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Country Seats

Growing a new kind of couch potato.

Author Joey Rubin Illustration Graham Roumieu

ISLEWORTH, ENGLAND

IN EARLY SEPTEMBER, in front of the Osterley House, a nearly 500-year-old redbrick Tudor mansion a half-hour from London, the best part of summer has just been carted away. “You should have seen it,” a groundskeeper says, standing in a depression made by a recently removed 30-foot-long grass couch. “It sure wasn’t your grandmother’s living room set.”

Shocked by a poll that found British families were spending an average of 43 hours a week sitting at home on their sofas, the National Trust-a charity dedicated to preserving historic houses and gardens in the U.K.-decided to do something to lure British couch potatoes into the fresh air.

Their idea? Giant grass living room sets placed on 11 of their properties around the British Isles. “We wanted to see people paying our landscapes the same kind of attention they were paying their living room sofas,” says Karina Swann, a visitor experience manager for the National Trust. “If people were determined to stay seated even in summertime, we thought, fine. We’d let them. We’d compromise.”

Assembled on-site with bales of hay and hundreds of feet of grass turf, the sofas were arranged-from Devon to Dorset to Wales-so that coastal views and rolling meadows would replace TVs and computer monitors. They attracted hundreds of curious visitors a week.

Here at the Osterley House, where Sir Thomas Gresham’s mansion stands in the background like a portrait over a fireplace, it took only three weeks of heavy sitting for the grassy mammoth to collapse. “It was a climbing frame, a castle, a horse, a slide and all manner of things in between,” Swann says. “It was a victim of its own success.”

Today, with the sofa gone and gray clouds filling the sky, the groundskeeper sighs. “It was the best thing about the summer,” he says. “I heard they might do it again next year.” And then he shuffles away. No time- and no place-to sit and chat.

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