Bean There

That form-fitting, ultra-comfy bean-bag chair is here to stay

Renowned designer Mies van der Ruhe once mused that the successful design of a chair was as much a challenge as that of a building. Given how much time most of us spend sitting—at work, at home, in our cars—and later complaining about our aching backs, that's probably a considerable understatement.

Why can't chairs be more comfy? Despite hundreds of years of design and redesign on these deceptively simple devices, there's somehow still a market for gadgets to trick our chairs out with, from ergonomic lumbar pads to 18-motor Sharper Image massagers. Berkeley architecture prof and undisputed chair guru Galen Cranz sums up the situation bluntly: "Let's face the considerable evidence that all chair sitting is, actually, harmful. . . . Rather than face the possibility that chairs as such may be harming us, we spend more and more time and money trying to find or create ideal ones."

Well, maybe no chair is perfect, but I'd like to humbly submit that I found the ideal chair—for me, at least—almost 20 years ago. I'm sure I was comfortably parked at the time, playing Missile Command or rolling up a cleric or something, when this unswerving opinion was formed: Bean bag chairs are the ultimate place to seat your seat.

Professional ergonomists and furniture aesthetes, of course, pooh-pooh them for their lack of support and frumpy lines. But for my sitting pleasure, nothing beats the warm, womb-like cradle of a big bag of beans (or, more accurately, those weensy styrofoam BBs, which, once escaped, seem to propagate like sand from a beach trip). Like-minded sitters looking to score a bag for themselves will be glad to find out that the Golden Age of Sitting didn't end in the early '80s.

Tracking down a bona fide retro bag can be difficult: Occasionally one will pass through Goodwill or Salvation Army, often going for a mere $5 to $20, but such sightings are rare. For an authentic old-school bag, it's more likely you'll have to settle for buying third-hand from the swank store of a savvy furniture buyer.

But if owning an "antique" bag isn't important, you can plop yourself down on a newer model with relative ease. For one, good ol' Fred Meyer has serviceable ones for as little as $30. And even the style council at Urban Outfitters has ruled that bean bag chairs are A Cool Lifestyle Accessory—a classic model with a suede-y, synthetic shell goes for $70, while $60 buys you the smaller, squarish version.

For a fitting mix of retro and techno, consider the ironic act of ordering a bean bag online. Numerous sites offer permutations on the basic bag, from to to (my favorite), at prices ranging from $50 to $150 and beyond. One of the best sites comes out of Portland, with no less hip an endorser than Wired and cool clients like Pixar and Weiden and Kennedy: Check out Greenbeans Fabrication at

But the king of bags holds court right down on Western, hailing from far-off France. You may think "chic" and "bean bag" don't belong in the same sentence, but one look at Ligne Roset's (55 University, 341-9990) divinely designed "Glp" will convince you. (Presumably the name comes from that familiar "fwoomp" of air sound the bag makes when you plop down.) Translucent vinyl wrapped around 310 liters of polystyrene filling and a soft, black spandex seat may just make the Glp the perfection of the form. But be warned that perfection has its price—$395, in this case.

Paul Hughes is a Seattle freelance writer who's saving up for a Glp.

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