Wednesday, August 15, 2012
How To Buy Furniture
When shopping for new furniture the options are limitless, sometimes confusing and often overwhelming. My goal in writing this blog entry is to help you understand better where to concentrate your focus and what is really important. So let's get the basics out of the way. First off, make sure you are dealing with a business that sells reputable furniture especially since you can't cut open a sofa to look inside and see the construction (not that it would really help) so you're at the mercy of the salesperson and that can be very unsettling.
So how do you know what is "reputable" furniture? You can find out information on the brands you're looking to purchase and what is the background of the manufacturer just by doing a basic search on the computer. Are the owners purely business owners with no design or architectural background? Are they furniture makers? Are they architects? Or are they industrial designers? All this is important because it helps you understand the origin of each piece and what is the manufacturers primary focus. If their bottom line is their bottom line (such as in bigger box retailers) then I would be wary. I like furniture to made by companies that are owned by architects, furniture makers or trained designers. Their focus is quite different and it usually starts with design and quality. Their origin really does matter in the end and can get you started on the right foot with regard to making a quality purchase. In our store we offer two quality lines: Gus Design Furniture in Canada which is owned by an industrial designer and his wife (www.gusmodern.com) and Blu Dot in Minnesota which is owned by 2 architects and another partner.
I say start at small stores and work your way to bigger stores if necessary. Why a small store? Because smaller stores usually will only offer a few brands which means the quality of their furniture tends to be more predictable and focused. Another reason to start small is because smaller stores generally know their furniture inside and out and the inventory won't be too massive and overwhelming for you and the salesperson. Too much selection can actually be bad news for the average consumer and can change their focus and derail their initial objectives. Another good thing about smaller stores is accessibility to the owners and this means good deals. Talking to the owner can usually reward you with better prices that can make both you and the business owner happy.
So why go to bigger stores? To test your will power and learn the shell game. What's the shell game? Go to the city and walk the streets and you're sure to run into the shell game. Large box furniture stores are shell games blending high quality with low quality furniture in their massive inventory playing the shell game leaving it up to you and the salesperson to find the best quality piece for you. Good luck. If you've ever played the shell game then you know you will usually lose. So why go? Because it's good to clear your conscience and see what's out there and to use the information you'll read in this post. Think of it as an exercise in restraint. These larger furniture warehouses depend on that massive selection to confuse you, change your focus and wear you down into a purchase that is usually based mainly on price while distracting you from the quality of the piece. Be strong and don't go for a price driven purchase. That deal you are considering is what got you in trouble on your last purchase and now you're out looking for more furniture because you fell into this trap the first time. Remember you're buying a sofa not a deal. Stay focused on quality, choose a piece and then try to work a better deal.
I could sit here for hours telling you the pitfalls to watch for when buying furniture but the two biggest, other than the "deal" and shell games, are the frames and the springs system. But you'll say the frames and the springs are the most important part of a sofa. Are they? Sure they're important and you should make sure you're getting a good solid frame and spring system but don't be oversold on what the salesperson is telling you. Why? Because you still can't cut the sofa open to see the construction and even if you could it wouldn't matter because furniture manufacturing is using newer and better manufacturing materials that are both good and bad for consumers and most of the time sales people are not up to date on the newer techniques and materials so they'll tell their unsuspecting customers that these newer products are inferior and it couldn't be further from the truth. That's why I say stick with smaller businesses that sell reputable furniture because even though they don't have near the inventory as that warehouse furniture store, the smaller stores are usually selling solid brands that demand quality frame construction and at good prices and their reputation depends on it.
When you're listening to the mumbo-jumbo that the salesperson is telling you about their frames and springs remember to keep a few things in mind. First, most frames last a long time even the cheaper frames can last long due to the newer manufacturing methods and newer materials. Think about it for a second when you see a sofa on the sidewalk being thrown away as trash and you'll see the frame is usually still intact but the fabrics look worn, torn and tired. If you buy from a reputable small dealer then ask about the frame construction and quality but don't be oversold on the frame. Make sure the primary frame is hardwood and feels solid to you but don't get sucked into the mumbo-jumbo sales pitches. I can tell you our Gus Design frames use Canadian hardwood that is FSC Certified by the Forest Stewardship Council so you know it's sustainable solid wood using low VOC adhesives and the quality is excellent.
