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25 Tips to Buy Quality Furniture at Maximum Value

There are a million ways to get your hands on furniture. From dumpster diving to designer pieces, you can literally spend whatever you want on a new couch or dining room table. But not every “deal” is as great as it seems. To avoid common mistakes in furniture buying, you need to educate yourself!

Of course, as we all know, money saved today is not necessarily money saved in the future. Buying furniture is a great example of this. It’s generally better to educate yourself, formulate a plan, and stick to it—rather than snapping up the first great “deal” that you see advertised on a street corner on Saturday.

In this article, we’ll give you 23 tips on investing in quality furniture. We hope these tips allow you to buy excellent pieces rather than waste your money on poor construction. Read on!

  • Define your expectations up front, including budget and quality.
A careful investment in durable furniture can last you for decades. In a sense, you want to spend as much as you can afford on furniture from a high-quality source. A cheap sofa from Wal-Mart or IKEA will likely need replacement in just a few years. Multiply that low price by 5 or 10 or 15, and you realize that cheap furniture really costs you in the long run.

Bottom line: What level of quality do you expect? What can you afford to spend? You should determine this before you even start shopping.

  • Put your money where your time goes.
As this article at Lifehacker explains, you should spend your money in proportion to where you spend your time. We spend a lot of our lives asleep. That means that a high-quality bed and mattress deserve a big chunk of your overall furniture budget. We also spend a lot of time on our couches. Depending on lifestyle, we may spend a lot of time at the dining room table, whether eating, studying, or playing a game with family and friends.

How will this save you money? By ensuring that you only purchase high-quality versions of high-use items. A cheap bed frame will help you save money this month, but you’ll likely replace it in 5 years as it wears down and your back gets older. A new cheap bed frame every 5 years isn’t saving money. Why not buy one frame that you can keep for the rest of your life?

Bottom line: Spend more on quality, in proportion to the amount of use the item will see.

  • Don’t forget smaller accessory pieces. Consider your décor as a whole.
Shown: Arlington End Table by Online Amish Furniture

Remember to leave room (both in space, and in your budget!) for small pieces. You’ll need a new end table next to that new couch. If you’re refurnishing the entire living room, why not make sure that your new recliner matches or complements your new couch?

Bottom line: Look at your future furniture collection as a whole. Don’t leave out smaller pieces, and start thinking about furnishing your room in an integrated style.

  • Create a furniture-buying timeline. You don’t have to buy everything at the same time!
Examine your personal finances. If necessary, begin saving for quality furniture. But remember, you don’t have to get everything all at once. In fact, if finances are limited, it’s actually better to buy slowly, just as fast as you can afford it. You don’t want to buy up a bunch of cheap junk just because the total price fits your budget.

Bottom line: Quality may take time. Don’t be afraid to wait.

  • Research furniture retailers to determine which ones fit your plan.
Not all furniture dealers are created equal! Be wary of the guy on the corner on Saturday waving an “80% OFF BLOWOUT” sign! That high discount has been applied to a fake price. The store is still making plenty of money off of you.

Research prices of several furniture dealers, and research the quality that’s available for that price. If you’re paying thousands for a piece of furniture, is it made of solid wood? Is it hand-built, with tried and true wood joinery techniques? Or is it stapled together and made in China?

Don’t be afraid to look up reviews online, either. Google reviews in particular can provide a revealing look at a retailer’s business practices. Facebook pages offer more customer reviews. Of course, when you read reviews, read enough to get a wide sample. Try to find a review of every possible type, from completely satisfied to totally unsatisfied. Look for common threads. This will help you get a picture of the company you’re considering buying from.

Bottom line: Look beyond the sale prices. Try to figure out what the company is really like.

  • Measure the space where each new piece will sit.
There’s nothing worse than getting your new couch into its new home and realizing it isn’t going to work out. Don’t do this. Just don’t!

Of course, there’s more to think about than just plain numbers. Even if a piece will fit mathematically in a space, how will it feel there? Consider existing footpaths and ways of walking through your house. Are you going to catch your leg on the arm of that new couch?

Bottom line: Measure twice, buy once.

