6 Tips To Buying Quality Furniture


You will need furniture. Whether you’re a merry member of Generation X moving into your first apartment after college or a flourishing family of four upgrading to a larger home, you will need furniture. Retail experts have projected that by 2019 the United States furniture market will bring in $111 billion dollars. That's alot of sleigh beds and end tables. Morevoer, no one buys furniture today with the intention of replacing it tomorrow. We all hope that our bookshelves and desks, nightstands and dinner tables will last a while. We hope that they can endure a few rides in a moving van or a few hauls up a narrow staircase. We all hope that the furniture we buy is top quality.

Unfortunately, choosing high quality furniture is complicated by limited time, aggressive salespeople, and infinite choices. Here are 6 tips that will help you maximize your shopping experiences and help you choose more high quality pieces that will hopefully last a lifetime.

1. Know Your Materials

No, you don’t have to become Bob Vila, Nicole Curtis, or Tim “the Tool Man” Taylor, but you should have some knowledge of which materials are high quality and are worth your hard earned money. Most wood furniture falls under one of three categories: hardwood, veneer, or particleboard.

  • Hardwood is a trademark of high quality furniture. Though it is typically more expensive than other types of furniture, hardwood pieces are very durable and can be handed down for generations. The fact that it is real wood means no two pieces are alike and will be uniquely yours. Additionally, harwood pieces, should they show signs of wear, can be restored and repainted to fit your changing decorative tastes.
  •  Veneer looks a lot like hardwood furniture. However, it's actually a mix of chemical-rich fiberboard, particleboard, and glue covered by several thin layers of better quality wood. While veneers are lighter in weight and cheaper than hardwood, they are also more likely to experience dents, scratches, and peeling that cannot be easily repaired. Retailers and manufactures won't directly mislead consumers into thinking that veneers are hardwood. Instead, their product descriptions include terms like “mid-century” and “rustic” and "offer a selection of wood finishes.”
  • Particleboard and composite wood pieces are the cheapest wood material. It’s basically mix of sawdust and glue. It’s the hallmark of low quality, mass-produced furniture. Within two years, it will likely be among the 9.8 billion tons of furniture waste in our landfills. Both veneer and particleboard furniture can be sold fully assembled through major retailers. Additionally, both are used in the DIY “wood furniture” that we dump out of boxes onto our living room floors. You know the kind where you sigh heavily at the A, B, C assembly directions and, with clenched teeth, curse the inventor of the Allen wrench.

2. Examine the Finish

A key sign that a piece of furniture might not be worth your money is the quality of its finish. Unfortunately, most of us don’t realize that the finish is poorly done until it begins to bubble, swell, or crack from everyday use.

However, if you are able to fully observe a product before purchase, take the advice of our master finisher. He says that the finish should cover the entirety of the piece and be smooth to the touch.

“The finish shouldn’t feel gravelly, it should be free of impurities . . . and the wood grain should still be visible”

— Christian Klopfenstein, Lead Finisher at Unruh Furniture

At Unruh, we know that every piece of furniture, whether it’s new or old, needs a high quality finish. Each of our pieces gets three coats of clear water-based polyurethane.

3. Check the Joints

Quality furniture is not glued, nailed, or stapled together. Quality furniture is held together by dowels (wooden pegs slotted into two opposing holes), dovetails (interlocking teeth), mortise and tenon (the narrow end of one piece inserted into a hole in the other), or screws. Because hardwood furniture can expand and contract based on the seasons and climate, Unruh Furniture uses Z-clips to fasten our hardwood tabletops to account for those changes. This method also prevents the piece from cracking during dry months and blowing its sutures during the humid ones.

4. Kick the Tires

You wouldn’t buy a car without a test drive. You shouldn’t buy furniture without making sure it’s functional. Open the doors of a sideboard to make sure they stay open. Pull out the drawers of the dresser to make certain the slides run smoothly. Test your height and weight on the bed-frame and your comfort in the chairs. Gently swing the cabinets of the hutch. Jiggle the knobs. Make sure your investment latches properly, shuts completely, and sits evenly.

This will be nearly impossible to do if the furniture is in a box. Still, if you’ve ever worked in retail, you know the likelihood of returns. Therefore, examine the box itself for defects. Chances are, if the box is damaged, so is the product inside. This is of utmost importance since most mega-retailers only give you three days to a year from the date of purchase to return an item. However, you won’t receive a replacement or refund if you assembled the product incorrectly or cleaned it with “the wrong cleaning methods.” If the damage is deemed incidental, the result of normal wear and tear, or if the item is not in resalable condition, all you can do is write a negative review.

5. Buy Close to Home

It’s best to buy furniture close to where it is designed and manufactured. Just like you’re taught to be skeptical of “fresh” shellfish in North Dakota, you should also know that the farther a piece of furniture has to travel the more likely its structure will get demeaned by the time it reaches your home. Buying close to home also ensures the highest quality control and means that the piece is most likely locally sourced from renewable materials—not synthetically pressed in some far away factory

According to the EPA, pressed woods like particleboard, medium-density fiberboard (MDF), and plywood all have the potential to emit formaldehyde which they consider a "probable human carcinogen." Likewise, the International Agency for Research on Cancer considers formaldehyde a "known human carcinogen." Cheap furniture is likely to emit higher levels of the gas. Additionally, formaldehyde can cause short-term health effects like watery eyes and respiratory irritation.

6. Go For Handmade

Buying close to home is good. Buying handcrafted furniture from your local expert craftspeople is even better. If they are honest, industry salesfolk will let you know the maximum life of particleboard furniture is five years. That’s if it’s never exposed to moisture, and you disassemble it each time you move it. But if you intend on actually using it, that lifespan shrinks by half.

And though hardwood veneer has double the lifespan, it still has a particleboard core which means formaldehyde emissions. Think of the veneer as a top coat of nail polish. It’s pretty and protective for a time, but any damage means another trip to the nailshop.

The advantage of handcrafted furniture is that it is made with more attention to detail, and is less susceptible to being destroyed by everyday use. Additionally, handcrafted furniture gives you the opportunity to provide design input. Unlike the one-size-fits-all method of mega emporiums, craft furniture shops can build pieces to the precise specifications of your needs and available space. Additionally, retail giants use their lack of product flexibility to renege on warranty agreements and protect themselves from the liability of any damage they may cause to your purchase or home during delivery.

Though you won’t be able to “walk out of the store with it” and may have to wait a few months before production is complete, buying locally and handmade ensures a higher quality piece. Buying close to home also gives you the opportunity to build an actual relationship with your vendor, to check and double-check your available space, and receive immediate customer service if your product fails.

Where the Fortune 500 furniture companies only offer limited time warranties that don’t cover consequential or incidental damages (even if they caused it), Unruh Furniture has a Lifetime Warranty for all its products and proudly honors it.

We understand that buying quality furniture is a big decision. Not only is it a serious financial investment, but it is also a major investment of time. We don’t want you to waste either. Whether you choose to buy handmade or wholesale, from Unruh or your area furniture mart, we believe that you deserve high quality furniture. Hopefully, these tips help you make your best decision.

All Images By:Kaley from Kansas

By Jermaine Thompson

Jermaine moved to KCMO from rural Mississippi in 2015 for an MFA in Poetry. He's staying for the jazz and the barbecue. He credits his love of language to Friday night fish fries and Sunday morning sermons.