Big Problems and Slow Solutions

Tilted Mom’s Great Sofa Search, Part 1

Saddest Sofa in the World

Saddest Sofa in the World

Home decoration with MCS is pointless for the most part. We exist somewhere on the hermit – recluse – homebody scale. Few people usually see the inside of our homes. Home furnishing gets some play, but only because we still have to sit, eat, and sleep on something. New materials will have stains, synthetic fibers, synthetic foams, stain resistant treatment, fire retardants, particleboard, and more. All of which continue to outgas VOCs long after purchase and installation in the home. Those VOCs are excactly the everyday low dose chemicals that trigger reactions with MCS. The safer we keep our homes, with fewer potential reaction triggers, the better chance we have at healing and handling some exposure outside the home. That might mean buying used, repurposing used, or repairing pieces that should have been retired a long time ago.

Finally had to retire this one.

Finally had to retire this one.

But sometimes, just sometimes, you need a new piece of furniture. This is one such story. Like all big MCS problems, it involves a slow solution that covers maybe a year in my life and many posts in the blog. It is a full on saga. Our current sofas have been with us a long time. They were originally filled with many layers of synthetic cushions, a stain resistant treatment, fire retardant and more things that made me sick. But oh, they were soft. As I began to clear my house of potential problems the sofas were a primary target. They took a major hit 15 years ago when they lost about 50% of their stuffing, which then sat in our attic for years in hope that it would air out. Didn’t happen. That’s when the sofas started to look sad. About 10 years ago they lost another 25% of the stuffing BUT we replaced that and more with cotton batting. So they plumped up a bit and looked disheveled but cheerful. Appropriate for a household with toddlers.

The pillows are meant to distract you from the deflated appearance of the sofa itself.

The pillows are meant to distract you from the deflated appearance of the sofa itself.

The restuffing was done by a local upholsterer who initially thought I was crazy (we get that a lot when trying to explain MCS to service industry) but covered it better than most. Eventually he accepted that he could not put traditional cuhions in my sofas, or reupholster with traditional fabric or even take pieces to his shop for repairs because it would soak up too many smells. The small town attitude that I love here won out and instead he came to my house 3 times over the next 9 years to sew up whatever the kids had ripped apart on my sofas and restuff the cushions with some more cotton batting. All he ever charged me for was material; he asked that I pay for his time with brownies. It’s people like him that restore my faith in humanity.

IKEA regret = items that may have to outgas in my carport forever.

IKEA regret = furniture in pieces that may have to outgas in my carport forever.

But he retired! And honestly, the sofas are past the point of sewing and stuffing. It is time. So I started looking for new sofas sometime last spring. I can not just go to IKEA and buy something (deep wistful sigh here). But there are other options. The green building industry is one of the best things that has happened for MCS patients. If it is better for the environment it is frequently better for us. Usually these are upscale and involve some custom work (read EXPENSIVE). I had many had long conversations with the hubby. We both agreed this was a time to go big. We needed a big solution in terms of safety, durability, and size so we would be willing to pay big. Within reason. We needed big expertise and customer service in exchange.

Ultimate MCS care package from Eco-Terric filled with sofa materials to test.

Ultimate MCS care package from Eco-Terric filled with sofa materials to test.

A quick online search for furniture and chemical sensitivity will get you at least a half dozen bloggers who have gone through a similar process. Two good ones are from My Chemical Free House for DIY ideas and Holistic Home Ecology for purchased sofas. The four companies I looked into are Furnature, Ekla Home, Eco Balanza, and Eco-Terric. I researched the material options and the companies themselves. The green industry and the MCS community together make for plentiful online opinions to look through. Solid wood, cotton fabric, cotton batting, wool batting, stainlelss steel springs should be fine materials for me. But I had to dig deeper looking into the natural latex. Although it has a good track record with MCS, it’s not perfect. A quick conversation with my physician reminded me that even if it is naturally sourced, latex is highly allergenic. Since I am already struggling with with an over-reactive immune system right now (this is not true for all MCS patients), latex is not the safest choice for me. I also asked the companies some detailed questions like exactly what brand of wood finish do they use, looking for AFM as a good answer. Then I got material samples from different companies. This is fairly standard for companies that deal with chemically sensitive customers. But the package shown here was my favorite.

The company that had by far the most experience, as evidenced by the amount of questions they asked me rather than the other way around, was Furnature. This is what they do and have done for a long time, make furniture for chemically sensitive people. No latex? Not a problem, they can make a cushion with 16-20 individual steel springs encased in organic cotton canvas tubes, wrap those in layers of cotton batting, and then wool batting. Want to test a whole cushion for material safety and physical comfort? Not a problem, they’ll send you one if you send it back and pay the shipping cost. Don’t like their standard sofa designs from the website? Not a problem, just send them some images for inspiration and they’ll custom design. I have spent about 45 minutes so far on the phone with Barry Shapiro talking about me, my needs and how he can help. Expertise and customer service. After giving Furnature my design idea (which I totally did steal from IKEA!) and measurements, they got back to me the same day with an estimate. As soon as my husband and I can process the price tag and give them the go ahead, they’ll send me a cushion to test out. Whew. See? It’s a saga. Look for part two coming soon, but only as soon as slow solutions will allow.

Normally I don't like being labeled but this made me laugh!

Normally I don’t like being labeled but this made me laugh!

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