Immigrant Decor: The weight of an English chesterfield, by Navneet Alang

This next post is from Navneet Alang, a tech-culture writer and PhD student. You can catch his always thoughtful commentary in This Magazine and the Toronto Standard, among others. Nav’s memorable item is slightly bigger than your average tchotchke, but what I really appreciate is how neatly it upends expectations of what, or where, home means.

More posts to come, so stay tuned! And if you’d like to contribute your own story about memorable immigrant decor, please get in touch, or take a look at the call for submissions post.

On the walls of my parents’ living room are little clusters of Indian paintings, bought at a market in Delhi that specializes in ‘traditional’ handicrafts and art. But when it comes to things that remind me of ‘the home country,’ it’s what those paintings overlook that sticks out in my mind: a large, dark leather chesterfield sofa from England, where I was born and spent my childhood.

When we came to Canada, friends who came over joked that the sofa almost forced them to sit up straight. And there is something very stereotypically British about it: it’s elegant and imposing, yet firm and not terribly comfortable. Then again, that’s the thing about chesterfields: they were largely meant to be symbols, whether of status or tradition, and as immigrants to the UK, I’m sure my parents’ reasons for getting one included both. Today, it’s a reminder of a prim, conservative England that is not just a relic of the past for us, but for many English people too.

Now, when I visit, I’ll sometimes sit on it and read, if for no other reason than the slightly precious symbolism of it all: of sitting on a posh British settee surrounded by Indian folk art in a suburban Toronto home. And, truth be told, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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