The Fundamentals of Furniture Buying
Photo Courtesy of Ethan Allen
Whether youre looking for a specific piece, a whole room or an entire house, buying furniture can seem a bit daunting and a hefty investment. For the unpracticed, knowing where to put the most money and where to cut back might not be obvious. Likewise, questions about quality make some homeowners nervous. Perhaps most difficult of all is deciding what really goes together and how it will look when you get it home. Will the kids destroy it or will the piece hold up well? And if the new sofa withstands the children, can it survive the dog? The good news is that even a novice can create a furniture plan, find the right pieces and place them correctly. Sometimes a little professional help is needed, and its available at more affordable rates than you might imagine. With the facts about furniture, shopping for that perfect new dining room set or armoire actually can be fun!
Photo Courtesy of Storehouse Furniture
The bare necessities
Before hitting the shops, prepare yourself. You always make a plan, says Shirley Mitchell, owner of S. Mitchell Interiors Inc. I always suggest that you start with the minimum amount that you need in a room. For example, in a bare living room, begin with a sofa, chair and coffee table. Find the bigger pieces first, the secondary pieces next and the accessories last. Even if the entire plan cannot be implemented at once, at least the vision will remain to guide furniture selection in the future.
Mitchell also warns against impulse buying. Begin with a specific idea of which pieces or rooms will consume more of your money. You might start by looking through magazines and cutting out pictures of specific designs you find appealing.
In the planning stage, consider the function of the room and furniture. Function is really important in our homes, Mitchell says. If the piece will be in a high-traffic area and endure a lot of use, its wise to opt for durable, forgiving fabrics, says Daria deGolian, owner of Daria Designs. Heavy weaves and neutral colors with patterns fit well into this category, as does leatherif it becomes stained or scratched, it can look intentionally distressed rather than ruined.
Photo Courtesy of Storehouse Furniture
Seek out quality
With a plan and some styles in mind, its time to hit the pavement (or the computer, for Internet shoppers). When looking at and choosing pieces, quality is very important. Across the board, the major factor in determining quality is craftsmanship. High-quality materials, excellent design and construction by skilled craftsmen are the differences between high and lower quality pieces, says June Price, owner of Anew Design Inc. and K. L. McCall Interiors Ltd. Look for good quality craftsmanship. The more handmade it is, the better. When considering antiques, the history of the piece can have an effect in addition to the manufacturer and the craftsmanship.
Additional aspects to notice concerning quality include solid constructionmeaning all wood and not particle board, dovetail joints inside the drawers, well-fitting and level drawers and doorsno spaces or gaps, high-quality hardware and a beautiful finish. Wood type also is a factor. Pine and oak are readily available and less expensive, while cherry, maple and mahogany cost more. Some pieces that easily show the level of craftsmanship are armoires, chests and other items that are carved. Examine the detail to determine whether the piece was actually hand-carved. If it looks too perfect, its not hand-carved, deGolian says. Also, make sure that most of the piece was created as a complete article. For example, the legs should be carved out of the same wood instead of attached separately.
Contemporary furniture follows the same rules as antique and traditional pieces. One of the fundamental characteristics of modern design is quality craftsmanship, says Kimberly Leach, studio proprietor at Design Within Reach. I look for the type of materials used, method of assembly and finally, and most importantly, attention to detail.
Photo Courtesy of Design Within Reach
Even with all the focus on craftsmanship, mass production does not necessarily mean lower quality. In this day of high-tech tools and precise machines, most furniture is mass-produced to a certain stage of production, as in cutting of the components, Price says. Usually, mass production equals better affordability. However, value is always added when the assembly and finishing are done by hand. If you still have trouble determining quality, try asking the salesperson, who should be well versed on the different lines.
Know where to spend
Although translating craftsmanship into an understanding of quality level may be possible, most people do not begin searches for furniture with bottomless pockets. Knowing where and on which pieces to spend the most money can be just as important as realizing when a piece is of high quality. For starters, deGolian says, invest money in pieces that will be used for a long time. Dining room sets and armoires are two things that warrant a good investment. However, sofas and chairs usually have a short lifeperhaps five years. The sofa can be a place to save a little money and still be able to accomplish the look you want. Even a very well-constructed sofa probably will need to be reupholstered in about five years.
Photo Courtesy of Cornerstone Furniture Outlet
Another way of thinking is to buy the best quality that you can afford at the time (since the cost of furniture will probably only continue to rise). Put extra money into a focal piece and pieces that will incur heavy use to save the expense of replacing them, Price says. Also, look for bargains on trendy items since these will need to be changed frequently lest they date your design.
American Home Showplace
Cornerstone Furniture Outlet
Fabric & Fringe
Four Seasons Pottery and Teak
jBarkley Design Group, Inc.
Towne & Country Furniture
Speaking of bargains, what about those mystical trips to places like High Point, N.C., often called the Home Furnishings Capital of the World? According to the High Point Chamber of Commerce, High Point is the largest wholesale home furnishings show in the world. Buyersand sellers come together from all 50 states and 106 countries around the world. For someone who is interested in finding out what is new and searching for good deals, making a pilgrimage might be just the thing. However, keep in mind that hidden costs might outweigh any price advantages found.
