High-quality furniture is ready and waiting for the educated buyer. Learn what to look for when shopping for furnishings that will last a lifetime.
In a marketplace saturated with cheap, self-assembled furniture and economy construction, there may appear to be some truth to the old adage that they don’t build them like they used to.
Of course, for buyers looking for quick, low-budget decor, many stores carry economic options. Unfortunately, they may also require a set of screwdrivers, a few spare hours and some elbow grease. And, it’s anybody’s guess where it was manufactured or how long that piece of furniture may endure.
But if shoppers know where to look and what to look for, high-quality furniture is ready and waiting for the educated buyer. Buyers who want furnishings that will last a lifetime, or can be passed down from generation to generation, need to start by looking in the right places.
Looking in the Right Place
At some furniture stores, salespeople are like circling sharks in freshly chummed waters. That’s not how things work at Strode’s Furniture, in downtown Huntley.
“Being a family-owned store, we are not high-pressure,” says owner Bob Wozniak. “We want people to feel comfortable when they come in to look around.”
Instead of pressuring visitors to make a purchase, Wozniak and his crew take the time to talk with customers and help them to find what they’re looking for.
“The key to finding quality furniture is picking the right store to do your shopping at,” he says. “For anyone coming into our store for the first time, we take time to show them how the furniture is constructed, so when you are shopping you’ll know what to look for in a quality-made piece of furniture.”
The items on display at Strode’s are high-quality American handcrafted pieces made of solid wood, and they’re constructed to last. But to get the most out of a visit to his store, Wozniak reminds shoppers not to forget one often overlooked step before coming in: know what will fit in your house, both in the physical and stylistic sense.
“To pick out bedroom pieces, cabinets – any furniture really – the first thing you want to know is the size of your room,” he says. “Determine the style you like, wood species you’d prefer and what color would be the best fit. Once you know those things, we can help you find furniture to fit your room.”
Strawflower Shop & Rug Merchant, in Geneva, adds another dimension to the shopping experience with their on-site interior design staff, who can recommend wall decor, lighting and rugs for many different styles and tastes to complete a room. Owner Mike Haas knows a timeless room begins with superior furniture. Shoppers in his area can count on finding items they can’t get anywhere else.
“We carry unique, high-quality items in all departments at a fair market price,” Haas says. “Our buyers have chased down items not normally found in this market.”
Quality begins with construction. Glue or nails should not be visible. Hardwood is better than compressed wood. Determining which piece is higher quality could come down to a lift test.
“Lately, my delivery crew recognizes quality from the weight of the items,” Haas says.
The heaviness of the items can mean the framing is made from higher-quality hardwood, which is denser and heavier.
When it comes to dressers or cabinets, Wozniak suggests looking for seams.
“Check to make sure the top of the furniture is solid,” he says. “Builders will take different widths of boards and glue them together to make a wider top. If you look at the top, you’ll be able to see the seam where the boards meet.”
Looks may be deceiving, though. It’s possible the builder has hidden signs of less-durable construction behind a veneer – a thin, solid piece used to create a solid surface.
“If a veneer is used on the top, it will still have the individual board look on the top, but you won’t see the seams matching the top boards along the edge,” Wozniak points out. “What they do is run a board along the edge, but running the opposite direction from the grain on the top. This simply covers up the core of the top, which is usually particle board or a high-density fiber board.”
Drawers are another important indicator of quality, both in the construction and the ease with which they open and close. Drawer bottoms should rest in a groove, rather than being directly attached to the sides – a technique that gives extra strength.
“Shoppers should open all drawers and make sure they have dovetailed construction on the corners,” Wozniak says. “This locks the corners together, giving you an extremely strong drawer. Also, the drawers should have full-extension ball bearing glides, which are much more durable and provide a smoother slide.”
Customers should remember to check the back of furniture, as well. It may never be visible once positioned in a room, but it may be a weak point in construction.
“Most of the backs are stapled on,” Wozniak says, “but we only offer our furniture with finished backs that are screwed on.”
For sofas, loveseats or chairs, Haas says the fabric and the welting – cording or piping around the edges of cushions – is a great indicator of quality.
“Ask for a sample of the fabric and give it a tough test with a pull and poke. Does it hold up?” says Haas. “How the fabric is sewn together is important. Check to see if the welting is sewn tight or glued.
“Is the welting or seam straight? Pull out the seat cushion,” he continues. “Do they have the same fabric on top and bottom, so you can flip it for double the use? With some inexpensive cushions, manufacturers will only have the cushion top match the material. That means they are cutting corners for price.”
Finishing the Job Right
Finishing is the last step in the construction of wood furniture, and is the process by which the piece gains its final look and resistance to moisture and damage. A proper finish can add years to the life of wooden furniture. Wozniak tells customers to watch out for imported pieces from manufacturers that skimped on the finishing process.
“Imported furniture will have a one-step finish which is usually not very durable,” he points out. “For the furniture we show, producers use a multi-step finishing process which is very durable, and the finished piece is very smooth because of the amount of sanding they do before it’s finished.”
Multiple rounds of sanding – moving from course to fine sandpaper grades – removes most surface defects, promising a smooth canvas for the finishing that will give the rich, sturdy final touch to the wood.
At Strawflower Shop, finishing the job right means matching high-quality accessories with the newly chosen furniture.
“Rarely does someone buy a solitary item, so our interior design staff can help them pick out matching chandeliers or lamps, or a beautiful area rug to decorate the room and accentuate the new furniture,” says Haas.
By following the signs of quality construction, consumers have a better chance of procuring high-quality furniture that will last a lifetime.
“Remember, only good things last,” says Wozniak.