As more Canadians move in to condos or try to squeeze extra space from their homes, multifunctional furniture has been enjoying a greater profile.
But double-duty designs have long been dogged by one problem: To put it diplomatically, designers have placed more emphasis on utility than aesthetics.
Now, however, style is right at the forefront. "The pieces are less utilitarian and more design-oriented," says Alykhan Velji, a Calgary-base interior designer. "A lot of people are buying condos or going into smaller spaces, and they don't necessarily want to sacrifice style for function."
More people opting for smaller spaces has meant greater competition among furniture-makers to cater to this growing market, meaning you can no longer get away with ignoring style.
Top-name designers are being hired to create multifunctional systems for the luxury market. Take, for example, Dror Benshetrit's Avani kitchen, designed for AyA, a kitchen company, and unveiled at the Interior Design Show in Toronto last week. The kitchen's signature system is called the Arc, a moveable island that slides in and out of wall cabinetry.
"We expect from that environment to behave in so many different ways at different times," Benshetrit says. "Sometimes it needs to be this great tool to prepare a wonderful meal. Sometimes it needs to be this super- comfortable [space] and adaptable to us two, us four, us 20."
Benshetrit is interested in creating pieces that can undergo what he calls "transformation," and those that do it well are defined by simplicity, he says.
"It has to be one gesture," he says. "If you need to lift and turn and twist, you've lost me." As well, the best multifunctional furniture often conceals its other side, whether it's a simple storage bed, a bookshelf that separates to become two chairs, a table or end table that when flipped over works as a serving tray, or a chair that transforms into a step ladder. These pieces have to stand alone because they are prized now just as much for looks as for use.
"People are looking for quality of materials," says Velji.
Only a few years ago, multifunctional furniture was consigned to multifunctional rooms such as spare bedrooms that also served as home offices. We may still have to hide futons in shame, but new multifunctional pieces can be proudly displayed throughout the home – and they are.
"Now people have them everywhere," says Lucie Pitt, an interior designer based in Montreal.