human mind refers to when it wishes to understand what class of object something in the real world is. In essence, you can look at a circular object (despite the fact that there is no such thing as an actual geometrically perfect circle anywhere in the world in space) and know that it is circular because the perfect circle exists in your head. When you look at a sofa, you do the same thing – only on a more complex level, because there are more variables at work in the idea of “sofa” than there are in the idea of a circle.
So what does all this have to do with the divide (if there is one) between a sofa and a cushion? Obviously (as noted at the start) a sofa has cushions – so there’s a sense in which a sofa and its cushions are indivisible. Yet we can remove some cushions from a sofa without preventing it from being a sofa. Or can we remove all cushions from the sofa and still have it as a sofa?
In this last instance, the sofa is clearly unusable, at least by anyone who wants to recline on it comfortably. This raises a further question: whether the use of the sofa is more important to defining it as a sofa, than its appearance.
Designer cushions and designer sofas have inherent properties of their own – but what makes one separate from the other?
Mary Richmond and her husband Ronald Richmond have been manufacturing designer cushions and designer sofas for around seven years.