Everyone enjoys a comfortably furnished home where
everything is just the way they want it and today, more than
ever before, it is possible to have just what you want. Thanks
to new materials, construction and styles, consumers can find an
almost unlimited range of furniture in every style and price
range. As with any investment, however, it pays to keep some
basic facts in mind before you begin shopping for furniture. The
purpose of this booklet is to provide you, the consumer, with
basic information and guidelines so you can have the most
enjoyment and the most value for your furniture dollar.
Plan Before You Buy
A good way to save time, money and the risk of disappointment is
to keep some basic points of furniture buying in mind both
before and when you shop.
Know what you need
Consider your needs carefully. Whether you are furnishing a
room, an entire home or simply buying a single item of
furniture, decide just what you need and how long you will need
it. For example, do you need "short term" furniture such as a
baby crib that will soon be outgrown, or do you need "long term"
furniture such as a table or chest of drawers to be used for
many years? Keeping your needs in mind will help you save time
and money when you begin to shop.
Know how it will be used
Knowing how furniture will be used, and by whom, is important in
deciding what style, construction and material are best for you.
For example, single persons and older couples may select styles
and fabrics that would not be a wise choice for a couple with
young children and a family pet. Your furniture use is an
important factor in deciding what to buy.
Know how much space you have
The size of the rooms you are furnishing is an important element
in selecting every item for your home. It is a good idea to draw
up a floor plan of your home and sketch in different sizes and
arrangements of furniture to see how you can make the best use
of the space you have. In planning your furniture size, keep
in mind the width of stairs, halls and doorways. Many newer
houses and apartments have rooms smaller than you may be used to
and it is important to select furniture that can easily be moved
in and around rooms and hallways. In determining size, keep in
mind that you may move.
Know how much you can spend
Wise shoppers set up a budget and stick to it. Know before you
shop just how much you can spend for everything you need and how
much of that total you want to spend for each item. You may want
to spend more for a high quality table you'll use for many years
and spend less for a medium quality play pen that your child
will soon outgrow.
Keeping your NEEDS, USE, SPACE and BUDGET in mind you can
carry your planning further by seeing how professional
decorators select furniture to fit a variety of spaces and life
styles. In addition, look through different home and decorating
magazines for ideas on how to make the best use of space. Most
of these magazines also carry advertisements by furniture
manufacturers that will give you an idea of the different styles
and materials that are on the market. Also, almost daily there
are advertisements in local newspapers offering furniture.
You'll find everything from expensive upholstered items to
well-designed, inexpensive furniture in "do-it-yourself"
assembly kits and unfinished furniture lines.
Furniture Types and Terms
There are two basic types of furniture, upholstered furniture
and case goods.
Upholstered furniture has fabric covered cushions or padded sections such
as sofas. Case goods refers to furniture that is not
upholstered such as tables, chests, cabinets and shelves.
Both upholstered furniture and case goods can be
constructed of a variety of woods or wood-composition materials.
Furniture woods are either hardwood or softwood.
Hardwood is used to describe such woods as mahogany,
walnut, maple, oak, cherry, birch, teak and pecan.
Softwood describes such woods as pine, redwood and cedar.
Softwood is less expensive than hardwood and is often used in
ready-to-finish and outdoor furniture. In general, it is more
subject to dents and deep scratches than hardwood.
Veneered, bonded woods
These terms refer to the various construction techniques and
materials used in furniture manufacturing.
Veneered Wood - The use of "veneering" is a time-honored technique in
furniture construction. It involves using thin layers of
decorative woods "bonded" on the top and bottom of "ply"
construction. Veneering allows manufacturers to match fine grain
wood sections and to use inlays of various woods to create
beautiful designs that cannot be found in solid woods. Ply
construction increases the strength and resistance to warping,
and is found in all price ranges including very expensive
Bonded Wood - Bonding is used to "build" large sections of wood from
several smaller pieces. There are four basic types of bonding:
Wide boards for table and cabinet tops may be cut into
narrow sections and then "bonded" or fitted back together in the
width or shape that is needed. The bonding process can make the
finished section stronger and less liable to warp or split.
Blocks of wood may be glued together to create a single
section of a piece of furniture which is to be carved or
"turned" to form a rounded shape.
Wood chips or particles may be mixed with a gluing agent
and then processed to make strong, warp-resistant panels used as
backing for cabinets and chests of drawers. These man-made
panels are called "chipboard," "particleboard" or "fiberboard"
and are durable and long-wearing.
Several "layers" of solid wood or particleboard may be
bonded one on the other in 3 to 7 layers to make a "ply"
construction wood product used to reinforce various types of
furniture. Plywood panels are strong and rugged in everyday use.
