When it’s time to buy furniture for your home or office, there are a lot of considerations. Style, color, size and quantity are just a few factors that play into furniture selection. However, everyone wants to purchase furnishings that are built to last. Surprising to some, a higher price tag doesn’t dictate a better made product, although there are usually higher costs associated with quality materials. Let’s explore what to look for in furniture quality.
Start with the foundation. It’s important to look at the base of furniture, not just the exterior. For example, sofas have a structural base often made of metal and wood. The wood composition could be:
- Solid wood: This is the most expensive and durable option as it is made of solid oak, mahogany or other wood that provides density and strength.
- Veneers: This is typically an inexpensive wood base covered with thin layers of better wood on the exterior. Since the core consists of a lower quality material, the center is not as strong as the solid wood alternative.
- Particle board or composite wood: This option is the least expensive and is made of scraps, specifically wood pulp, plastic and resin.
For those looking for quality furniture, the best options are those with a solid wood and metal foundation.
I also recommend looking at how furniture corners come together. Anything that looks like it was glued together gives me heart burn, knowing the glue is likely to wear away. Wood joinery, where ends of wood are carefully joined together, is a great option. Some antiques use that approach, but many still rely on nailing the pieces together. It’s exciting to discover furniture with square-head nails, which date to the 1800s and earlier when artisans hand-cut metal nails. A peek inside furniture unfolds a lot of details that are often overlooked.
Look inside any furniture with drawers. Are the drawer runners/sliders wood, metal or plastic? Plastic sliders are more inclined to break over time, whereas the metal sliders are sturdier. The wood sliders shown in this photo from Popular Woodworking offer a great fit to the furniture itself and typically are seen with higher-end wood furnishings.
Also look at the pulls and knobs. This can be another indicator of quality since plastic knobs can crack and chip. That said, replacing broken, cheap or blasé hardware with updated knobs and pulls is a fun DIY project and adds instant glamour to any piece.
Well-crafted pieces also have strong wood legs that are jointed to the frame. For sofas, look for the traditional four legs at the corners, plus a fifth leg in the center that offers additional support. Legs are often a weak spot so be sure to inspect them if you’re looking at used or antique pieces. A crack can quickly turn into a missing leg. We had this happen to a brand new vanity just days ago so we had to send it back.
Springs & Cushions Matter
Pull up the cushions on sofas and press down to feel the springy-ness of the coils. You should feel a strong resistance. As explained in The Spruce, “the eight-way hand-tied springs system is one of the best support systems. The craftsman connects each spring to the adjoining one with strong twine. The twine passes front to back, side to side, and then diagonally in both directions, thus tying each spring securely.”
Avoid purchasing any new seating that sags as it’s sure to be uncomfortable. Historically, chair cushions were stuffed with down, but these tend to lose their form over time. You may have experienced this when you sat down and felt you’re sinking into the cushion or you felt the hard frame of the seat beneath you. Chair cushions can be re-stuffed to renew the firmness of the seat. You shouldn’t need to address this in good quality new furniture. However, really inexpensive upholstery starts to sink and pack quickly after purchase so be aware of low-quality work. In contrast, even on the best pieces, cushions will pack down with time. Good-quality fill and a little bit of maintenance will combat that. Turn and plump your cushions frequently for best results.
Fabric Choices for Your Furniture
Fabric also says a lot about how well furnishings are constructed. Seat cushions should be fully covered with matching fabric on top and bottom, rather than your desired fabric on the top side and a plain, white or tan fabric on the underside. Fully covered cushions normally cost more but will last longer since they allow you to flip them every few months to wear evenly.
If you have children, pets or are hard on furniture fabrics, you may want to spend more upfront on durable fabrics that resist spills and stains. We especially like the numerous, hard-working fabrics available from Fabricut. Some manufacturers also offer a protective spray coating that adds another layer of protection to your furniture.
Best Time to Buy Furniture
I’m often asked when the best time to buy furniture is and my basic response has remained the same. So many people invest in the purchase of their homes but don’t plan as thoroughly for the furnishings. There is something to be said for a home (or office for that matter) that looks and feels as good as the structure was designed. I guide clients to invest in their furniture when they’re building or remodeling. This way, your surroundings nurture you.
Each year, there are seasonal sales with Memorial Day and Labor Day promotions on furniture. If you keep in mind our tips for evaluating craftsmanship, these are opportunities to do your research. I also encourage our clients to rely on interior designers like us (wink!) to help navigate a wonderful array of furniture resources, many of which are only available to the trade. That offers you exceptional craft at good prices.
Of course, budget is always a determining factor. I suggest planning to buy the best furniture your budget can accommodate, knowing that you’re much more likely to enjoy the furnishings long-term rather than having to replace worn furniture every few years. Plus, an investment in well-made furniture provides a solid framework on which you can change the color or style by reupholstering the fabric and refinishing the frame for years to come. If you’re ready to choose new furniture and would like some guidance on quality that is made to last, or have a great piece that needs a new look, please contact us. We’d love to share our insight and resources that are sure to delight.