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FAQs from new home buyers re: furniture

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I’ve been getting lots of questions from my new home owners about furniture buying. So here we go…

In order of priority: where to spend your furniture budget

1) Buy good quality dressers and bedroom end tables. Real wood is optimal. A dresser can be a keep-forever piece, gets used daily (at least), and is very visible. It also gets relatively little beating (compared to a couch or chairs).  So it makes good financial sense to buy a nice dresser that you will be happy looking at (and find useful) for the next 20 years or so. For babies or small children, a nice quality white one it can always be painted as tastes evolve, and it will also work with almost any girl's room from infant through teen.

To ensure you find the dresser useful: opt for a dresser with larger drawers. Even if it's a smaller sized dresser, assuming it's neutral enough, it can always be supplemented with another piece as you need more storage (as when a child gets bigger). But teeny drawers will only fit teeny clothes (or jewelry).

2) Buy fairly good quality tables and chairs. You want REALLY solid construction. Bump into one you are considering and if it shifts at all, pass. And by 'shifts', I mean the frame shifting. It's ok if you can nudge it across the floor. The chairs will get trashed within a few years, or at least the upholstery will, so think of them as medium life disposable.

3) The older the people the better the mattress need to be! And accept no toxic waste products in children's mattresses.

4) Couches have to be comfortable and somewhat bulletproof. However, they’ll probably end up being ruined within 5-7 years, especially if they’re used as the family room furniture, so save a little on the couches.

5) Patio furniture; I have a $4000 set and a $200 set, and I have had them both for over 10 years. I have found the cushions will eventually rot on both and the more expensive set is just heavier to move around. And the cushions were extra plump and somewhat longer lifespan than the cheap set. But if you are unlikely to remember to bring your cushions in before it rains*, buy the cheaper stuff.  What I advise is making sure there are really comfy chairs and when possible, try to only buy chairs that swivel and have arms (Captain's chairs). Most stores only suggest two per table, but they are what everyone wants to sit on...

*See Wikipedia if you don’t remember what rain is.

Attractive and kid / pet friendly coffee tables

The first criteria are “topple-proof.”  And no sharp edges…followed by ‘Nothing that can shatter”. You’re looking for a form factor that’s solid from top to bottom like an ottoman, or has four sturdy legs at its edges. Speaking of edges, test to make sure the table won’t tip over if grabbed by a toddler or sat upon by an older child. These activities are inevitable, so test ahead of time!

This coffee table has sharp edges. However, it does pass the stability test with flying colors. And bonus points for showing off Aubrey the Miracle Dog to her best advantage. For more about Aubrey’s miracles, visit her at

Life on the edge

Rounded edges are worth considering when selecting your dining table, too. Some parents feel a coffee table that is low to the ground helps keep children & pets from crawling under them and potentially getting stuck or bumping their heads.

Finally, do a usage reality check. High gloss or glass will collect fingerprints, making for frequent cleanings if you small children. On the other hand, these types of surfaces are also easy to clean. Soft woods dent easily, which could be a nuisance or character, depending on how fastidious you are.

And extra storage is always a benefit!

Some style examples;

Upholstered furniture: a weighty topic

You want the couch or chair to be heavy. “Good upholstered furniture is heavy because the quality products and techniques cost more,”1 according to Sergio Tinoco, founder of L.A.’s custom design company Designs by Sergio. (

Beauty (and durability) is on the inside

What kind of wood was used to make the furniture’s frame? According to Tinoco, the best hardwoods are “are alder, maple, oak, walnut, and mahogany.” In particular, look for kiln-dried hardwoods, says Jennifer Litwin, Sotheby’s-trained author of Best Furniture Buying Tips Ever. Kiln drying hardwood yields frames are “pliable but sturdy, and won’t fracture easily,”1 making them the best choice.

The cover of the book (or couch) does matter

Another expert recommendation is to make sure the fabric is double-stitched. Litwin’s tip: “Make sure the fabric goes all the way down the inside back of the couch, rather than just halfway and then covered by pillows. Over time, the staples become undone and loose, and the fabric will get more ratty looking.” Her advice for fabric to wood/metal legs: “Look for welting or piping there, which protects the fabric so it doesn’t pull and remains in place.”1 (See the sofa arm on the right in the picture below, and Photo #3, for examples.)

Testing the cushioning and fabric is important. Remember to consider likely cleaning needs: spills? Fur? (Note: well-constructed fabric/wood joining details on arm at right.)

Location, Location, Location…Origin

Buying American is something I am finding to be a better and better idea. The United States often has more stringent controls over what is used in and on the furniture. Frequently the wood is from managed forests of hardwoods – a renewable resource. Not only is it a green choice, but you’re contributing to US jobs, another important resource. Plus if you ever need replacement parts, they’re closer at hand and easier to get. It's also nice to know a ten year old isn't building your furniture. However, I know this is a controversial subject, and you are certainly welcome to decide on whatever you want.

This antique leather chair made in the US shows excellent craftsmanship in the fabric/wood joinings.

Additional Reading/References

  1. How to Buy Furniture for Your Home
  2. Furniture Shopping Tips: The Best Secrets For Furnishing A Home On A Budget, From Real People
  3. Style inspiration for coffee tables: