Teresa Burnett: Encouraging the Quality Furniture Purchase

December 18, 2012

I often find that one of the hardest concepts to convey to my clients is the importance of investing in quality upholstered furniture. That, though it may mean stretching the budget a bit, in the scheme of things, it’s money well spent.

This custom, down-filled chair is thirty years old. Photo by Teresa Burnett.

Generations before us didn’t approach furniture purchases with a “good enough for now” mentality, so what’s changed? For one thing, quality has slipped way down on the list of purchasing criteria for many things. Secondly, we’re all bombarded with advertising that promises an entire vignette of furniture for a ridiculously low price. Even if those offers aren’t appealing to everyone, there’s still the subliminal message that furniture isn’t an investment. And those really low price-points get stuck in our heads as a benchmark.

When I drive by furniture sitting next to rubbish on trash day, I can’t help but think that not-so-long-ago someone made a purchasing decision they now regret, and the evidence is right there on the street for all to see.

Here’s my theory about buying “temporary†furniture: it’s a seven-year decision cycle. During the first three years the piece may look OK. In the next two years it becomes obvious that it’s not wearing well and is feeling a bit tired. The regrets start to mount and it becomes hard to even look at the furniture during the following two years. The last step is facing the fact that low-quality furniture prematurely ends up as “the embarrassment by the curb!â€Â  Then, it’s time to make another buying decision, but they hesitate because the children are still kids.

This sofa outlives the seven-year cycle. It’s more than ten years old, and the seams are still straight. Photo by Teresa Burnett.

So, I make it a point to have the “quality” conversation with each of my clients, both because well-made furniture stands the test of time, and poor quality furniture will reflect negatively on me if it doesn’t last. I thoroughly explain how the welting and seams will stay in place at the edges of cushions, arms and pillows (as demonstrated in the image of the gold striped sofa, above), how fabrics are selected by grade and usage, and how quality typically increases as the fabric grade number goes up. I tell them about the “double rub†number, and warn them about the difference between a “hardwood frame,†which may have been made of hardwood shavings that are compressed into boards, and kiln-dried solid hardwoods. I encourage them to pay more now for coil springs that are eight-way hand-tied, rather than pay again for a whole new piece of furniture only a few years later.

A photo from Verellen highlights the company’s process of eight-way hand-tying coils.

A customizable sofa by Verellen, well worth the money. Photo courtesy of Verellen

An image from the Hickory Chair website highlights the company’s woodworking process.

A wingback chair with a solid hardwood frame, from Hickory Chair. Photo courtesy of Hickory Chair.

A chaise by Swaim, a brand known for high quality, handcrafted upholstered furniture. Phoro courtesy of Swaim

A sofa from Century Furniture. The company’s motto: “We strive to make furniture of such impeccable quality that it brings joy not only to the people who own it, but also to the craftsmen who build it.”

The decision to make the better-quality upholstered furniture choice may mean increasing the redecorating budget, but it only hurts once! When they’ve made the right long-term selection they’ll have years of comfort and enjoyment, and the lasting quality will positively display your efforts as well. On trash day, they can impress their neighbors with how much their family recycles instead of cringing as they drag a “mistake†to the curb!

-Teresa Burnett

Teresa Burnett is principal of Willow Designs based in Norwell, Mass.  As a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design Interior Design program, Teresa has a strong background in all design styles. Extensive travel to the cities, countryside, manor homes and museums throughout the United States, France, Italy, England, Ireland, Mexico and tropical locations continues to inspire and inform Teresa’s design aesthetic. Teresa is past President of IFDA (International Furnishings and Design Association), New England and past member of the IFDA National Board of Directors. She can be reached at [email protected].