  • Measure your doorways!
While we’re talking about measurements, take this to heart: you MUST measure any and all spaces that your new piece will move through to reach its home. This includes doorways, but it also includes corners, hallways, and split stairwells. If you don’t plan for them, these spaces can turn into nightmares.

Bottom line: Again—measure twice, buy once.

  • Have a backup plan for getting your furniture into the room where you want it.
Just in case you measured wrong, consider alternative ways to get large pieces into your home. If you’re installing the furniture in an upstairs room, can you send it up onto a porch roof and in through a large window? If so, will you rely on hired help from the store, or can you get some friends together and feed them pizza afterward?

Can you disassemble the furniture and rebuild it in the room where it will stay? If so, make sure you understand the piece you’re buying, and make sure it can be disassembled. Don’t assume!

Bottom line: Think outside the box to get the furniture INTO the box!

  • Determine what general furniture style you want before you start shopping.
Photo on the right courtesy of French Finds. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

It’s okay to get inspired by what you find; however, your efforts will be more fruitful if you figure out which styles you like best beforehand. If you keep it fairly broad, that will leave room for falling in love with unexpected pieces.

Do you prefer traditional or modern? Industrial or country-style? It helps to organize your thoughts. This is especially helpful if you’re planning an eclectic look.

Bottom line: Know what you want, but leave room for inspiration.

  • Consider buying only solid-wood furniture.
“Solid wood” means that if you were to cut into the wood on your furniture, you would find that the part in question (say, a table leg or a chair arm) was made from one continuous piece of wood rather than multiple layers sandwiched together. Solid wood construction is more expensive, but it’s also more durable and more attractive.

Not everything that looks like wood is wood. Cheap furniture is often built out of composites like MDF or particle board. These materials are downright ugly, and they’re often beautified with veneer, a paper-thin layer of wood glued on top to create the illusion of solid wood. Worse, some composite pieces have photographic reproductions of wood grain glued on! That’s not wood. It’s a lie. If you want your furniture to last for decades, you should run from low-quality materials like these.

Solid wood remains Nature’s best solution to the question of furniture construction. Hardwoods like oak, maple, and cherry are not only incredibly strong, but they are easily fashioned into wood-only joints—connections that don’t depend on nails or screws for strength.

Bottom line: If you want your investment to last for decades, buy solid wood furniture.

  • Know what you can expect from each type of wood.
Wood is divided into two categories: hardwood and softwood. Generally speaking, hardwoods are harder than softwoods (though there are some species that—ahem—go against the grain!). Hardwood is always a better choice for furniture, though softwood is acceptable in pieces that will not receive extreme wear and tear. However, solid softwood furniture is always a better choice than furniture made out of composites!

Note that hardness is not the same as strength, though the two qualities often go together. Hardness is the ability of wood to resist indentation.

Typical hardwoods used in furniture construction include red oak, white oak, hard maple, walnut, and many more. Softwoods are not as common in solid wood furniture, but you may find pieces made out of pine, cedar, or fir, among others. Note that furniture made out of softwood is not weaker in construction than hardwood; rather, the wood itself is more easily dented.

Bottom line: Research hardwoods and softwoods. Determine what species are appropriate for your level of wear and tear.

  • Consider durability if you have children or pets.
Be realistic. Will your favorite couch in the showroom stand up to little hands and feet, both animal and human? If you have non-declawed cats, think carefully about your upholstery. Also consider food spills and animal accidents. What type of upholstery are you considering buying? Will it stand up the level of abuse that it will get in your home?

Upholstery isn’t the only thing you should consider. Particularly with large dogs and energetic children, you should pay attention to furniture construction. A couch can easily become a climbing course when you’re not looking. For rambunctious children, consider furniture pieces with heavy, solid wood frames that won’t tip over easily and won’t start wobbling from a little extra weight. For example, a solid wood dining table will stand up to years of use by every member of the family.

Bottom line: The safety of your children and pets goes hand-in-hand with furniture durability.

