Daily Life

License article

Is your sofa killing you?

Comfort! When you ask a designer, furniture buyer, magazine editor, advertising agency or customer what we want when it comes to our homes, the first answer is always comfort.

I'm its biggest ambassador: comfy sofa, comfy chair, comfy bed, comfy bath, comfy pillows, comfy shoes, comfy trousers. Some say that to live in casual comfort is the Holy Grail.

But is comfort - the thing we strive so hard to achieve - bad for a healthy life?

If you are plonked on to a sofa, bed or chair right now, US scientists claim you probably have "sitting disease".

Apparently, we are not moving our bodies enough. Australia is ranked fifth among advanced nations in terms of obesity after the US, Mexico, New Zealand and Chile, according to the OECD.

The Wellness Index, compiled by polling firm Roy Morgan Research and an initiative of health company Alere, has found that, in the past five years, 736,000 more adults are now obese in Australia.


Is having a super comfy sofa with slubby cushions and chunky throws causing us to prolong our morning-to-bedtime sitting?

Doctors call it sedentary living and research claims it plays a significant role in many of the most troublesome health issues of our time, from obesity and heart disease to diabetes to depression.

I shudder to think of the number of hours I have wasted lying on my sofa watching crappy TV.

Until recently, experts considered the antidote to sitting disease to be formal exercise sessions. But new research is turning that thinking on its head. As it turns out, just being up and about throughout the day can be healthier for you than doing a rigorous workout and then sitting for the rest of the time.

This then raises the serious question: would we be more likely to get up and move around our home if we didn't want our home to be so damn comfortable?

Last year, I interviewed young Sydney architect Kelvin Ho for Sunday Life magazine.

He refused to have a sofa in his home. When he watched the tellie, he sat on an uncomfortable wooden stool. He believed by not owning a sofa he would watch what he wanted and wasn't enticed to keep watching.

Not having anywhere to chill out except for his bed, he was forced to go outside to surf, cycle and catch up with friends or to entertain around his dining table.

However, he did give in to a designer linen sofa eventually when a serious girlfriend (now his wife) came on the scene.

Perhaps there is something in the idea of minimalist design favoured by the Japanese and British architects Tando Ando and John Pawson: the fewer pieces of furniture we have in our homes the more likely we are to move around rather than plonking ourselves in one spot.

New York architects Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins who founded the Reversible Destiny Foundation dedicated their life work to creating homes that extend our lifespans.

"People, particularly old people, shouldn't relax and sit back to help them decline," Arakawa insisted.

"They should be in an environment that stimulates their senses and invigorates their lives."

Arakawa died in 2010 at the age of 73, thereby undermining his philosophy of transhumanism, or reversible destiny. Gins died in January this year, aged 72.

However, I still think there is something in their radical ideas.

The Tokyo Reversible Destiny Lofts In Memory of Helen Keller is an eccentric but thought-provoking work by Arakawa and Gins. The space isn't designed for furniture. Using natural landscapes as inspiration, seating areas are incorporated into the floor. Residents have included hammocks and swings into their homes.

Arakawa and Gins believed that, to achieve everlasting life, our homes should be inconvenient, uncomfortable and stimulate the senses far beyond what we are used to in our daily lives, keeping us nimble.

Their work has steeply sloped floors that threaten to send visitors hurtling into the kitchen; more than three dozen paint colours; level changes meant to induce the sensation of being in two places at once; windows that seem too high or too low; oddly angled light switches and outlets; and an absence of doors that would permit occupants even a modicum of privacy.

In Tokyo, one of the tenants in the lofts says he feels a little younger living in the building.

Nobutaka Yamaoka, who moved in with his wife and two children about two years ago, says he has lost more than nine kilograms and no longer suffers from hay fever, though he isn't sure whether it was cured by the loft.

Let's face it, though: their work is ugly and I wouldn't like to live in a house like this.

However, just like with a couture runway show, we can learn from and introduce the ideas into our designs in a much more aesthetic and realistic way.

I know this all might seem a little crazy, but because so many people in the Western world are overweight means we need to look at solutions to get us to move around more.

And you know what they say when you want to fix something up - always start at home.