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Our Beanbag Chairs

When we were downstairs, in our old place, we found ourself saddled with what I think of as the “furnished Korean apartment couch.” That is, it’s the last sort of couch anybody would ever actually buy for his or her own home, but since it’s the cheapest couch around that isn’t embarrassingly horrible, it’s also the couch you see in every “furnished” apartment. That is to say, the couch you see in almost every foreign English teacher’s apartment in Korea.

Which is to say, if you’ve lived here, you’ve found yourself upon this couch at some point. It’s upholstered in pleather or naugahyde or whatever they call it, and the cushions are big thick square blocks packed with stiff foam. The couch itself is hard-backed, though it’s the sides of the courch that redefine the word “hard” for you. They’re topped with wooden arms, which makes the main use of a couch — a place to sprawl out lengthwise while relaxing — impossible if you are over five feet tall.

Better couches can, of course, be gotten, but they cost a pretty penny and most foreign teachers can’t be bothered, so they make do.

Now, Lime always had a fondness for couches, and really, really wanted to keep the one we had in our old place. We kept it, but it was so uncomfortable that it ended up becoming a dumping ground for, oh, folded laundry, books needing to go to the library, spare bedding that we had no storage space for, and all manner of other junk. So we decided to get rid of the couch when we moved, and pick up some bean bag chairs in its place.

Which we did, and now it’s time for me to say a few words about them.

They’re not exactly what I thought bean bag chairs were supposed to be like. For example, the fabric: it’s airmesh, which, if you don’t know the fabric, is that stuff that the back part — the part that touches your back — on decent backpacks is made of. So it’s absorbent of fluids, and it allows air to circulate. (Which, believe me, is a good thing for any object you’re planning to put your butt on for hours at a time.) It’s not quite the softest airmesh around, though: my office chair also uses airmesh, and it’s much softer. Still, unless you’re in the habit of sitting around at home in a bikini or tiny briefs, I think the fabric won’t irritate you too much. (Otherwise, a cotton cover is another option, though it’s white and that means washing it more often.)

Next comes the shape. As far as I knew, beanbag chairs were, well, shaped like beanbags — big stuffed ball-like fabric bags to sit upon. These beanbags aren’t as shapeless as that — each end tapers into a kind of wedge, except that the wedge on one end is 90% off from the wedge on the other end. This makes it sound weird. It is weird. But the twist in the wedge also allows you to shape the chair a bit, to provide back support when you lie back, as this young lady demonstrates:

That one is mine! (The chair, I mean...)

But all in all, despite these cons, I find the chair totally comfortable. It’s something we can sink into, that we can shape to our needs — sitting up, sprawling, lying down. I can use it as a pillow if I want to lie on the floor, and I often do. It’s a bit small for me to actually take a nap on, though — I think the woman in the picture above is at most five feet, maybe five and a half feet tall. Still, for someone that tall, it’s perfect and even for me it’s pretty good.

The best thing is the space it frees up in our home. We don’t need to take up half the living room with a couch: if we need empty space, we just haul the bean bags to another room, or shove them into the corner. When it comes time to sit on them, I find the best way is to even them out, and then drop myself onto it — usually it shapes itself just the way I want. (Where sitting down onto it as one does a regular chair is much less conducive to a comfortable position.)

A couple of things that might be worth noting: one is that you may find your beanbag chair is understuffed. I don’t know how they’re supposed to be — how the original things in the 70s were — but mine seems a little floppy. Sometimes that’s good, as it makes it easier to shape, but sometimes that’s a pain in the butt, as I find I need to get up off the bag and reshape it before sitting down.

Also, if you have a cat, there are two things you’ll need to know: one is that the sound of all those beans in the bag shifting might bug the hell out of the animal. (It scared Peanut for a while, though Willow mostly took it in stride.) The other thing is that cats seem to love to scratch at Airmesh fabric. But the scratching has been minimal — no more than one sees a cat do on a mislaid backpack — and has done no damage to the structure of our chairs… yet.

Speaking of which, the structure of the bag is worth a comment. Even if you can’t read a word of Korean, the series of photos on this blog makes it pretty much obvious, along with how to put the things together. You receive a cardboard box containing two things: a giant white bag full of the foam beads, which is the interior liner, and a separate cover. Inside that colorful cover are little ties that match loops on the giant white interior liner. You turn the cover inside-out, tie up the ones on the non-zipper side of the cover to the liner, and then turn the bag right side out whilst stuffing the liner (full of pods) back into the cover. When it’s all inside the cover, you tie the zipper-side ties to the loops on the liner, zip it up, and the chair is ready to use.

While I don’t think these bean bag chairs are quite for everyone — they’re too, er, non-traditional for some, and too casual for others’ living rooms — I find them an immense improvement over any of the sorry parade of couches I’ve endured. I often flop onto one and listen to some music, or just relax, and in that sense they’ve helped me with one of my resolutions, which was to relax a little more.

Bikini-clad young lady and mood lighting not included.

For those who are interested, you can get them at a number of places online. You’ll want to search the phrase “빈백” yes, spelled as one word. Throwing in the word “HOMEPLEX” may help, as that’s the manufacturer of the only bean bags I’ve found available online in Korea. If you’re interested, they’re currently 10% off at Emart. (But you might find them even cheaper at one of the online malls.)

One warning, though: when I asked Lime if she had anything she wanted to add to this review, she warned that these chairs are very dangerous, in that once you sit in one, you don’t want to get up again. If you think your productivity can handle it, though, I like ’em.

And as for pictures of me lounging around on them, I don’t have any, and am not feeling up to a photo shoot, though you can see one of the bags in our place in this picture, from just before we moved, when the contents of my closet were hanging from bookcases in the living room because of a water leak:

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