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Three Tiers of Furniture Quality

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I believe the furniture world is split up into essentially three tiers:

  • IKEA and disposable furniture
  • Roomstore, Value City, moderately priced furniture
  • MasterCraft Interiors (if they weren’t bankrupt), high end furniture that can be passed from generation to generation

Up until now, I’ve lived solely in the realm of the IKEA, Target, Wal-Mart world where the furniture was cheaply priced and, for all intents and purposes, the quality of the product was good enough for my uses. A bookcase is a bookcase and whether it’s $80 or $800, it holds books right? And if you move every year, or even every few years, you don’t want the high end or even the moderately priced furniture because you’re going to ding it, scratch it, bang it into walls, put unreasonable and undesigned stresses on it, and it’s going to shorten the lifespan of the product.

Well, now that I don’t foresee us doing any moving, I believe it’s time to move up the spectrum from IKEA to at least a Roomstore, Value City quality of product. Now, before you all jump on me about putting IKEA at the low end, I do so because I think anything there with moving parts has a lifespan of approximately three years (that’s if you don’t move). Furniture without moving parts are slightly more durable, bookcase shelves usually don’t bow for a long time and anything made of metal lasts “forever.” Honestly, IKEA knows what its doing, it positions itself as a cheap supplier of furniture and for many types of products it is still #1 on my list.

Will you ever see me buying something on the high end level? Maybe, who knows, being the son of immigrants, our family doesn’t have a long history in the country and thus there isn’t any furniture to pass down and so its not something that has ever entered into my mind. Should I buy it because it lasts? Perhaps, but spending a ridiculous sum of money on a dining room table that can get scuffed and scratched like an IKEA special isn’t something that appeals to me…

We spent the weekend walking around Roomstore looking for a little bench, seeing the beds and the couches on sale, and so I thought I’d put digital pen to paper and see what you all thought. I think I’m officially old now. Anyone have any thoughts on furniture?

{ 35 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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35 Responses to “Three Tiers of Furniture Quality”

  1. eROCK says:

    Spend money on something you value the most.

    For me, it’s my couch.

    For my girl-friend, it’s a dining room table or a china cabinet.

    Perhaps you and your wife will agree on a few things you value and proceed from there.

  2. jim says:

    Not wife yet 🙂

  3. Good furniture is definately worth having. I never owned anything IKEA until my wife (then-girlfriend) moved in with me and brought some of what she had moved across the country with. All in all, I was not overly impressed.

    That being said, most (as in almost all) of my furniture is hand-me-down from family and friends. We have a few of your middle-classification pieces that we have bought. My intention is to make my own furniture for the higher end spectrum items. My furniture may not come out as well as my wife’s grandparents furniture, but I’ll improve with practice and while the early attempts may not look great they will definitely be a step up from the low end items and some of the hand me downs that I’ve acquired over the years.

  4. Anne says:

    There may be three tiers, but MasterCraft isn’t at the top. 🙂 Regardless, I buy at about the level of MasterCraft (Henredon, Baker, Stickley) but I get it at deep discounts through furniture outlet stores, eBay, craigslist. You can have your cake and eat it too. It’s really worth it to have beautiful furniture that you’ll love living with and that won’t fall apart if you stand on it, much less breathe on it.

    • Osha says:

      Is it possible ot get the higher quality furniture (Henredon, Stickley) at a furniture outlet stores? How do you find out about this? I’d love to be able to do this.

