Many of us are living very differently in our homes right now. We're hunching over paperwork at our coffee tables and attending endless Zoom meetings on our love seats. We’re thinking differently, too, by creatively using items we already own—starting seeds in a brownie tray, shuffling accessories to refresh a room. In this moment, if we find ourselves in need of big-ticket items like sectionals and shelving systems, it would be ideal if they could transform along with our lives.
That makes it the perfect time to consider modular furniture, which is an umbrella category for furnishings made up of components that are customizable to some extent. One simple iteration is an L-shaped sofa whose chaise can be used on either end, like this one by Campaign. At the other end of the spectrum are Lego-like furniture kits, like those sold by Loose Parts, which offer the ultimate flexibility in designing (and redesigning) your own pieces.
Your wallet may thank you if you go modular, too, because inherently flexible furniture “encourages you to reimagine it and rearrange in creative and unexpected ways” when you move and redecorate, says Jennifer June, a part-time professor at the Parsons School of Design and the owner of Loose Parts. Look for high-quality materials, availability of replacement parts, and good product warranties when you shop, because "the real monetary savings comes from the furniture's ability to withstand years of abuse and multiple assemblies and dis-assemblies,” she adds.
Adapting pieces instead of kicking them to the curb helps the environment, too. According to an EPA study, 80 percent of furniture ends up in a landfill at the end of its life. “Rethinking furniture as a system rather than a stand-alone object means that you can stay inspired while limiting waste,” June says.
We could wax on about going modular, but let’s get to the goods! Here are five stand-out furniture companies designing with flexibility in mind.
As the name hints, Loose Parts sells modular components from which customers build one-of-a-kind furniture or predefined tables, chairs, shelves, and more. Last year, Parsons professor Jennifer June launched this collection based on a universal assembly system—regional hardwood rails with pre-drilled holes, stainless-steel fasteners, and aluminum panels. The endlessly flexible kits are ideal for DIY types and anyone addicted to room makeovers. There’s also “something empowering about building your own furniture, designing it to fit how you actually use your space rather than how it’s sold to you,” says June. And in these uncertain times, “expressing a creative impulse feels necessary,” she adds.
This Bay Area company offers a handful of simple seating options, such as a modular sectional with a reversible chaise, that ship flat and are assembled easily without tools. While the clean-lined products based on mid-century designs are nice, Campaign made some business choices that are swoon-worthy. For instance, their bases are made of steel, not wood, and come with a lifetime warranty. Even if you aren’t a restless decorator, you’ll no doubt want to change up a couch that lasts for decades, and Campaign has the perfect solution: an upholstery cover kit that can take you from “almond white” to “Mojave orange” in minutes.
As reported here, Floyd was born in a humble auto garage, but the three founders set a lofty goal: “to change the way people buy, consume, keep, and enjoy furniture.” To that end, the Detroit-based company has released modern, millennial-friendly sofas, tables, shelving systems, and other products with transformation in their DNA. Our favorite piece is the modular platform bed, a plywood beauty reminiscent of Modernica’s Case Study bed but designed to morph along with your needs. You can add or remove panels to change between twin, queen, and king size. Brilliant!
String’s oh-so-Scandinavian modular system took first prize in a book publisher’s shelving design contest in 1949, and the invention is just as exciting today. Lacquered steel side panels, which either rest on the floor or float ethereally on the wall, support a dizzying variety of shelves and furniture components you can mix and match in hundreds of configurations using a drag-and-drop tool on the website. (I didn’t know that felt-covered, bowl-shaped shelves were a thing, and now I’m desperate for some to help organize my jewelry!) If you need a work-from-home spot with a minimal footprint, check out the tabletop that folds down when you aren’t using it.
The Swedish superstore’s SVALNÄS series offers a function similar to String Furniture’s modular system, but at a lower price point. The series uses sustainable bamboo, floats on the wall to minimize bulk, and comes in eleven combinations. You can also build a completely custom combo by purchasing the wall-mounted rails, shelves, desktops, and cabinets à la carte.
What's the most versatile piece of furniture you own? Tell us in the comments!