If you need to purchase several pieces or a whole houseful of furniture, you could probably save a good deal of money if you a
e prepared to pick it up and transport it home yourself, Price says. In this type of situation, the buyers responsibility becomes high. Two trips are required as very few places sell off the floor unless you purchase samples, Price says. To the cost of furniture, you need to add the amount of your travel expenses and truck rental or shipping charges, and then determine if you are still saving enough money to make it worth the trip. Of course, if the trip is intended partly for pleasurea little furniture vacationit can be a fun getaway.
Another Mecca of home furnishings thats right here in Georgia is the Carpets of Dalton campus 80 miles north of Atlanta. In addition to the carpet superstore, the campus includes American Home Showplace, World of Outdoor Living and Buy the Room for a total of more than 750,000 square feet of home flooring and furnishings.
Even at home in Atlanta, bargains are readily available. Consider shopping retailers in January when they are closing out last years inventory, suggests deGolian. Many retailers will host weekend sales at warehouse spaces, and great deals abound.
If, for whatever reason, searching does not yield results and your perfect pieces remain elusive, custom-made furniture can save the day. It can be the answer to many design issues, including working within an unusual space or catering to specific needs for storage or display. Custom-made and designed furniture also will give you the opportunity to have a one-of-a-kind piece.
When looking for a unique custom-made piece, it is a good idea to contact a professional interior designer first. Designers have great resources and access to places that sell only to design professionals. A designer will also know how to go about creating a custom piece and handle construction, fabric and finish. Custom pieces are expensive, and no one wants to make a wrong decision. Even better, many designers are able to sell these pieces at below-retail pricing.
Designers also can be helpful in pulling it all together. Leach recommends mixing in a little bit of a modern look with antiques. I think we express our personalities when we choose furniture for our homes, she says. And I think for some of us, that is a mix of the old and the new. I have always said as long as you choose items that you love they will all work together.
Get professional help
If doing the mixing on your own seems a little scary, do not hesitate to call in a pro. Some designers will consult for a few hours to help you create an initial plan or even discuss placement and selections in the final stages. A good designer will want to hear what you have to say, and even if you have an idea that does not work, he or she will pull something from that idea to learn about your preferences.
According to Mitchell, a home should be creative and unique, so buying pieces usually wins out over buying a room. When combining, scale is vital. Create a sense of balance. Finally, when outfitting a room, do not overbook the area. You have to leave space in a room for the people and the energy of the people, Mitchell says.
The waiting game
Once selections have been made, a waiting process usually begins. Unless you buy off the floor, the furniture will need to be shipped, or in the case of custom orders, made. For an in stock and ready to ship company like Design Within Reach, the items are ready to go in just three to five business days. Retail stores can also have short delivery waits, depending on what is in stock; a wait of four to six weeks is not unusual for furniture that is ordered. Custom-made orders take much longer, naturally. This would include situations such as a furniture store purchase of a standard design sofa for which you chose the fabric, as well as custom-designed and created pieces. A wait of 12 weeks would not be at all unusual in such a situation.
Finally, have fun
Filling a house can seem overwhelming. However, with the multitude of options available today, from Internet shopping to antiquing and visiting retail stores, homeowners have many ways to be sure they are making the right decisions about decorating their homes. If necessary, professional designers are available for everything from consultation to makeovers to full service interior design. Remember, your home should be comfortable and reflect your style, and the furniture-buying experience should be fun!
Terms to Learn
Craftsmanship: A term that denotes the quality of a piece of furniture. Craftsmanship is the proper execution of the design according to standards. If it is a custom piece, the interior designer and the craftsman work out the design and set the standard for the execution, with input from the client.
Dovetail joint: An interlocking fan-shaped tenon that forms a tight interlocking joint when fitted into a corresponding mortise. Quality dovetail joints are a time-honored tradition in the construction of drawers. Dovetailing a joint adds strength, helps prevent a drawer from warping and allows it to slide more smoothly.
Finish: This is the key for enhancement and protection of the materials used to construct a piece. Sheen, color and durability are important qualities in a finish.
Hand carving: As opposed to machine-made, hand-carved furniture usually is made by an experienced, trained craftsman. Hand carving is very labor-intensive, so hand-carved pieces naturally are more expensive.
Particleboard: A structural material made of wood fragments, such as chips or shavings, mechanically pressed into sheet form and bonded together with resin. It is dense and stable and is a good material for sub-strength in the interiors of furniture pieces.
Veneer: A thin slice of wood cut from a solid piece, applied as a decorative surface to a more common wood.
8-way hand-tied: A technique for constructing sofas and easy chairs with springs. This technique, which must be done by hand, prevents a sofa or chair from bottoming out with wear and tear. Springs that are 8-way hand-tied hold their shape, allowing the sofa or chair to look better and be more comfortable for a longer time.
Source: Shirley Mitchell, S. Mitchell Interiors Inc., and Sharon Black, Anew Design