by: JD Ross, co-owner, The Hickory Tree
Owning a furniture consignment store, my wife and I see LOTS and LOTS of used furniture in all shapes, sizes, qualities, ages, styles, and manufacturers. We’ve seen some of the best quality furniture made, and turned away some of the cheapest, fall-apart-if-you-sneeze junk as well. When shopping for a new piece of furniture, don’t be afraid to shop used…but you need to know what to look for so you don’t regret your purchase in a year ~
1 – Look up all the consignment, thrift, resale, antique, and second-hand stores you can find in your area. It may take a little work, but you can find some amazing pieces and save a LOT of money shopping around. We’ve found that towns near furniture manufacturers (like here in Hickory, NC), and towns in vacation or retirement destinations tend to have lots of furniture turnover. People buying/selling 2nd homes, people furnishing or re-furnishing homes, and people getting rid of perfectly good furniture they can’t use, don’t want to move, or don’t have space for somewhere else. Some stores take donations, some buy entire house-fulls, and some (like us) sell on consignment. Plan to take a whole Saturday and visit 5-6 stores. Make a list, print directions, pick a fun new lunch spot on way, have FUN.
2 – Decide exactly what pieces you’ll be looking for. Do you need a new sofa? A new bedroom suite? Dining chairs? Does it have be in a suite (i.e. all matching finish)? If you know all you’re there to look for is a sofa you won’t waste your time looking at all the dining tables you’ll see. Your time will be spent much more efficiently, you’ll get to visit more shops, and spend longer considering a piece once you’ve found one.
3 – Check under the hood! Literally… Look for any information you can find under, behind, or inside a piece. Lift the cushions on upholstered pieces to look for labels. Open drawers to look for a stamp or label. If you can find a tag often it will tell who made/where a piece was made, the manufacture date, even what’s inside it (i.e. down-stuffed cushions vs. “contains rayon/polyester blend”). Often dressers have a stamp on the back, sometimes sofas have a label under the cushion, sometimes it’s on the very bottom of the piece. And some have fabric or leather samples in case you need to match it to something else later.
4 – For Case Goods (wooden/stained pieces) pull out the drawers and look for Dovetailed Joints. This picture shows dovetails vs. simply nailed-together drawers. Dovetails are a sign of quality…not a guarantee, but one good sign. Dovetails are harder to make, take extra time, and are more expensive to the manufacturer. If a maker goes to the trouble of using dovetailed joints, it means they’re not ALL about doing things as cheaply and quickly as possible. Also don’t be afraid to paint a good quality, solid wood piece. A 30-yr old solid wood table with a ‘weathered’ finish could give you 30 more years of life…just give it a facelift!
5 – For Upholstered Pieces (sofas, armchairs, love seats) look for full cushions that ‘bounce back’ when you sit on them or push down with your hand. Some sign of use is okay, but if they already look a little saggy, they won’t get any better under your ‘seat’. Also, look at the seams where pieces of fabric are stitched together. They should be straight and neat, not wavy. Corners should have seams on the corners…not a little off to the side. If you see a part that looks different or off from the rest of it, someone may have been in a hurry or didn’t care about the quality. Also, don’t be afraid to have a piece re-upholstered! An ugly chair or small love seat may only cost $100-200 to have re-covered. And if you get it for a song, you’ll have basically a brand new piece for much less than a comparable new one. Just make sure the frame feels sturdy, the legs aren’t wobbly, and the cushions are full. If so, all an upholsterer will need is your favorite new fabric and they’ll make it fabulous again.
6 – Pick It Up! Weight is usually a sign of quality. Solid wood isn’t light weight. If something had to be shipped halfway across the world to a showroom, it probably had to be made as cheaply and lightweight as possible…otherwise the freight would be too expensive. SO…if something’s heavy, there’s a better chance it was made well and will last you longer.
A well-made, gently-loved used piece of furniture will last you years if you know what to look for. Most new furniture these days is made to last 3-5 years at MOST. If you buy cheap stuff now, you’ll just be re-buying again in a few years…and it’ll cost you more in the long-run.
Don’t be afraid to at least shop around used furniture stores. You may not find the exact piece you’re dreaming of…but you might! And I bet you’ll have a lot more fun and save a lot of money in the process ~