Has a man ever bought a cushion? I’m not talking about the purchase of such an item as a gift. Doubtless, such occasions have arisen. What I’m talking about is a man walking into his bedroom and saying to himself, ‘You know what, before getting into this bed I’d like to have to clear off a whole load of cushions first. And then, tomorrow morning, I’d be great to have to make the bed and put them all back again.’ That kind of thing. Likewise, having walked into the living room has any such man ever said, ‘This sofa needs scatter cushions, preferably in a range of colours and patterns designed to coordinate with the colour scheme of this room.’ I don’t think so. Do correct me if I’m wrong but it seems to me that cushions are pretty much an expression of femininity. As a man, I’m quite comfortable sitting on the sofa as the manufacturers intended and I’m pretty sure the majority of men feel likewise. So why cushions? Do they satisfy some deep ancestral desire in the female psyche? Are we to imagine, in the depths of time, some female troglodyte embellishing the family cave with scatter cushions made from sabre tooth tiger skins?
I imagine it is part of the perennial conflict in life between form and function. I blame the Victorians. I think it was during this period that people began to crowd their houses with knick-knacks, objets d’art and other such superfluous clutter.
For myself, I prefer the austere and elegant functionality of the Georgian household. As our material prosperity has increased so we have filled our lives with objects of dubious utility, of which cushions represent only a tiny proportion. My mother-in-law was a great one for what she termed ‘collectors’ items.’ These, in my experience, are items designed from the outset to be housed in cabinets, to add to the burden of dusting and ultimately to the burden of those disposing of the chattels of deceased relatives. How many rafters are groaning beneath the burden of attics crammed with ‘collectors’ items’ in long-term storage rather than being disposed of through eBay, car-boot or landfill? It’s a hard decision to make. Grandma’s hideous figurines, deeply treasured by her, cannot be thrown in a skip without implicit criticism of her taste and judgement, without the scorning of her legacy in fact. Hence, the growing weight of accumulated garbage that each generation hands down to the next.
William Morris famously said ‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’ The first part of his injunction is a test that may readily be applied, to cushions as much as anything else. The second is much more open to interpretation because beauty is notoriously to be found in the eye of the beholder. I suppose that tartan scatter cushions were not what William Morris had in mind.
It may well be that my own experiences are not typical so do please correct me if my views are blinkered or outdated.