The Japanese Camping Cushion Taking Over Stylish City Apartments
The sleek, circular sitting pad and other home items from outdoor brand Snow Peak are developing something of a cult status among design-minded urban dwellers.
Some mornings, Ed Ngai drinks his morning coffee on the floor of his Brooklyn living room. He sits on a slim yet sturdy lounge cushion made from durable cotton canvas and packed with lightweight urethane foam that cuts a sleek, inconspicuous silhouette. The apartment is a veritable world tour of top-tier design; Ngai, a product designer, furnished his living room with a slouchy Ligne Roset Togo sofa, a low-slung Eames table, and a pair of Locus Solus chairs. There is also Vitsoe shelving, an Isamu Noguchi paper lamp, and a framed Joan Miró lithograph. The cushion, however, comes from an unexpected source for home decor: 65-year-old Japanese camping and outdoors brand, Snow Peak.
Snow Peak is much less ubiquitous in the United States than homegrown outdoor companies like apparel maker Patagonia or retailer REI. It only has two American brick-and-mortars, in Portland, Oregon, and Brooklyn. (By comparison, Patagonia currently has 37 stores in the United States and REI has over 200, according to company websites, though REI carries a small assortment of Snow Peak products.) But what the company lacks in scale, it makes up for with high-minded aesthetics. As a brand, Snow Peak sits closer to the cult-loved beauty brand Aesop than the familiar Patagonia, the type of half-secret status symbol that’s primed to bounce around social media algorithms. While plenty of outdoorsy customers buy up its signature bamboo-and-steel camping gear, the company has also won over city-dwelling aesthetes with its home goods. It turns out that Snow Peak’s thoughtful multi-purpose designs are just as good for city living as for the great outdoors.
"In a New York City apartment, there’s not a lot of space, so it’s cool to take out a cushion or two and have it function as seating," says Ngai. The $65 lounge cushion only comes in two colors: orange and olive green. It folds in half for compact storage when not in use, or for extra padding. Plus, Ngai likes the way it looks. He’s not alone: one particular unboxing video of the Snow Peak cushion, posted by Jun Ho Kim—another New York product designer—has clocked over half-million views and counting.
Nick Lowry, a growth marketer and content creator, bought his Snow Peak cushions in October 2020, back during the lockdown phase of the pandemic. Stuck in their New York apartment, he and his fiancé started playing board games on their coffee table and wanted some seating with a small footprint that could be easily tucked away, not to mention blend in with their other furniture like Le Corbusier’s LC2 Sofa or Mies van der Rohe’s cantilever chair. "We didn't want those large lounge poufs that you might find at CB2 or West Elm," says Lowry. While the board games and puzzles have stopped, he’s found the functional, unfussy Snow Peak cushions make for perfect accessory seating for guests: "If we’re having people over then they are most likely getting used."
For many people like Lowry and his fiancé, the pandemic ushered in a newfound appreciation of low-slung seating. In tough times, people wanted to feel cozy. Designer Michel Ducaroy’s puffy 1970s Togo Sofa, for example, skyrocketed to new popularity during the early days of lockdown. Both Vogue and Elle Decor wrote about it in 2021. (As did I for Art News, where a partner at a top Manhattan interior design firm called it "an adult bean bag.") The following year, popular direct-to-consumer company Floyd—perhaps best known for its squat-minimalist bed frames—started selling the Squishy Chair, which it describes as "not quite a pillow, not quite a chair." In a recent T Magazine feature, designer Rafael Prieto hosted a dinner party as his chic crew gathered around a low-slung table surrounded by one-of-one stools that barely hover off the ground. Similar to the conversation pit heyday of yesteryear, floor seating delivers a cozy, carefree intimacy that armchairs can’t seem to match.
"I use them literally every single day," says Brooklyn spatial designer Christine Espinal, who works at the innovative interiors store cum studio Lichen. Her apartment has low ceilings, so she gravitated toward mostly short-profile furniture when she first moved in. The Snow Peak cushion felt right at home. "I needed something that would tuck away nicely," she says. "I remember when I first brought them home, they folded up and fit perfectly in my coffee table, like they were made for each other."
Everyone I spoke to for this story mentioned Snow Peak’s lounge cushion was not the first item they bought from the brand. One purchase led to another: it started with a smaller item, maybe a spork, chopsticks, water bottle, or travel mug—all streamlined silhouettes made from shiny, sturdy titanium. Kim, who posted that popular TikTok unboxing of the Snow Peak cushions—one in each color—eventually worked his way up to buying the brand's $900 camp-ready futon for his studio apartment.
It’s hard not to point to the co-occurrent "gorpcore" fashion trend, with the chronically cool adopting mountaineering jackets and hiking sneakers as statement style. Perhaps that is seeping into our homes as well. Snow Peak’s lounge cushion packs a lot in a small package—sleek, functional, fashionable—perfect for city living. The Japanese outdoor brand’s appeal lies in its duality: rugged and campsite-ready, but beautiful and modern enough for the aesthetically inclined. After all, you wouldn’t see just any camping cushion holding court next to designs by Le Corbusier or Mies van der Rohe.
One Corner — an inside look at one person’s cherished space.
One Corner: A Dining Nook for Taking a Break From the Couch
Alex Philip Fitzgerald, an art gallery director, had a friend (the contemporary artist Miles Huston) design and build a simplistic bench in the corner of his New York studio apartment. “I was hoping to host more dinner parties,” he says. “But more often than not, I use this corner to work, read, or do research. Anything I don’t want to be on my couch for.” It turns out the corner also makes a delightful canvas to show off Fitzgerald’s collection of vintage art and decor, many of which have been scored from eBay and Craigslist. (Plus, the occasional auction or two.)
The chairs are by Danish designer Borge Mogensen, and the table is from the Michigan-based manufacturer John Stuart, part of the “Furniture City” movement that sprung up in the early 1900s. Sitting on the tabletop is a Lino Sabattini vase, a ceramic fish dish by Kenji Fujita, and a Bruno Gambone candleholder. On the back wall is a bookshelf jam-packed with novels and, as Fitzgerald puts it, “art history and criticism books I haven’t touched since I put them there.” To add a splash of art to the space, he displays a 3-D lithograph by Hollis Sigler and a print by artist-activist Corita Kent.
For Fitzgerald, this corner—along with pretty much his entire apartment—will never reach a resting state. “Everything is always in progress. One of my favorite things about collecting vintage design is that I feel comfortable knowing I can always sell or trade if I find a new piece,” he explains. “I’ve been on the hunt for a dining table with a pedestal base which will allow me to squeeze a few more chairs when needed.” His latest find? The glass desk lamp by architect Gae Aulenti. “It hasn’t found its home yet but seems comfortable in the corner.”
Thanks for reading Sitting Pretty. If you enjoyed it, please consider forwarding it to a friend. The next newsletter (Sitting Pretty: Quick Hits) will be sent out Tuesday, February 21.