“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?