  5. Katrin says:

    I can’t help but defend IKEA… 🙂 Dave and I bought our bed from a kid at CMU… who bought it at IKEA and w/ 3 moves and 3years and counting… it’s still a great bed… nothing fancy or modern looking but it’s stable and I never feel like I’ll wake up on the floor 🙂 But I say, furniture from second tier is not bad choice. I guess it all depends on how “in love” with the piece you are & will be in 30 years. You could have bought a really nice TV stand 10 years ago… but now you would have to buy another one because your TV is flat & hangs on the wall 🙂 Do you guys want your house to roll w/ the times… or are you not worried about what’s the latest in Pottery Barn catalogs…

  6. Shemp says:

    I sell furniture, and your thinking on the subject is sound. Get what suits your personal needs…if an IKEA table will work for you, get that. If you want to be able to pass your old furniture down to future generations, buy something more substantial. I see people from every economic level in my store, and you wouldn’t believe some of the reasoning they come up with to justify buying (or not buying, sometimes) furniture. It all comes down to you, the consumer; what will satisfy you now, and is likely to still be satisfactory for you in the future. Until I began working here, all my own furniture was hand-me down or found stuff, which I refinished when necessary…perfectly good for my needs at the time. Now I have better quality furniture that actually goes together (somewhat), and that will last another 10-20 years.

  7. Jonathan says:

    As long as you take the plastic seat covers off your fancy dining room chairs, I’m fine with it 😉

    I have been eyeing out a new mattress myself…

  8. Clever Dude says:

    I would suggest skipping any high-end stores for wood purchases unless they’re clearly selling solid wood. Everything seems to have a veneer on it, even in Mastercraft.

    Be sure to pick out your couch well. Our couches that we bought at Marlo Furniture are horrible. The cushions have no support and no one wants to sleep on the sleeper sofa (which is normal for sleepers, so just get a non-sleeper).

    We bought unstained, solid hardwood dining room furniture for MUCH less than, say, an Amish set would have cost us. We got 8 fancy chairs, a dual-pedestal, butterfly-leaf (hide-away leaves) table that stretches to 8 feet, and a china cabinet for $2700. We could pick our own stain color and decide how many coats of varnish we wanted to protect it with. One word of advice is to just get one piece at a time. We overwhelmed ourselves with a dozen pieces to stain, right in the middle of training for our first marathon.

  9. J.D. says:

    I don’t even have any of those stores (brands?) in my area!

    For me, the ideal is Stickley. Whenever we go to the Rujevenation near us (a store designed to pimp high-priced furniture and fixtures to owners of old homes), I’m drawn to the Stickley stuff. It’s gorgous and well-made. I haven’t purchased anything — I’m too frugal! — but there’s no doubt I’ve been tempted.

    In fact, writing this post tempts me more…

  10. I’m a furniture freak. I love furniture. I spent a whole year trying to decorate my house and it was heaven. 🙂 Especially when I got good deals.

  11. Jessica says:

    Get some books from the library and read up on how to spot quality furniture and the different woods that furniture is made from. That way you can find well made, value priced items at half of the high end price. We just bought a bedroom set for around 3k – you could easily spend 7-8k at Ethan Allen. Also, you can negotiate with furniture stores, or buy floor models at a discount…

  12. tolak says:

    It also depends how attuned are you to aesthetics and style, who you plan to entertain and your living space constraints.

    For me, the next step above Ikea is nothing less $700 for chairs and bed frames, and $1000 for sofas. I live in the bay area, and am sensitive to trendiness 🙂

    I have lived with Ikea and hand-me-downs in the past and at some point I moved and decided it was no longer desirable. From experience, my general advice is not go to Ikea for chairs or anything bearing weight and wear.

  13. Tim says:

    having bought lots of particle board stuff, moving more times than i can remember, and buying more particle board stuff b/c particle board simply does not ship well nor last long when having to take apart and reassemble, it is far better to get good furniture in the long run. Good furniture with dove joints, etc, will last longer. Contrary to what you mentioned about not getting good stuff if you move every year, b/c of dings etc, that is the exact reason you should get the good stuff. Dings or breaks are much easier and cheaper to repair in solid wood furniture rather than having to buy a new particle board thing. Plus dings add character over time. dings in particle board essentially ruin the furniture. solid wood furniture also travels better simply b/c it is made better. there is a lot of wear and tear on disassembling and assembling furniture.

