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Updated: Mar 29, 2018

If you've gone shopping for furniture lately, chances are it was both overwhelming and yet it all started to look alike. Besides, how do you know what you are really buying? When is it worth investing in a good piece vs. shopping on price? Below is the 5 Quality Categories When Shopping for Furniture list you can use to determine the quality you'll get for your dollar, and how it's really all about the details. I'm excited to share it with you!

Recently, I had a great conversation with three smart designers: Renate Ruby, owner of adorn | in real life, Paula McHugh of Belltown Designs and Seattle design doyenne, Jane Piper Reid. We were discussing how furniture is priced and marketed, how designers can help their clients winnow down overwhelming options to create realistic budgets and find something unique, plus what it means to navigate everything in the age of the internet.

Paula responded with a list she's developed to help her clients wade through the clutter of the marketplace. The four of us worked through her concepts, and I want to share our discussion results with you, because it makes so much sense.

This list helps define the confusing marketplace, shows how there is overlap in pricing (but not necessarily quality), and hopefully brings more understanding to budgeting so you really can order that dreamy sofa.

5 Quality Categories when Shopping for Furniture

1) Custom Order

This is where you really get to create what you want, from the length, height, depth and all the delicious corresponding details - this is the "couture" of furniture selection. You want it, you'll get it, and it will be spectacular.

$$$$$ - made in America

12 weeks (like a fine wine...)

2) Made To Order

Choose from a wide range of fabrics (including your own), specify various finish options, and even customize details like sizing, pillow fill, welting and trims. Think of this as semi-custom and built to last.

$$$$ - made in America

6 - 12 weeks, depending upon the manufacturer's turn-around schedule

3) Retail

When you shop in a store, you'll be met with a limited selection of choices and a few, if any, customization options. You might find 5-20 fabric choices per style, maybe 3 finishes. The dirty little secret? It's typically mid-range quality, because it's aimed for mass-market appeal. The higher-end retail brands may actually be similarly priced as made-to-order products, but with fewer options and lower quality.

$$$$-$$$ - possibly made in America, more likely overseas

0 - 8 weeks (depending upon stock levels)

4) Internet and Mass Merchant

Typically, furniture available via the internet or from the box stores is designed to look stylish, but since it's price driven, your first sacrifice is quality. It's a case of style over substance. These are items that have a considerably shorter life span, and will not age well. Tables may look like solid wood, but are made of press board. Upholstery breaks down quickly, etc. The market is flooded with this and on the surface it seems there are a plethora of choices, but it all start to look alike.

$$ - made overseas.

0 - 12 weeks, depending upon where it's sourced and available stock

5) Bargain Basement

Vintage, re-purposed, hand-me-down, consignment and Craig's List. Often there is a huge time investment to comb through the junk to find the jewels. May take effort to refresh. Can add personality, uniqueness and charm. Antiques are a different discussion, and worthy of exploring, even for contemporary tastes.


0 weeks

Where do you see yourself? Many of us are a combination of high and low - a Nordstrom/Target style. Did you even know that made-to-order was an option to consider, and might not be that much more than retail, and better quality? That's what I learned, and if you'd like to determine what you can do in your own home, let's talk.

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