Self-driving cars. Google Pay. A global genetic database.
Sure, the tech world has a lot to be proud of this year, as start-ups continue their global quest to “disrupt” entire industries, solve health crises, and, you know, fundamentally change the way we live. But as an average dude with a higher-than-average fondness for spending money, I’d like to offer up my own favorite technological achievement of 2015: a stylish, affordable couch.
OK, home furnishings may not sound as cool as virtual reality, but trust me: They’re a hell of a lot more useful. And, lucky for you, right now there’s a bevy of all-new online companies—one helmed by a former Apple designer, another launched by an alum of e-commerce fashion seller Bonobos—rushing into this $100 billion market to fill the huge gap between the ultrahigh-end (see: Eames, Henredon, Restoration Hardware) and the tragically low-end (see: everything else). That means you can score superstylish, modern, and—if prefab—easy-to-assemble midpriced furniture without tapping your grandparents’ pockets, dipping into your 401(k), or even getting off that black, faux-leather Ikea couch you’re still rocking.
Sound innovative enough for you? Good. Let’s go shopping.
For the Guy Renting a Studio
This company, which launched in August, took its name from the folding chairs and tables that roving Army battalions used to tote around as part of a field campaign. So it’s no surprise that, in addition to simplicity, comfort, and affordability, detachability and maneuverability are Campaign’s major selling points.
Under the aegis of its founder, former Apple engineer Brad Sewell, Campaign’s first line includes just one chair ($495), one love seat ($745), and one sofa ($995). Each item is delivered in modules small enough to ship by UPS or FedEx, and when they arrive, the pieces assemble as easily as Lego bricks. The soft cushions are attached to the wooden frames with Velcro, so you can swap out for different colors or patterns whenever you wish. “We start the furniture, and you guys finish it,” Sewell says. If you’re a guy who moves around a lot, these pieces are terrific: You can break that armchair down into its component parts and move it using the same boxes (complete with carrying handles) they came in.
The only drawback is the uninspired design of the first collection—basic shapes, five neutral colors. Yeah, I know: His former company, Apple, thrives on a sort of streamlined simplicity with its products. But perhaps Sewell will consider adding a little more variety to subsequent offerings.
For the Guy with a Serious Girlfriend
This Vancouver, British Columbia–based company sells chairs, tables, and sofas, most of which will be in the mail to you in fewer than 10 days after ordering. “It makes me think this company may be run by vampires who work all night, and to that, I say, ‘Amen,’ ” says Lucinda Pace, a senior designer with online interiors consultancy Laurel & Wolf. Bryght keeps up its superhuman pace by dealing directly with manufacturers in Asia, grouping orders together until there’s enough furniture to fill a shipping container, and delivering it to you directly from the port.
Its best items, bar none, are its sofas, which start at $799 and include upward of 20 designs. “These are the kind of starter sofas that could easily transition into living with a girlfriend or a family. They’re kind of classic,” Pace notes, calling the $899 Echo model “damn sexy.” Other impressive designs include couches like the Sven, upholstered in velvet, as well as the aptly named Retro, which could be a leftover prop from the Mad Men set. For comparison, Bryght’s dining tables and chairs are competitively priced with popular high-end home furnishings company West Elm. But the best part of Bryght may be the flat rate of $49 for shipping, regardless of whether you order one piece or an entire home’s worth of furniture.
For the Guy Who Just Got a Promotion and is Ready to Splurge
Interior Define, interiordefine.com
This one-year-old Chicago-based start-up offers more than 15 different styles of sofas in 30 or so fabrics, from love seats starting at $1,300 to L-shaped monsters for $3,500. And there’s almost nothing founder Rob Royer hasn’t thought of. Free swatches by mail of any fabrics you like? Sure. Gratis white-glove shipping and free returns if notified within 14 days? Of course. Adjusting the length by up to four feet so a sofa is a perfect fit? No problem. Even the firmness of the cushions is up for discussion.
Royer, an alum of online clothing firm Bonobos, says his sofas cost 30–40% less than comparable styles sold at brick-and- mortar stores. In my opinion, one of his standouts is the Gray (from $1,000), a dude-friendly design that’s sturdy, roomy, and squared off, like an upholstered quarterback. For playboys, check out the edgy, modernist Asher (from $1,600).
For the Guy Who Casually Name-Drops "Le Corbusier"
Launched last October, Hem is by far the toniest, and most expensive, of the new furniture start-ups, and it also specializes in other items such as lighting and shelving units. The aesthetic is clean lined and Nordic. “These have the potential to look like design classics, they’re so beautifully designed and simple,” says Mackenzie Schmidt of home and design website Lonny. The reason: Hem hires (and credits) talented young designers to produce its branded products.
Its furniture collection revolves around 12 distinct designs, including a single sofa and chair style, the Palo, which starts at $900; extras include matching loungers and ottomans, all available in two colors of 70% virgin wool.
Hem is unabashedly upscale and European, with offices in Berlin, Stockholm, Warsaw, and Helsinki; its entire collection is workshopped in Finland before the final designs are made in factories around Europe. It’s pricier and more design-forward than the others, but the quality means you’ll likely be able to keep this sofa until those kids you don’t have graduate college. And you’ll need to: Unfortunately, this is the only company that doesn’t offer free returns if you’re not satisfied.