Here are some furniture shopping tips to help you create a look that suits your style and personality.
Since every piece has a height, depth and width, the first step is to determine how much space you have to work with. Use a tape measure to get the dimensions of each room in your home, including hallways, doorways and stairs. You wouldn’t want to purchase beautiful furniture only to find on delivery day that it won’t fit past the entryway.
The next step is to consider the look or theme of your rooms. Do you want your furniture and décor to be classic or modern? Here’s a brief rundown of popular furniture styles you’ll find in many showrooms:
Traditional Style: Don’t confuse traditional with stodgy and doily-clad tabletops. Traditional styles are preferred by many because of the timeless use of dark, rich wood grains, moldings, ornately carved furniture and more. Choose elegant chandeliers, jewel-toned drapery and luxurious fabrics to complement your furniture selection for an elegant look.
Contemporary Style: It doesn’t mean modern, cold and minimalist. This style is popular because it allows each room to breathe a bit more. Instead of heavy window treatments and ornate rugs, the contemporary style relies on neutral colors such as white, black, or beige to serve as the primary backdrop for walls and furniture. The fun part is in the accessories! A turquoise pillow here, a yellow lamp there and you can have clean lines with a modern twist with punches of color throughout.
Transitional Style: This is a combination look that incorporates the comfort and warmth of the traditional style with the diversity of patterns and textures associated with contemporary designs. It’s a happy balance for couples who don’t want a room to look too masculine or too feminine. Think simple and sophisticated – such as vanilla walls with a classic armchair but furnished with corduroy next to a dark wood table with polished silver photo frames. Are you picturing a fireplace, glass of wine and a good book right now?
Coastal Style: You don’t have to live in Florida to have a beachy feel to your home. You may even want to create this look only in your bedroom for a resort-like retreat. Choose soft shades of blues, greens and yellows for paint, carpeting and accessories. Opt for comfortable pieces of furniture made of rattan or twill and toss a slipcover over upholstered pieces for that seaside look. Sheer window treatments and nautical-inspired décor like boatwood frames or shell bottles make for a tropical, yet charming environment.
Country Style: Think distressed and rustic, not Daisy the cow figurines lining a windowsill. Furniture should feature natural wood tones and worn finishes for a lived in look. Country furniture statement pieces like rocking chairs, hutches and pencil post beds can serve as the main feature of a room. Décor can incorporate quilts, handmade baskets, dried flowers and vintage plates on a display rack to complete the country feel.
Now that you have a style in mind, it’s important to know the types of materials used in creating furniture, their durability and how each fits into your budget.
When it comes to wood, there are a variety of grains, textures, colors and finishes with different levels of stability in their construction.
Hardwood Furniture: Aside from top-of-the-line mahogany, hardwoods such as oak, cherry and maple, are used more often for furniture because of their tighter packed grain, which also makes for a darker wood tone. Oak has been used for hundreds of years because it’s able to withstand everyday wear and tear. Chances are, that if you have a piece of furniture that’s been handed down from generation to generation, it’s an oak piece. Cherry is popular because the tones range from dark to light with a reddish appearance and is often used in smaller, more decorative pieces of furniture such as an end table because of its delicate grain. Maple is a long-standing favorite for many folks because it’s durable and has unique grains that make patterns on the furniture – but it does need proper care to prevent warping.
Softwood Furniture: Even though they aren’t as durable, softwoods such as pine and cedar are becoming popular because of their lighter colors and textures. Many woodworkers prefer pine because it is lightweight, handles humidity well and is less expensive, so it’s often used as a base for veneers of more exotic wood. Cedar, known for its aroma, is frequently used to construct closets and chests where clothing is stored because it’s known to keep moths at bay.
Wood Veneer: Another option to keep in mind is wood veneer – sheets of thin wood applied to the face of furniture. They’ve come a long way from the flimsy layers in your grandma’s basement. Typically, maple is used to ensure quality and the veneer is bound to the construction wood using special glues and heat processes that allow the bond to be permanent. Many are durable, stylish and create less of an impact on the environment, all while trimming your overall costs.