  • Avoid 0% Financing “Deals.”
Avoid them like the plague! As Bob Sullivan reports on, so-called “no-interest financing deals” can nail you with the fine print. The interest-free period is limited to a set number of months. If you don’t pay off the loan in that time frame, you may owe interest for the entire time you had the loan—at 20-30%. Worse, as that article reports, the minimum monthly payments in these plans don’t add up to paying off the debt on time! They’re designed to get you on the hook and keep you there.

Bottom line: 0% financing is a debt trap. Stay away!

  • Never pay sticker price at a brick-and-mortar store!
You’ve heard it said that everything is negotiable—you just have to know what you’re doing. That’s especially true in the brick-and-mortar furniture industry. When you’re buying in-store, you need to haggle. Otherwise, you will get ripped off—big time.

According to this article on Wise Bread, the furniture industry typically uses a markup of 200-400%. (At the other end of the spectrum, most staple groceries are marked up around 5-8%!) This means that the MSRP at a brick-and-mortar furniture store is almost certainly a fake price. Let’s do a little math here:

  • Imagine a dining room table, MSRP $3,000, at your local furniture outlet.
  • The table has been marked up 400%. That means it cost the store $600.
  • It’s on sale—70% OFF!—for $900.
  • The store is still making $300 on the sale, which is a 50% markup on a cost of $600.

This situation sounds like an incredible deal, but it isn’t. Only a sucker would have bought that table for $3,000. It’s a fake MSRP. At $900, you’re paying a reasonable price and a reasonable markup, but it’s not the incredible thing it claims to be! In this situation, you should be more concerned about quality. How is the table built? Is it solid wood, and does it use wood joinery techniques? Worse, did a salesman (who makes commission) pressure you into buying it?

Bottom line: Always haggle at a brick-and-mortar furniture store.

  • If you’re buying from a brick-and-mortar store, ask about delivery costs right away.
Photo courtesy of Bill Ward. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

You don’t want any surprises. This is one area where a brick-and-mortar store can really nail you. Ask up front, and watch the salesperson’s reaction carefully. That will tell you a lot about the business you’re dealing with.

Bottom line: Ask about delivery up front.

  • Check upholstery composition at a brick-and-mortar store.
If you’re not buying furniture from a trustworthy online retailer (such as an online Amish furniture outlet), you should put your upholstery through its paces while you’re still in the showroom. If possible, unzip any cushions or pillows and see what’s inside. Is the upholstery filled with cheap foam, or more durable materials? Is it firm to the touch, or soft and squishy?

Upholstery composition gives you a good snapshot of the overall quality of the furniture. Bad upholstery stuffing=bad furniture!

Bottom line: Look inside before you buy.

  • Test the feel of springs and support in the upholstery.

This tip is so obvious, we shouldn’t have to say it—but we wanted this article to be complete. If you’re at a brick-and-mortar furniture store, sit all over the piece in question. Feel for lumps and saggy spots. How do the springs respond to different positions of your body?

Don’t let the salesperson distract you. Shut out everything else and focus on what you feel. It’s better to rule out poor upholstery now than find yourself stuck with it later.

Bottom line: Sit before you buy.

  • To avoid pushy sales staff (who make commission), consider buying online.
As Annamaria Andriotis reports on Market Watch, furniture salesmen typically make 4-10% commission, and some stores require them to meet a sales quota before commission even kicks in. This leads to pushy sales tactics.

Ask yourself: whose agenda are you trying to fulfill—yours, or theirs? Are you trying to buy an heirloom-quality table, or are you trying to help them move some stock?

You can buy high-quality furniture without falling prey to salesmen. When you buy hand-built, solid wood furniture online, you see your price, and you know what you’re paying for: the work of real craftsmen. You can shop from the comfort of your home, without the stress of a salesman who needs to get paid.

Bottom line: Buy your furniture online for a low-pressure shopping experience.

  • Stick to your budget.
Don’t get upsold at a brick-and-mortar store. When you shop online, you can easily filter for prices that match your budget. If you find something you love that’s too expensive, either restructure the timing of your plan, or move on to a cheaper alternative.

Bottom line: Spend what you decided to spend.

