When sofa is out (in the hall), NYC's Couch Doctor is in

Joe Perrone, of Sal Giangrande's crew, pushes a piece of a dismantled couch through a narrow New York doorway. Joe Perrone, of Sal Giangrande's crew, pushes a piece of a dismantled couch through a narrow New York doorway. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)
By Geraldine Baum
Los Angeles Times / December 26, 2008
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NEW YORK - "I can't watch," said Andrew Clarke, shutting his eyes.

"You shouldn't," the doctor said calmly.

The doctor's assistant pulled out an electric saw. He started slicing. The ground was already strewn with staples that had been yanked out. After one, two, three . . . seven incisions, Clarke's $4,000, perfectly worn-in, brown leather couch lay in pieces with the 88-inch-long back surgically separated from the arms and bottom. Clarke's cherished couch looked like a dissected moose.

"Gosh," he mumbled, his eyes wide open, "whatever it takes."

Sal Giangrande calls himself the New York Couch Doctor but in fact is New York's Doctor Whatever-It-Takes for desperate people like Clarke, who couldn't shimmy his old couch into his new apartment and wasn't willing to give up either one.

The young real estate executive was moving from one apartment to another in the same brick building in west Greenwich Village. The new place was bigger and had a spectacular view of the Hudson River but was situated in the middle of a narrow hallway.

"The movers tried several times, several angles, but they couldn't get the couch around the turn from the hallway into the new place," Clarke said. He was ready to dump it when his doorman told him about Giangrande, the Couch Doctor.

"This is New York, where people want what they want when they want it," Giangrande explained. "I spend all day giving them what they want."

Sometimes that means peeling the white leather off two oversized parts of an imported sectional worth $30,000, slicing them apart, reassembling them with 36 metal brackets - and then getting shouted at by the unsatisfied owner because, she insisted, "It still looks bumpy."

Sometimes that means fielding calls from hysterical clients who live on opposite sides of Manhattan and want him to come over right away. One is splayed on her couch in the basement of her new apartment building; the other is plopped on her new sofa bed that the movers left on the sidewalk in front of her brownstone.

"I get calls all day long," said Giangrande, who wears his phone headset during dinner and sometimes even to bed. "It never stops."

Just 15 years ago the maximum length of a typical couch was 84 inches and the width 34 inches. But as Americans fell in love with McMansions and grew in girth, the demand for bigger and cushier couches expanded.

Furniture stores began offering couches as deep as 43 inches and as long as 120 - and the number of disassembling doctors grew along with them.

The Couch Doctor's competition includes Dr. Sofa, "the furniture surgeon"; Z Bros. (the owner's grandfather used to build sofas); and Unique Furniture Service, another small operation that switched to hand saws after customers complained that the buzzing of electric saws scared them.

"I don't think furniture was ever small enough to fit through the typical 28-inch [wide] New York doorway," said Maria Thompson, manager of the flagship Mitchell Gold Bob Williams furniture store. "But a 100-inch sofa? We have customers who want them but can't begin to fit them through their front doors."

That's why Thompson makes referrals, so to speak, to the Couch Doctor.

Before any sale is finalized, the company sends an employee for a "fit call" to assess whether an overstuffed couch can squeeze around all the corners. If the answer is "no," the company either recommends another couch or suggests a house call from the Couch Doctor.

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