Remember, whether you prefer hardwoods or softwoods, consider the amount of traffic and sunlight your furniture will be exposed to before making a final decision.
Wood Stains and Wood Finishes: Stains are pigments that are applied to the wood grain to produce color (each color of stain affects wood differently, so test a patch first). While most stains are designed to mimic traditional types of wood, many stores now carry stains that look like paint, so you can still have the texture of wood but in fun colors!
Your furniture should not be naked. Wood finishes go on top of the stain to protect the wood from unwanted stains, sun damage and humidity. Oil finishes provide protection and are easy to use. Just wipe the furniture with the oil and it looks shiny and new! However, many people also choose varnish because the finish is permanent in just one step – no need to polish every now and then to get that glowing shine.
*Bonus Tip: Looking at wood furniture that has drawers? Check the drawer joints to ensure a sturdy piece of furniture. Dovetail joints provide reinforcement so drawers function properly for many years. English dove tailing, which is the most preferred, features a set of interlocking cutouts that connect. French dove tailing uses a slot cut out of one side of the drawer and cut into the other. This option is less favorable because it’s not as durable (it’s glued into place) and the design actually decreases the amount of drawer space (depth). Last, but not least, check for runners to be made of wood or metal to ensure drawers open and close freely.
Now that we’ve covered the wood pieces, let’s talk about the pros and cons of leather, fabric and upholstery. It’s important to consult a furniture sales representative to learn about the wear and tear and cleaning instructions for materials that interest you.
Don’t simply look at the color and texture of leather – look at its type. Here’s what you can expect to find at most furniture retailers:
Top Grain Leather: This is the highest quality of leather available because it comes from the uppermost layer of the hide. It’s also the most expensive, but it’s an investment that will last many years with the proper care.
Pure Aniline and Semi Aniline Leather: Want leather but with more color choices? Pure aniline leather is top grain leather that has been dyed without pigment so its natural grain markings are visible. Semi aniline leather uses a small amount of pigment or a clear finish so that the leather looks like pure aniline but is more durable and has a more rich, consistent color.
Nubuck Leather: Nubuck is top grain leather that has no pigment but is polished so that it has a soft texture for a less dominating appearance in the room.
Suede: Suede has a soft appearance and texture, which makes for a comfortable piece of furniture. However, since this texture absorbs stains, there’s much more care involved and may even require a professional cleaner, costing you more in the long run.
Remember, all types of leather fade over time if left in sunlight, so avoid placing leather couches and chairs where they can be directly affected.
Today, upholstered furniture is available in a variety of fabrics, textures, interesting patterns, and fun colors. Here are a few fabrics you’re likely to encounter:
Acetate: It’s a smooth material but wears quickly, so use it for accent pieces as a less expensive alternative to silk.
Acrylic: This fabric tends to pill, but is stain and wrinkle resistant, making it a great alternative to wool, especially if you are allergic to it.
Blended Fibers: These give you the look of organic fibers with the durability of synthetics. This makes care easier and is often less costly.
Cotton: For thousands of years, cotton is the most popular organic fabric because of its comfort, durability and easy maintenance.
Microfiber: This synthetic fabric imitates suede’s luxury softness but is significantly cheaper and requires less maintenance after a little wear and tear.
Silk: Often chosen because of its elegant look, silk is available in a variety of patterns and colors. It is delicate however, and should not be used in high-traffic areas.
Wool: This natural fiber is not itchy when it has a fine weave. While both durable and long lasting, it tends to hold in stains and odors.
As you can imagine, there is a lot involved in selecting the right furniture for your home. We’ve only scratched the surface (should’ve used some varnish) of the types and styles of furniture available. Hopefully, these furniture shopping tips will help you be a more knowledgeable consumer the next time you visit a showroom floor.
Remember, furniture is an investment, so be sure to pick durable, yet stylish pieces that you’ll treasure for years to come.