“Ugly Couch Contest” …

… that’s what the ad said. To enter, we were to send a photo of our torn, stained and dilapidated couch and the ugliest couch would win a set of new slipcovers for its owners.

I had to laugh, thinking back a few years and knowing we could have won that contest hands down. The stuffing of our sofa’s casual cushions had become more and more matted, the threads of its loosely-woven fabric more pulled and torn and its overall colour changed from neutral pastel to an indefinite stale-oatmeal gray.

(When you have a lot of sons, they seem to turn up in every picture.)

Sorry about my poor photography skills but this shot shows the couch on its way to a glorious degradation. It actually got much worse than this. (When you have a lot of sons, they seem to turn up in every picture. With frightening facial expressions.)

This sofabed and loveseat we had bought new on a great sale to furnish our newly completed family room 15 years before was now a front runner in any ugly couch contest.What was worse, I had no hope of doing anything about it. Steam cleaning it would have disintegrated the fabric. I didn’t want to throw good money after bad by re-covering it. And buying something new at that time was out of the question.

There were still a few options open to us:

  • Send it on a one-way trip to the landfill and sit on the floor. (But with hardwood floors, that wasn’t a comfy prospect.)
  • Keep the couches and never have anyone over until we could get new ones. (But there were those commands in scripture about being hospitable.)
  • Accept the situation and learn contentment.

Mostly by default, I chose the third. But along the way, God continued my education with other vital lessons.

Contentment is “not having what you want, but wanting what you have.” ~Elisabeth Elliot

As we went on sharing our home with others through hospitality, I had to swallow my pride repeatedly, resisting the urge to explain away these eyesores. It was humbling but I tried, whenever I saw the couch, to remind myself of how good it was to have somewhere to sit. And the cushions made excellent rafts for our children to shoot the imaginary rapids in our living room.

Rather than focus on wanting what I didn’t have, I learned to discipline myself to review all the blessings I was grateful for. This went on for several years during which the furniture aged exponentially.

One day, a friend phoned and asked if we would be offended if she bought us different living room furniture.

“Offended?” I laughed. By that time I had come to such an acceptance of what God had given us, such trust in His good plan for us and His perfect timing in providing our needs, that I was beyond any prideful unwillingness to receive “charity”. She and I had fun checking out furniture ads in the classifieds, and shopping.

“Take off your jewelry,” she taught me, “so people won’t think you have lots of money and refuse any low offer you might make.”

Not wanting to take up too much of her time, we quickly found something that was almost new and in good condition. It wasn’t quite the style I had in mind but it was a big improvement. Since we still needed Ugly Couch for the family room, I decided I could extend its life a little by recovering the seat cushions and making new back cushions with some fabric my friend also bought me.better couch makeover pic

And over a few more years, while we wore that out too, I made a mental list of criteria for couch shopping whenever the time should come.

The attic of our first home had been “insulated” with some sawdust, a few magazines, a wartime butter ration card and little else. One of the magazines was a January 1945 issue of Better Homes and Gardens. (15 cents!!) Fascinating reading.

Old BH mag cover


I asked myself why I’d liked the room on the cover when we first unearthed it in the 1980s and why I still liked it in the early 2000s. I decided those couches, except for the fabric, were timeless. They had a classic shape that made them as up-to-date in the 40s as they were some 60 years later.

So my couch criteria list went something like this:

  • classic shape (tuxedo style)
  • fixed back cushions (so children would not be able to use them as rafts – sorry, kids!)
  • rolled arms (softer for heads when lying on the couch)
  • no show wood. I’ve cracked my head on this in other homes. I guess I could learn not to throw back my head when laughing.
  • tighter weave fabric to avoid pulls
  • fabric that is not 100% cotton (synthetics or synthetic blends wear better)
  • depth of seat (from front to back) should not exceed the length of my hip-to-knee distance
  • neutral (ish) solid colour with texture, that would work with decor changes over time
  • not leather. Though it’s attractive, I found it too slippery, “sticky” when wearing shorts, cold and difficult to repair tears. I also noticed it’s considered a status symbol in some circles and wanted to avoid that.
  • excellent quality — hardwood construction, 3-way hand-tied springs, top-quality foam and upholstery, piping. I wanted this to be the last couch set we ever buy.
  • didn’t want to waste a lot of time shopping from store to store.

When the time finally came that we’d saved up enough money, I was thrilled to find our new couch and loveseat after only a couple of hours shopping. It met all the criteria as well as being 20% off the regular price. Happy, happy.


It’s a little more orange here than actual. Perhaps it’s taking on the colour of Tigger who’s hiding in the corner. Sigh.

It’s four years old now and still looks like new.

And just for a reminder of the lessons in contentment I’ve learned, poor old Ugly Couch is still in use in our basement TV room, now with drop-cloth slip covered seats and cushions.



This entry was posted in contentment, Decorating and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to “Ugly Couch Contest” …

  1. Fabulous story. And it’s a beauty! Worth the wait.


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