If you have a house, that’s probably your most valuable possession, with a car following closely behind. After that, you’ve probably spent the most on your furniture.
The stakes may not be as high if you buy an uncomfortable chair as if you buy a subpar house or a lemon car, but you’re likely spending thousands of dollars on furniture as the years go by. So the next time you’re buying furniture, keep these guidelines in mind.
[See: Spend a Windfall Wisely.]
You can never measure enough. It isn’t enough to measure the furniture to see if it’ll fit where you want it, though that’s a good start. If it’s an oversized or unusually shaped piece, you’ll want to examine the doorway, and perhaps multiple doorways — especially if you live in a building.
“A lot of people, and even design professionals, have dealt with a piece of furniture not fitting in an elevator,” says Alena Capra, an interior designer based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Height, width and depth of the furniture piece are important to note when checking to see if it will fit in your elevator.”
Jeffrey Weldler agrees. Welder is the marketing director and interior decorating expert at Vänt Wall Panels, a wall panel company headquartered in Spring Valley, New York. He says many people forget to measure furniture, which can cost you a ridiculous amount of money if you have to return a piece to the store.
“Shipping furniture back to the retailer is usually on the customer’s bill,” he says.
Think about how the furniture will look with the rest of your furniture. No matter how well you think you know your home, it can sometimes be hard to be in a store and visualize how an item will work in a room.
“A furnishing’s color may look gorgeous in the showroom, but may not look that way in your living room,” Weldler says.
He recommends asking the store clerk for a color swatch and bringing it home “to see how the color looks in your own home surrounded by your own furniture.”
Your furniture should fit your lifestyle. Cheryl Chase Mackenna, who has her own interior design firm in New York City, says many people don’t think about the fact that maybe the furniture they want isn’t right for the people and possibly pets using it.
“Children and pets on silk chairs — not so great,” she says.
But you also need to be thinking about how your furniture will fit your lifestyle, not only now but in the foreseeable future. Mackenna has a client who is buying a lot of new furniture because when she furnished her home three years ago — including some chairs with silk on them — she didn’t have kids or pets. Now the client has twin boys, a boxer and a bulldog.
“She would have saved thousands of dollars if she knew prior to choosing her furniture what was going to stand the test of time with sticky fingers and muddy dog paws,” Mackenna says.
Don’t rush. People typically spend months looking for a house and weeks searching for the right car. Don’t spend minutes buying furniture.
And this isn’t the time for an impulse purchase. “Walk away for at least a day, and then decide if you still want it before you buy it,” Weldler advises.
But you may be rushing without even realizing it. When Kimberly and Jim Donahue, owners of the Inn at Round Barn Farm, a bed and breakfast in Waitsfield, Vermont, bought furniture for their first home, they scoured Manhattan, looking for the right pieces. They finally found a sofa and three chairs that they loved.
But when the furniture was delivered, everything not only seemed too small for the rooms, but worse, “they were the most uncomfortable seating known to mankind,” Kimberly says. “They were even more uncomfortable than a subway seat.”
So what went wrong? After all, it isn’t as if they purchased these pieces online or didn’t look at plenty of shops. They didn’t rush the process at all.
Except at the very end, when it really mattered.
“We were so weary from our march through the city that we obviously didn’t do the ‘sit test’ for long enough,” Kimberly says.
Think about maintenance. Some high-end pieces of furniture may require more care than you would suspect.
If there’s wood involved — maybe you’re buying a table — ask about the wood finish’s durability, Capra suggests.
“Know how it can be cleaned, and with what products and most importantly, what not to clean it with. A lot of the time, some cleaning products ruin wood finishes,” she says.
Stay within your price range. That’s harder than it sounds. Weldler points out that a lot of consumers get lured into applying for a store credit card.
“You may go into a store only wanting to spend $1,000, but if you’re approved for $3,000, you’re probably going to spend much more than you anticipated,” he says. “Many stores get people with interest-free financing, but that’s only applicable if the entire amount is paid within the time allotted … This could potentially end up costing you hundreds more than you originally paid at 20 to 30 percent interest rates.”
And remember that more costs could be coming, like a delivery charge or maybe the store will offer you the chance to pay for an extended warranty. Either scenario could mean you’re spending more than you intended. Knowing that you spent far more than you planned could really make your head hurt — especially if your oversized sofa jams your doorway, and you have to rent power tools to chop it into smaller pieces. At least ibuprofen is relatively cheap.
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