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From buying at the right time to choosing colors, here’s what you need to find furniture that lasts, and save time and cash while you’re at it.
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.
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.