Best Tips for Smarter Furniture Buying

By Ellen Gefen

For many people, buying furniture is one of the biggest financial investments they’ll make in their home. So you need to know what to look for in order to make the most of your  purchases. Once you walk into a store, it’s easy to become overly emotional when you see, say, a sofa that is screaming your name—even though it might not be the best decision for your home—or your wallet.

That’s where smarter furniture buying strategies come into play. I’ve learned that the hard way over the years. Home improvement and interior design projects can make costly furniture-buying mistakes all too easy. The last thing you want is to be stuck with an item that isn’t functional in your space, beautiful in the room, or completely uncomfortable—and therefore, unusable.

Ideally, you want the furniture to last for many years…or at least, until the next redesign project. Here are a few things I’ve learned about shopping for furniture that you can use the next time you find yourself, for example, staring lovingly at a 1920s writing desk that you don’t need but are absolutely smitten with.  

1. Think It Through

If it’s at all possible, don’t make a spur-of-the-moment furniture purchase. This is especially true for an expensive item. Some retailers have a loaner program that will actually let you test drive a piece of furniture before purchasing it. Ask if the retailer will allow you to take that sofa you love out “on approval.” Usually, you have to leave a credit card number or some kind of deposit (normally a percentage of the purchase price), but you’ll be able to take the sofa home to see how it looks in your living room…and, more importantly, find out if it’s comfortable for you.

2. Find Out About Restocking Fees

Let’s say you’ve bought a $500 chair, but when you get it home you hate it. You want to return it. Before you buy an item, ask if the seller has a “restock fee.” Many retailers will accept the return, but they’ll charge you a 10% restocking fee to cover their time, effort, etc. While not getting the entire amount refunded might sting, consider the alternative—being stuck with an item that you just don’t like.

3. Invest In Quality Items

Do you know the expression: “You get what you pay for?” While you might be able to snag a deal here and there, when it comes to furniture, you should really think about investing in quality items. Even for rooms that you might not think require higher-end pieces (such as a child’s bedroom), try not to buy cheap furniture if your budget will allow it. There are a lot of cute, inexpensive things out there that seem perfect, but most are made of MFD, which is just not as strong or stable as solid wood. Their lighter weight makes them far easier to tip over, and all it takes is a wet water glass to make the laminate bubble up.

4. Figure Out Your Fabrics

Yes, silks and suedes can feel dreamy on your skin but they don’t hold up very well to spills and heavy use. That’s why you should make sure that the fabric you choose will be suitable for how the furniture will be used. Once, I fell in love with some silk, and stupidly, put it on my dining room chairs. The very first night we used the chairs, someone spilled red wine on one of them! The silk can’t be restored to its original condition. It can be a costly (and emotional) lesson to learn. So use fabrics that can withstand wear and tear in high traffic areas and save your silk for a room that deserves it…like your bedroom. On the other hand, performance fabrics are great for high traffic areas because they do resist spills and staining.

5. Be Realistic

You can’t really expect any piece of furniture to last forever, especially without care. When you buy a car, you expect it to need regular maintenance. The same is true for furniture. Make sure to clean and care for your furniture as appropriate (i.e. a leather couch might only need to be dusted and possibly require a leather cleaner every now and then), so it lasts for as long as possible.

As you go furniture shopping, give yourself permission to compare your options, and above all, hold out for what you really want. You’ll be glad you took the time to explore and be much happier with your home’s décor.