One potato, two potato, three potato, yours? This giant Austin landmark needs a new home
They have plywood bones. Their faces are painted on, permanently smiling, never blinking. They cannot move, and yet, they must.
This is not the start to an episode of “Tales from the Crypt,” though there is some suspense involved.
You see, Austin's Couch Potatoes needs to move out of their North Austin furniture store by the end of December. Don’t know where that is? ’Course you do. Out front sits a trio of Godzilla-sized potatoes, permanently reclined on an equally mammoth sofa. They’re hard to miss when you drive down Interstate 35 between Austin and Round Rock. That is the point.
The potatoes’ names are Brian, Travis and Dan, if you’ve ever wondered.
Austin's Couch Potatoes recently lost their lease at that location, says co-owner Brian Morgan, a potato namesake along with partners Travis Morgan, his brother, and Dan Anthony. (He says he is not allowed to reveal the new tenant.)
Those smiling, seated starches probably can’t come along in the move, Morgan says. So, Austin's Couch Potatoes is looking for someone to give them a new home.
The furniture retailers started out of Morgan’s garage about 10 years ago, he says, at first selling refurbished pieces on Craigslist. They saved up for a couple years and moved into the showroom on I-35, their first location in town.
“We took a building with probably the worst highway access imaginable,” he says. Entry into the parking lot was obscured. Customers would miss the turn or end up driving over the lawn to get to the store. But if they did all that, they were probably ready to buy some furniture, Morgan thought. They just needed something to “make a big splash” and draw people in.
“We had priced billboards on the side of the highway at one time, and they were just outlandishly priced,” Morgan says. Also: turned out that the city wouldn’t allow Austin's Couch Potatoes to put up a billboard next to their store, he adds, since they were out of allowable square footage for signage.
The owners studied marketing tactics. They wanted something that would “cut through, and be memorable,” that would reflect the weirdness of their hometown.
Next to the store sat a pad zoned for sellable display, Morgan says. They thought about erecting an inflatable at one point. Instead, they ended up with a “giant statue to the sofa gods,” he says.
A friend named Andy Davis, then a local artist, told the owners that he used to fashion props for theme parks in the 1970s and ‘80s. He offered to build a giant sofa for the furniture store to display on the side of the road, sketching it out on a napkin. Morgan thought the idea was awesome, and Davis told him it would be done in a couple of weeks.
A few days later, Davis returned with another sketch. He couldn’t sleep — visions of russets danced in his head. He designed three giant potato figures to sit atop the couch.
The idea seemed bigger than the pyramids, Morgan says. He loved it.
Artists Faith Schexnayder and Ryan Day worked with Davis on the project, and Jerry Fryer led construction. The sofa frame was built out with plywood and two-by-fours. The crew poured cement and anchored it to the display site. Shaped foam fit between the plywood skeleton pieces of the spuds; the big boys were covered in chicken wire and mastic. Then an artist painted the potatoes, including their eternal grins, with weather-resistant paint.
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The price tag kept going up: “Artists are great creatives, but they are not great at math,” Morgan says with a laugh.
Six months later, the giant sofa and its occupants were installed in front of Austin's Couch Potatoes in six modular parts, Morgan says. They had to use a crane. Each potato has an eyelet hook on its crown, allowing it to be lifted into its long, long repose.
The structure sits 22 feet high and 34 feet long. Morgan estimates now that the whole thing cost around $70,000 — still less than a billboard would have been in the long run. And to get around the zoning problem, the giant potatoes have always technically been merchandise, Morgan says.
“It’s for sale. I told people ‘Yeah, it’s $200,000, if you want to buy it,’” he says.
It put Austin's Couch Potatoes on the map, Morgan says. Kids would beg their parents to pull into the parking lot. People would come from far and wide to see it. Morgan remembers that the owners of the world’s largest potato took their own giant spud on a road trip from Idaho for a photo opp.
Morgan did try to snag the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest sofa, but he says the process was too cumbersome — you either have to wait a long time for a representative to come evaluate the record or pay an “exorbitant fee” to fly a judge out from Australia quicker.
“That’s vanity,” he says of the world record. “I don’t need it. I already have the giant sofa.”
Brian, Travis and Dan — the potatoes, not the people — have been through a lot. Morgan says the installation once withstood a “minor tornado,” as well as this year’s winter storms. It has collected a few bullet holes, but he says they’re not noticeable. Probably someone using them for target practice, he adds.
After a little under a decade, though, the potatoes might have met a force they can’t withstand: the booming Austin real estate market. Austin's Couch Potatoes has two other locations, one on Ben White Boulevard and one on North Lamar Boulevard, where Morgan would love to move the statue if it was possible. He doesn’t think the city would go for it.
So, the spuds seek shelter. Morgan has run through scenarios in his head, and he talks about the future with a sense of possibility. Maybe it becomes a climbing attraction, or it gets converted into a livable structure for vacation rentals, or, heck, Morgan himself might move in. Perhaps it could become part of a larger art space, like the Cathedral of Junk. A potato farmer in Idaho looking for a roadside attraction? Morgan is open to it.
He just wants the potatoes to bring joy, wherever they end up.
“I would do whatever impacts the most people,” he says. “That’s been the benefit of even having this thing, is bringing people smiles.” He would prefer it not be hidden away on private property but would sell it, if things came to that. He would love it to find an accessible, local home in the city where he grew up; he and his brother were raised in Southeast Austin.
“If it was something that was part of Austin, I would gift it,” he says.
As far as moving the structure goes … they’ll figure it out when they get there. Morgan says a fundraiser might be involved.
“It’s definitely moveable,” he says. “It would be moved in six sections and put on a trailer.”
Morgan knows there are so many creative people in this city, so the future of the statue will be up to whoever has the best idea. If they’re willing to carry on the story, he would be honored to share it.
“I really want it to have a home,” he says, “if Austin's going to keep it somewhere.”
Can you give these potatoes a home?
Interested parties who have ideas about what to do with Austin's Couch Potatoes' sofa-and-spuds installation, including artists and potential buyers, can email email@example.com.