  • Look for personalization options.
Many solid wood furniture retailers offer personalization options. At Amish furniture stores, you can choose the type of wood, stain or paint color, finish type, and more. Many custom furniture retailers will even match the look of your existing furniture for a small additional fee.

When you’re buying from a retailer that sells hand-built furniture, the sky is literally the limit. Since every piece is a one-off built by real craftsmen, you can get exactly what you want. This gives you a piece that’s not only heirloom-quality, but also a genuine, unique work of art.

Bottom line: Take advantage of personalization options from hand-built furniture retailers.

  • Use A Coupon!
This is especially true when you’re shopping online. You can often find great deals by signing up for an online retailer’s email newsletter. You’ll get coupon codes shipped straight to your inbox. You can couple this technique with your furniture-buying plan. It will help you buy slowly as you snatch up great deals only when they become available.

Bottom line: Watch for deals and pounce on opportunities.

  • Think carefully about color. Will you still love that upholstery in 10 years?
Bright red may suit your fancy today, but where are you headed? For major pieces of furniture, it’s safer to choose colors that work in a wide variety of settings. You don’t want to invest in a beautiful, durable piece of furniture that just won’t fit your redecorating plans in 5 years.

Earth tones are often a safe bet. They work with a wide range of styles, and they rarely look out of place. Unfortunately, they’re not always as distinctive as we’d like them to be. Here, as in other areas, use your best judgment, and find a balance between uniqueness and adaptability.

Bottom line: Think ahead when choosing colors.

  • Avoid furniture that isn’t built with reliable wood joinery techniques.
Photo courtesy of Aerolin55. Licensed under Creative Commons 3.0.

This is one of the most costly mistakes you can make when you buy furniture. Cheap pieces are often joined together with nails and glue—or worse, staples! Nails are fine for holding a treehouse together, but they simply won’t due for furniture. Because a nail must compress the wood to make room for itself, it’s already preparing the wood to crack. Nails also tend to pull out, since they don’t have threads like a screw to grip the wood.

Glue is also a bad choice. Unless the two wood surfaces are an absolute perfect match, there are probably gaps between them. Those gaps will fill with glue—but not all adhesives are designed to create a strong bond while filling gaps. Many require exact surface-to-surface contact to work. Unless you can inspect every glue joint with a magnifying glass and find out whether a gap-filling adhesive is used, it’s best to avoid glue-joined furniture altogether.

What’s the alternative? Wood joinery! Believe it or not, it’s possible to create incredibly strong joints with nothing but wood. Techniques like dovetail joints and dado joints create strong wood-only joints that will hold up for generations without glue.

Bottom line: Ask about traditional joinery techniques when you shop for furniture.

  • When shopping at a brick-and-mortar store, check moving parts for smooth, sturdy operation.
You don’t want to get your new chest of drawers home only to find that the drawers stick. Examining moving parts is one of the easiest ways to determine the overall quality of the furniture in question.

When you shop online, make sure you’re buying from a quality retailer who only sells hand-built furniture. That way, you know that the moving parts on your furniture were built and installed by a skilled craftsman, not slapped on by a robot.

Bottom line: Shop for furniture with quality moving parts.

  • Know what type of care your furniture will require.
Solid wood furniture is pretty forgiving. You can move it, place heavy objects on it, and generally treat it like a workhorse. However, the finish on solid wood furniture is often softer than an equivalent piece made out of particle board. That means it will dent more easily.

Wood furniture also reacts to sunlight and moisture in ways that fake furniture doesn’t. Extended time in the sun will alter the color of wood furniture, and extreme changes in humidity can lead to cracks in solid wood. To keep your solid wood furniture looking beautiful for decades, you need to keep it out of direct sun, or at least plan on a furniture rotation every few months if you can’t avoid direct sun.

You also need to keep your home at a stable 35-45% relative humidity year round. Winter is especially brutal to wood furniture, as humidity levels can drop significantly. It’s helpful to think of wood as a living thing, even after it’s been fashioned into a table or a chair. It still needs to breathe, and it still needs decent temperature and humidity.

Bottom line: Take care of your furniture now to avoid costly repairs later.

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