This Toronto photographer shoots the city’s quirkiest living rooms
Adam Coish is interested in your couch. He doesn’t want to buy it—he just wants you to relax, take a seat and pose for a photo.
For six years, Coish, a professional photographer in downtown Toronto, has been shooting portraits of people on their sofas, love seats, chaises and futons as part of The Couch Series, a project he began during his final year studying photography at Ryerson University.
Coish is fascinated by how a single piece of furniture can reflect its owner’s personality. “A couch says a lot about where you are and who you are,” he says. “We all spend time sitting, eating, sleeping, watching TV, reading, laughing, crying, and entertaining on this everyday piece of furniture.” So far, he’s shot more than 60 couches in and around Toronto. Here, he discusses some of his favourite portraits.
Last year, Coish posted in the Bunz Facebook group looking for new subjects to photograph. Morgan and Chris, who both work at OCAD, were first to respond. They conveniently live right behind the photographer’s home in Dufferin Grove, so he grabbed his camera and headed across the lane, unaware of just how spectacular his neighbours’ living space would be.
Their impeccably preserved and reupholstered 154-year-old couch is surrounded by taxidermy items the pair have collected over the years: an elk that doubles as a plant-holder, a bald eagle, a moose, a peacock, a massive brown bear, a duck, a wildcat and a case filled with colourful birds. In total, they have more than 75 stuffed animals and birds. Their favourite items are the bald eagle, which flew into the windshield of Morgan’s dad’s truck in 1980, and the massive brown bear, retrieved from Lech’s Furs in Peterborough. The shop was forced to remove it from the entrance after a Trent student kept showing up to pray to it and refused to go away until she brought it back to life. Here, the couple is pictured with their son, Rhodeo, and dog, Colonel Sanders.
Coish trekked to Hamilton to photograph Danielle, a vintage shop owner, and Vince, a musician and steelworker. Almost everything in their home is thrifted or second-hand. “They have so many things I wish I knew where to find,” he says.
While the quirky wall hangings and bright accent wall made for a good shot, the real stars of this photo are Freddy (the adorable toque-wearing toddler), Cletus (the brooding cat perched atop the couch) and Cheese (the dog enjoying his beauty rest beside Danielle).
A few years ago, Coish attended “the most badass Halloween party” at the Darling Mansion, a popular spot in the city’s west end that serves as an artist’s residency, Airbnb and the home of Tanya Grossi, the mansion’s curator.
He was blown away by the building’s eclectic interior and immediately knew he wanted to shoot a portrait of Grossi on this couch in the first floor drawing room. He bookended the couch with a pair of elk heads and had Grossi pose with her dog, Enzo.
This love seat looks much different than it did when its owner found it online. Thierry, a Parkdale artist, restored the charming piece and painted the fabric a soft pink hue and the trim with gold leaf. She saw Coish’s posting online and got in touch, inviting the photographer to shoot a portrait of her and her son, Evan, along with their cat (left) and the two they were fostering. The artwork hanging above the couch was also made by Thierry.
“Obviously when you come into a home and breeze by three Great Danes, you know it’s going to be an interesting shoot,” says Coish. Sarah and Keith, a couple in Greektown, had an extra-large ottoman custom-made to accommodate their massive canine pals: Danforth, Guinness and Monty. “It was a real challenge to get all three of them to stay still,” says Coish.
Coish ventured to Chinatown to photograph Andrew, a musician, and Kay, a residential cleaner. Birthday Boi (the rat perched on Andrew’s shoulder) had no problems sitting still for the photo.
For nearly a decade, Coish’s parents lived and worked in Pond Inlet, Nunavut. When he visited them in 2013, elders Mary and Joanesie invited him into their home. The couple didn’t speak English, so a younger relative who worked with his parents served as a translator. Coish normally shoots subjects looking directly at the camera, but he couldn’t help but snap a few candids of Mary and Joanesie smiling and laughing with each other. “They were so authentic, welcoming and warm, and that spirit comes through in their portrait,” he says. “You can feel the love in this image.”
Physician Jon Fiddler (left) commissioned this brutalist couch from Daniel Gruetter, a local woodworker, and Dave Solursh, a concrete artisan. At a weight of 800 pounds, it required three people and a carjack to get it inside the couple’s Little Portugal home. When Coish asked Fiddler what the couch is most used for, he replied, “Making my friends uncomfortable due to its severe uncompromising nature.”
Vintage shop owners Michelle and Jeremy live in Hamilton with Weiland, the cable knit sweater–vested dog. Among their treasures: an old radio, records, a near-mint Amazing Spider Man comic and an Honest Ed’s sign advertising 99-cent fancy panties. “The wallpaper alone was so cool, but that couch was out of this world,” says Coish.
This photo was one of Coish’s earliest shots in the series. Koki, a DJ, plays deep-house and down-tempo music. The faded candy-stripe-pink couch in his apartment was left over from a previous tenant, but he decided keeping it around was easier than buying a new one. Coish says this picture is reflective of what he was going through at the time as a broke student. “We were all just doing our best to get by,” he says.