12 Tips for Buying High-Quality, Low-Priced Furniture

Photo (cc) by Emery_Way

Furniture was never high on my list of priorities.

I made it to my mid-twenties with roommates’ couches and sleeping on hand-me-down mattresses from my parents. But then I moved out of state and was forced to furnish a house. I spent six months scouring every furniture store and garage sale within a 50-mile radius of my house. You can see the result in this article: How I Furnished My Entire House For $716.97.

Now I’m in the market for a new couch and maybe a couple of armchairs. So I’m back in the furniture game. This time, however, I’m not searching just on price: I’m looking for quality as well. I’ve talked to furniture sales reps, interior designers, even a craftsman who makes furniture. Before I tell you what I learned, check out this video about saving on furniture from Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson.

Furniture tips: wood

1. Know your wood types

Wood furniture falls into three categories: solid wood, veneers, and particle board or composite wood.

Solid wood furniture is typically more expensive than other types and looks great, but can be susceptible to scratches and water rings. Veneers have an inexpensive wood base covered by several thin layers of better-quality wood. Because of the cheaper core, veneers aren’t as expensive as solid wood pieces. Particle board and composite wood pieces are made from a combination of wood pulp, plastics, and resin, basically the scraps of the furniture world. These are the cheapest type of wood furniture and can look decent, but won’t hold up for decades.

2. Check drawers and cabinets

Open the drawers and cabinets. Make sure the drawer pulls all the way out, latches properly, and then shuts evenly. Make sure doors open, remain in an open position (instead of snapping closed while you’re trying to get something out of the cabinet), and shut again. Check the handles and knobs. They should fit tightly and not jiggle or turn.

3. Avoid nails and glue

Look for wood joined at ends and corners, not glued or nailed in. Known in the manufacturing world as wood joinery, these pieces are studier and can take more weight. Check out Basic Woodworking Joints from Wood Magazine to see examples.

Furniture tips: fabric

4. Consider your lifestyle

Let your lifestyle determine what colors and fabrics you choose. For example, I have a large, hyper dog constantly climbing on the furniture. If I brought home a white suede couch, it would be torn apart and stained in minutes. If you have kids or pets, stick with dark colors and stain-resistant tough fabrics like linen or tweed.

5. Be realistic about colors

I once bought an orange corduroy armchair at a furniture outlet store. At the time, my house was decorated in orange, blue, and white, and I thought I’d love those colors forever. As it turned out, “forever” was about a year. I got so sick of the bright orange I sold the chair for a fraction of what I paid. Learn from my mistake: Stick to neutral colors for your bigger and more expensive pieces. Save bold colors for décor pieces.

6. Inspect the legs

The legs should be heavy, wood, and jointed to the frame of the sofa or chair, not nailed. Plastic, rubber, or metal legs don’t look as nice, can tear up your floors, and won’t hold up as well. Same goes for nailed-in wood legs. If you’re spending more than $1,000 on a sofa, look for one with a fifth leg in the middle. They provide extra support – you won’t find them on many cheaper sofas.

7. Check the springs

If you like firm sofas, look for one with traditional coiled springs. If you want a softer feel, go with zigzag coils. Before you buy, take off the cushions and press down on the base of the sofa. The coils should push down and spring back into place immediately.

8. Test the cushions

Look for firm cushions with a removable cover matching on both sides. Firm cushions hold up better over time. Fully covered cushions cost a bit more than ones with the pattern on one side and a plain white or tan backing, but they’ll last longer and wear evenly if you can flip them over every few months. Find removable covers that are easily washable.

How to buy furniture for less

9. Buy at the right time

Furniture prices fluctuate throughout the year. In the video above, Stacy Johnson said you’ll get good deals around Memorial Day and Veterans Day, both popular times for furniture sales. But if you want the best deal, wait until the Fourth of July or even Christmas when furniture stores push to get rid of the last of their inventory and offer the biggest discounts.

10. Don’t rule out used furniture

You can find great deals with secondhand furniture as long as you inspect it carefully. You’ll obviously look for rips, stains, tears, water marks, and scratches, but lift up cushions and look for stains on the inside of couches and chairs. Sit on it for as long as time allows to check for sturdiness and comfort.

11. Don’t buy it at all

While I wouldn’t recommend grabbing a stained couch from the side of the road, you’d be surprised how much good furniture is available free. For example, I recently picked up a free (and pretty awesome) kitchen table off my local Freecycle site. There is also the free section of Craigslist, and don’t forget friends and family. When they’re tired of something, they might be willing to give it to you.

12. Haggle

Some people enjoy negotiating – see Confessions of a Serial Haggler – but I’m not a big haggler. It makes me uncomfortable and I’d rather wait for a sale than try to talk down a salesperson. But there are two purchases that are haggling “musts”: cars and furniture. Furniture has big markups, so furniture stores have a lot of wiggle room. In my experience, they’ll knock off 10 to 20 percent if you ask. If that doesn’t work, go for an extra: free pillows or free delivery and setup.

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