Where to find affordable furniture

Furniture illustration

Where is all the good affordable furniture?” lamented Andrew Zaleski last week in an article for Curbed:

For many independent and smaller manufacturers, it's difficult to create quality furniture at middle-of-the-road prices, something in between the Ikea items beloved by 20-somethings and the furniture on display in a store like Crate and Barrel. And consumers, who don't always know that they have plenty of purchasing options beyond the flat-packed box, often have incorrect expectations of what it costs to make good furniture and what they should have to pay for it.

Modern consumers are used to buying almost everything via the web. They're also accustomed to online retailers disrupting traditional pricing structures. But this new paradigm hasn't transferred well to the furniture industry. Generally speaking, cheap furniture is cheap furniture. You get what you pay for. Buying online can't change that.

Companies like Ikea can provide reasonable value at a low price due to economy of scale. Ikea produces mass quantities of each item, something that's not possible for most furniture makers. But it's not just quantity that affects price. The quality of materials and workmanship matter too. And for online furniture retailers, shipping becomes a huge factor.

The Curbed article never offers any clear action steps, but I had three main takeaways:

  • If you want inexpensive, Ikea is a good bet. The company offers high quality at low prices.
  • If you want quality, be willing to “invest” several thousand dollars in a piece that'll last for years — maybe even a lifetime.
  • If, like most people, you're looking for something in the middle, then shop at a local furniture store. That's where you'll find the best balance of quality and price.

When it comes to furniture, I'm generally a “buy it for life” kind of guy. To me, furniture isn't a disposable product. Yes, I have plenty of Ikea items — I'm writing this while sitting on an Ikea chair at an Ikea desk — but I usually try to pick pieces that I think I'll keep forever.

In the corner of my office, for example, is the easy chair I purchased in 1993 when Kris and I moved into our first house. In the living room, I have several expensive Stickley pieces that I bought at a 50% discount during the Great Recession of 2009. (This was my first experience with “predatory shopping”.)

Nowadays, Kim and I have two approaches when shopping for furniture.

  • First up, we visit local furniture stores that we trust. These are places that friends have recommended or that we've been happy with in the past. We steer clear of chain stores or places that advertise heavily, opting instead to go to places that seem to have low overhead and no salespeople on the floor. If we can find what we want at one of these stores, we consider buying it. (We ordered a custom sofa for our new house, for example. It cost less than $1000 but has great quality and is perfect for our space.)
  • Next, we visit our favorite consignment stores. We've found a couple of shops here in Portland that offer awesome used furniture for reasonable prices. (This is a great way to find pieces that might no longer be in style, by the way.)

Between consignment stores and local furniture galleries, Kim and I have been pleased with the furniture we've purchased in the past five years. We feel like we're getting good quality and a decent price. I should note that we always look at Costco too, but haven't yet bought anything there. (The prices seem fine, but we never like the styles.)

How do you find affordable furniture? Do you tend to aim for low price — or do you prefer high quality? How do you find a balance? Have you purchased furniture online? What was that experience like?

More about...Frugality

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
9 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Dan Erickson
Dan Erickson
3 years ago

The majority of my furniture is antique. But not expensive refurnished antiques. Old, beat-up, but still tough-as-hell antiques. I’ve spent way less than most people, have more solidly-built furniture, and a cool retro vibe in my home. I wrote about it here: http://www.hipdiggs.com/antiques/

dh
dh
3 years ago

Man, I wish we had an Ikea here in Albuquerque, as not only are they cheap, they have that sort of minimalist aesthetic that I think would be fun to try out. But I’ve looked into it, and we’d need about a million more people for them to consider building here. Anyway, I live in a tiny condo, so I just bought whatever I wanted, seeing as how it hardly took any furniture to fill in my space. I went to places like Pier One, Ashley, La-Z-Boy, World Market, etc.

Rachael
Rachael
3 years ago

1. Can’t believe you didn’t mention watching out for bedbugs at a consignment shop – definitely be on the lookout.

2. Check Target and TJ Max/Homegoods – they often have Pottery Barn or Crate and Barrel aesthetic for a fraction of the price and quality level slightly above Ikea.

3. If I find a piece I fall in love with at a big retailer, I set a Craigslist alert for the model name. And wait. Then scoop up that $3000 solid dining set for $800. 🙂

Bonnie
Bonnie
3 years ago
Reply to  Rachael

Rachel–curious, not trolling–wouldn’t bedbugs be just as possible on a Craigslist item as a consignment store item? I’ve shopped at thrift stores since I was 16 and have never encountered bugs.

lmoot
lmoot
3 years ago

I am fortunate to live by 2 Habitat for Humanity ReStores. I’ve found a piece or 2 at Good Will as well. Otherwise garage sales are great. Hand me downs from family. My favorite chair ever, a heavy solid wood frame and leather MCM armchair, cost $3 from a White Elephant sale at the local zoo. The only thing I purchased new for my house, was a custom made bare wood platform bed with drawers, from a local company going out of business. 5 years and 4 tenants later, and it’s still going strong. I prefer the look, quality, and… Read more »

Danielle
Danielle
3 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

I came here to mention Habitat for Humanity, too. The majority of my furniture comes from them – it’s definitely older style, but it will last much longer and didn’t cost nearly as much. I was able to buy my dining chairs for $3 each – can’t beat that! I had seen similar ones at various furniture stores for $150+ each. I also was able to find my bedroom set on craigslist from an older couple who were downsizing – you can’t beat a whole sturdy (real wood) set for $150.

Cubert
Cubert
3 years ago

Hey JD – Congrats on getting back GRS! Awesome!!! I’ll come back here often now.
I plan to procure most of our furniture for the Airbnb experiment from Ikea. Since it’s two states away, I’m kind of relying on places that can ship at lowish costs.
I did manage to score a reasonable deal on beds from Sam’s Club online, uses my Mom’s membership.

Bonnie
Bonnie
3 years ago

Most of my furniture is a hodgepodge of what JD mentioned above. I too prefer to buy furniture at local stores, and for the most part, that’s what we’ve done. One store sadly closed for various reasons, but we got a couch and loveseat for a song during their closeout sale. I paid full price for my bed at that same store at least 13 years ago and it’s still going strong. My current dresser is solid oak–it’s the same one I’ve had since I was a baby. 🙂 A lot of our other furniture has been bought over time… Read more »

Laura
Laura
3 years ago

I’d be interested in knowing the local stores you like 🙂 Although the only thing we might be in the market for in the next year is a dining room table and Craigslist might suffice for that. We have gotten pieces from Brunke that are a bit pricier, but also “forever” pieces.

shares