Next is the ever important spring system. Eight way hand tied? sinuous springs? coiled springs? zig-zag springs? web construction? What's it all mean? It means you're at the mercy of that salesperson and it's another reason I say go to a store where you feel like you can trust the salesperson and the brands they offer. I will say this about springs, most of these spring systems are effective in some manner with each system having their own set of pros vs cons. So don't listen to someone saying that one system is better than the other (bullpoop!). They all serve different functions for different situations and applications and that's the truth. If someone is telling you their spring system is better then another spring system then you're being sold! How can I say this? Because knowing the type of support system tells you nothing other than how it's constructed but it tells you nothing about the quality. Any system can be made with quality materials just as easily as it can be made with lower quality materials. Again, this is a reason to stick with a good small store that sells quality over quantity. Our Gus Design springs use mostly sinuous, anti-sag spring systems that are 9 gauge heavy duty steel so you know they are quality spring systems that will not sag over time.
So what's that leave us with? The fabrics. Ahhhh yes the fabrics. No one talks to you about the fabrics. Why is that? Probably because they don't know anything about the fabrics they offer and in my opinion it's one of the most important parts of the construction of any furniture piece and one of the most overlooked areas when making a purchase. I'll even go so far as to say the fabric construction is the most critical portion of the sofa construction because most furniture made today uses moderate to low quality fabrics which will dramatically effect the lifespan of the furniture. It's also where a furniture manufacturer can save the most money when making a piece of furniture and get away with it without you ever knowing the difference. So how do you know what type of quality you're considering in furniture? Well you can know how durable your fabric is just by asking a few basic questions. First what type of fabrics are you looking at (cotton, synthetic, wool, blends)? And most importantly what is the fabric rating? When you start reading fabric labels you’ll soon find them talking about the number of double rubs (or DR's) and fabric weave. But what does this mean?
The double–rub rating given to fabric tells its durability. This standardized test simulates a person getting into and out of a chair and how well the fabric wears when another fabric is continuously rubbed against it. For general household use a rating of 15,000 double rubs is considered acceptable but offers lower durability in the rating system and in my opinion should only be considered in low use situations such as an extra, rarely used room (fabrics such as cotton are usually in this rating category). Heavy duty residential fabrics have ratings of around 25,000 double rubs and are usually a better gauge for everyday use if durability is a concern to you. I recommend that most people stay in the range of 20,000 - 26,000 double rubs for general everyday upholstery use. Contract upholstery requires at least 30,000 - 40,000 double rubs and even higher. These fabrics are the most durable but please don't confuse durability with quality. That's an entirely different subject and would take too long to explain without making this a dissertation. All you should know for now is that if durability is one of your major concerns then the fabric ratings are the road to follow with regard to fabric construction. Our Gus Design fabrics are mostly rated at 50,000 double rubs but offer enough range from 15,000 double rubs to 100,000 double rubs to make anyone happy.
So in summary, deal with reputable businesses because they deal in quality and stay clear of discount warehouse furniture dealers. Avoid the shell game and the other pitfalls I listed unless you're Mr/Mrs Vegas and like to gamble. Reputable dealers with good brands ensure you are buying good quality frames, spring and cushion systems and all of the other inner core construction materials. And remember fabric, fabric, fabric. You want to know the fabric ratings and where you're money is really going with regard to construction and durability. So I say look to the fabrics and follow that road. The fabric will lead the way.
I know buying furniture can be very scary since most people know very little about furniture and you can bet the larger warehouse furniture dealers know it as well. Take some of the risk away by asking a few basic questions and staying alert of the sales pitfalls and shell game. Shop small. Gather information. Ask questions. And you will buy knowing you have armed yourself with everything you need to make an informed purchase. Good buying!
REMEMBER: Don't buy a deal and get a sofa. Buy a sofa and get a deal. It's a big, big difference.
Posted by Dave at 2:15 PM