Stark minimalism is being swept aside as we give in to our longing for warmth, curling up in oversized chairs and sofas that give our expansive and high-ceilinged rooms a sense of security.
In an uncertain world, furniture once again becomes soft and cosy
"There is nothing that irritates architects more than the word 'cosy'," says Tyler Brûlé, in his urban affairs magazine, Monocle. "When did cosy become one of the more offensive four-letter words in the design lexicon?" Brûlé reckons cosy is ripe for a rethink. And he's not wrong there - not least in the UAE, where property developers don't seem to factor in the idea. From housing developments to hotels and restaurants, everywhere is sparkling and spacious, with all the mod cons, but can't exactly be described as cosy and enticing. Given the current mood around the world, it's time that cosy - or "granny modernism" as Brûlé terms it - is reinstated as a key component for domestic bliss.
This is backed up by the organisers of the Salone del Mobile furniture fair in Milan, who recently stated that "providing a refuge from the not very enjoyable reality", sums up the current approach within the interior design world. Cosy spaces are not only for countries with colder climates. In fact, the majlis - the traditional gathering area in Arabian households - could be considered the home's cosy corner, with its generous use of rugs and cushions.
Last year Zain Mustafa won a competition organised by the Dubai interior design show Index, to create a modern majlis. His seating encompassed the whole space, providing a tent-like softness. The designer explained that the mounds of cushions demonstrated his aim of "putting comfort before image". The fact is that most humans crave spaces that encourage us to linger, are more intimate and human, sensible in scale, and provide a sense of security.
"I think our desire for cosiness is fundamentally rooted in our DNA," says the Dubai-based interior designer Mark Marin. "Ever since man lived in caves, we've been attempting to modify, soften and generally make liveable our shelters ... I believe this partly stems from the physical dimensions of the human body, the study of which has become known as anthropometrics. Whether it's hotel foyers or houses and apartments, they all need areas where people feel, to some extent, cosy - somewhere where they actually 'fit'."
Developers and designers have yet to grasp that changes in consumer tastes are driving people away from the spare and minimal, as they hanker for the comfy and inclusive. As stalled housing projects come back on to the drawing boards, design teams would do well to overhaul the schemes, which might have passed muster two years ago but now look cold and wrong. "We can all desire and appreciate larger and grander spaces," says Marin, who lives in a vast loft space in Dubai's Jumeirah Beach Residences. "However, when it comes to actually living in that space and being genuinely comfortable, we seek to create something that responds specifically to our dimensions. That means choosing and arranging furniture and fittings in ways that make us feel comfortable. I addressed this in my own apartment by creating a lounge zone with the use of a large rug in a darker contrasting tone to the rest of the flooring, a generously proportioned sofa and directed lighting."
Making a large room and its huge proportions seem more snug and welcoming is a problem that many who come to live in the UAE haven't been accustomed to - particularly those from Europe and Asia, where space-saving solutions are usually more in demand. Landing here, though, many people are faced with vast rooms, high ceilings, huge windows and hard surfaces everywhere. Fluffy rugs and scented candles aside (although they help), the consensus is to add some drama, so that furnishings don't get swallowed up in the space. Supersizing your furniture and accessories can make spaces appear smaller, so drawing people in. Think Alice in Wonderland: slightly distorted proportions and oversized pieces - cue sofas big enough to accommodate an extended family, dining chairs with oh-so-comfortable extra-high backs, giant armchairs to curl up in ... and huge chandeliers or wall sconces (with dimmer switches) to give a warm glow.
As it happens, the over-scaled look is bang on trend right now. Furniture design has been breaking away from the real, with unconventional shapes and overblown proportions taking the design word by storm at international trade shows. But these large furniture pieces aren't simply about expansive and expensive gestures. They are, in part, a reaction to our uncertain times, with overscaled chairs and sofas inviting us to curl up or sprawl across them - an act of self-indulgent and self-nurturing nesting.
Take Paola Navone's fabulously appealing pieces for Poliform. The Bug is an easy club chair with the length of a chaise, which is also available as the Big Bug - a veritable snuggle-up love seat or party piece. "It's been very well received," the company reported to the Financial Times, "because it's a very sociable piece of furniture - you can get a few friends together on it." Navone is perhaps the queen of the new cosy: her giant-sized, high-backed, high-armed sofas for Linteloo, the Dutch furniture manufacturer, makes the traditional high-sided Knole sofa look like a baby, with its huge proportions and luxurious layers of cushions. Her Ghost series for Gervasoni includes sofas with high backs or bed-sized seats - with easygoing cotton loose covers that can be changed at will. For Baxter,which specialises in leather, she has designed super-squashy, over-scaled armchairs and sofas - among them the Damasco series, covered in velvety-soft suede. All of the above sport her signature "inside-out" seams, which add an extra homely touch.
Beds have also been getting larger - increasingly with headboards that sometimes exceed the bed that they go with. Among retailers here, The One has championed the look for a few seasons now. Upholstered in tactile fabrics, such as velvet or leather - an over-scaled headboard, while imposing, still feels cosy and indulgent. The key is to ensure that it's in proportion with the size of the room - making these beds perfect for older villas with their high ceilings, or large new loft-style apartments.
"Cosy rooms make people feel that they have entered a home rather than a show home," says Kamini Ezralow, the managing director of Intarya, a London-based firm that designs high-spec residences, such as the penthouse at Dubai World Trade Centre. "Cosy spaces are about comfort and flow; the way to create a more cosy experience in rooms with double-height ceilings and expansive floor space, is to subtly divide the space into smaller seating arrangements ..." And, of course, to take full advantage of the over-scaled furniture that is now available.