Various materials such as paint, lacquer, oil and wax are used
both to protect furniture surfaces and provide uniform color to
an entire piece of furniture. Various finishing materials can be
used to highlight a natural wood color or grain as well as to
change the color of a wood or make two different kinds of wood
When you are shopping for furniture it is important to keep
in mind that whether or not wood is solid, bonded or veneered,
it can be called "all wood" if there are no non-wood materials,
such as plastic or metal, used in the construction.
Today's consumers have a wide choice of upholstered furniture
ranging from firm back and seat support to soft, fluffy pillows
that give little support but do offer luxurious lounging. It is
a good idea to be familiar with the basic construction of
The Frame -
This is the basic unit of all upholstered furniture, and the
quality of materials and workmanship can determine why one piece
of furniture is more expensive than a piece that looks the same.
Frames made of kiln-dried hardwood do not warp. Frames may also
be made of steel, laminated boards or strong rigid plastic. If
you cannot see the frame or have a question as to what it is
made of, ask the salesperson.
The Supports -
Fabric webbing, straps, wood slats and springs can be used to
provide the desired amount of support, or firmness, in
upholstered furniture. The springs can be coil, double cone coil
or zigzag and are connected with twine, wire or clips.
Cushioning materials can include cotton or polyester
batting, springs, down and urethane foam (also known as plyfoam
or polyurethane). Urethane is widely used because it is durable,
light-weight and mothproof. While there are many grades of
"foam" materials, the best are high density foams with a high
percentage of urethane.
Many different upholstery materials are available in natural and
manmade fibers, leather and vinyl. Find out what the fabric is
made of, what its properties are and how it should be cared for.
Remember, too, that there are many treatments available to
protect fabrics from soil and spill stains and make day-to-day
upholstery cleaning easier. Upholstery materials are available
in a wide range of "grades" so keep both your use and budget
requirements in mind when you buy. Fabric grades reflect cost,
not necessarily durability or quality. In addition, consider the
fact that the textile mill usually does not guarantee upholstery
fabric to the furniture manufacturer.
Keep the four parts of upholstered furniture in mind when
you shop and be sure you know, before you buy, that each piece
of furniture is what you want.
The finish of case goods furniture is an important sign of
quality. Better quality pieces are finished on the top, sides
and front. There should be no cracks or bubbles in the finish.
Check to see how pieces of wood are joined. The strongest joints
are dovetail, mortise and tenon, and dowel. Be sure drawers and
doors are securely fitted, do not sag when opened and fit snugly
when closed. Check drawer construction to be sure the drawers
open and close easily but firmly and are built to hold whatever
you want to put in them without sagging or jamming.
If glass tops or panels are used, check to be sure the
glass lies straight and flat and that there are strong grooves
or ledges to hold the glass in place. The panels should be thick
enough to resist cracking or chipping in normal use.
Where to Shop
Today's consumers have a wide choice of places to buy furniture
including department stores, Internet Retailers and specialty
furniture stores. No matter where you end up shopping, always
pay special attention to the following:
Research the retailers BBB rating Ė
retailer how long they have been in business.
many stores does the retailer operate?
to that little voice. If you have an uneasy feeling then donít
rush into making a decision. Itís time to do more research.
When to Shop
Delivery will not be immediate, so take that into
consideration. In most cases, furniture must be ordered from the
factory, and the length of time to manufacture it will depend
upon the specific company but waits of 8-12 weeks are not
Be sure to ask about warranties and returns. Most furniture
manufacturers provide a limited lifetime warranty against
defects in materials and craftsmanship, however there are
exceptions. Most retailers will be happy to provide an
additional warranty from a third party provider for an
If you buy furniture on time, be sure you know the full terms
and conditions of the seller's credit service. Know how much the
finance charge will be, how many and the exact amount of each
installment payment and the total time sales price, including
sales tax. Remember that all who give credit are required by
federal law to state the annual percentage rate so that you can
compare one to the other. If it sounds too good to be true then
it probably is. Most retailers are forced to charge more for
their furniture to cover the costs of financing.
Know Your Seller
Wise consumers know the seller before they buy. Ask your
neighbors and friends for recommendations and, if possible, shop
around before you buy. Remember that reputable business people
will answer all questions fully and will not rush you into
buying. They want their customers to be satisfied, and they want
you to recommend them to others. If you have any questions about
the reliability of a company, check with your Better Business
Checklist - To get the most for your furniture dollar, be sure to:
Plan carefully before you shop.
Set a budget.
Shop for quality, price and a salesperson with which
you feel comfortable.
Read all material provided by the seller and
Know the construction of case goods and upholstered
furniture for durability.
In the case of upholstered furniture, find out what
the frame is made of; determine what the outer covering is
composed of, what its properties are and how it should be
Understand the store's return policy.
If you have questions about the seller's reliability,
get in touch with the Better Business Bureau.
Buying Furniture © 1995
Copyright 1978 Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc.