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The Mah Jong Sofa, an Icon of 1970s Design, Turns 50

A look back at Roche Bobois’s reinvention of the living room sofa

By Gregory Furgala

Roche Bobois’s Mah Jong sofa is officially middle-aged. As we celebrate its 50th anniversary, it’s worth remembering that its modular construction and low-slung silhouette – its two defining characteristics – stalled its release. “Very few franchised stores understood the concept,” recalls Nicolas Roche, creative director of Roche Bobois.

Mah Jong sofa
Image courtesy of Roche Bobois.

Good design is occasionally ahead of its time, but fortunately for the Mah Jong, consumers copped on. Each of the collection’s five components (an armless chair, lounge chair, corner seat, panoramic corner seat and ottoman) sits directly on the ground and, with the smallest of them nearly a metre square, have a tendency to sprawl – which is kind of the point. A product of the ’70s, it challenged design norms, encouraged comfort and invited a freedom of use. The infinitely flexible Mah Jong met the moment.

Mah Jong Sofa by Roche Bobois
Image courtesy of Roche Bobois.

“The fact that the Mah Jong is very low to the ground – the famous vivre au ras du sol – was a response to new body attitudes that were part of the social changes arising in those times,” says Roche. “Strangely, the original Mah Jong, initially called Lounge Sofa, was not at all as colourful as it became later – it was usually shown in grey or brown fabric!”

Family with kids relaxing on sofa
Image courtesy of Roche Bobois.

Roche Bobois continues to draw on its avant-garde roots, which in lieu of its early earth tones now sees it “dressed” in explosions of colour and pattern. Fashion luminaries, including Kenzo Takada, Jean Paul Gaultier and Missoni Home have each created exclusive, hand-stitched upholstery that, after all these years, has become Mah Jong’s third defining characteristic. At approximately $2,500 a piece, a full set-up is an investment, but at least you know it’s a long-term one. ROCHE-BOBOIS.COM

Categories: Stuff

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