    IKEA has some good stuff, and they have some solid wood furniture as well. IKEA does particle board laminate better than most companies like Bush etc. Particle board also warps easier, if the laminate is compromised, it is essentially ruined, it just doesn’t handle assembly and reassembly well. I’ve bought plenty of $80 bookcases that I’ve had to replace over the years, only to realize (I’m a slow learner and glutton for punishment) that the solid wood stuff just wears better and I don’t have to replace it every time I move.

    If you live near or want to make a trip to the furniture capital of the US, then drive or fly down to High Point, NC, and custom order a furniture set from the source of many furniture companies.

  14. Tim says:

    Ikea is building a location in Portland, Oregon. An article about it will be up on my blog around lunchtime today. I would tend to place them in the mid-range, despite their low average cost.

    Do people still pass on furniture to their children? I think that was a common practice because they were so expensive in the old days, and because it was one of the few material possessions many people owned. I can’t imagine being so attached to a desk that I felt the need to force it on my kids. But that’s just me. 🙂

    Great article.

  15. 3bean says:

    A few thoughts: Another reason to delay buying expensive furniture is if your sense of style isn’t determined yet. Who wants to have purchased a traditional sleigh bed as a 24 year old only to realize at 30 years that sleigh beds were your mother’s style but not yours? Also, household sales / Craig’s List can be a great way to find unique solid wood pieces below retail.

  16. Passeryby says:

    Two things you might consider are a) Costco and b) estate sales. Costco sells pretty good furniture, but it’s not cheap stuff, nor is it inexpensive. However you do get what you pay for, and you can also dicker around with the price when it comes to floor models. (At least I’ve done it)

    Estate sales are a goldmine, but it takes a lot of hunting around. Plus, there are good estate sales, where stuff is reasonably priced, and there are sales where if you opened the toilet, you’d see a $20 price tag on whatever might be floating around.

    The problem with both of these methods is that if you are looking for something in particular – “I need a daybed” – it’s tough.

    p.s. love the site.

  17. Becca says:

    No Ikea item I’ve ever bought has fallen apart. This is 10-18 years now and the oldest items have been through seven moves. My particleboard bed is ten years old and been through two moves with no issues. My particleboard dresser was purchased and put together in 1989 and been through all seven moves, still intact but admittedly with quite a few dings.

  18. Tinyhands says:

    I generally consider IKEA/flatpack furniture to be disposable. I don’t like disposable things on principle and while it might take a very long time to recoup the expense (generations?) buying something of quality is more often my first choice. One way the rich stay rich, by the way, is by buying things that retain value.

  19. Serena says:

    What about antique stores? I bought my bedroom set – solid wood, bed frame, two dressers, two nighttables – for $800 = it wasn’t a true “antique” but it is all in great shape and will last forever (real wood, real joints, etc)
    A lot depends on the look you want – but if you’re not looking for super modern, this can be a great way to go – btw, it was marked at $1100, and they gave me the set for $800 if I would take it within a couple of days – a lot of small antique stores are looking to get things out quickly to make room for “true antiques”.

  20. CC says:

    This is very timely for me! My girlfriend and I were walking through Value City looking for a love seat, and I had the same realization that I must be officially getting older now!

  21. Derek says:

    It is getting harder and harder to find high-end furniture. There was a store near us that closed its doors and we got some killer deals. Talking to the owner, he said that no one is buying “good” furniture anymore, mainly because the days of having the same living room set for 20 years are gone. People are re-decorating more often now, and furniture is a lot more “disposable.”

    I’d second some of the comments on trolling used furniture stores. We’ve gotten some stellar deals. The solid wood bedroom set we bought when we first got married 10 yrs ago is still holding up great (though now is in our guest room). Price paid? $200 for two dressers, a mirror and night stand.

  22. Alan says:

    Most of the furniture I’ve had up to this point in my life has either been a family hand-me-down or something on the low end. For me, buying better furniture would mean buying Flexsteel ( or getting the Amish here to make it for me. The Amish furniture can be expensive but this stuff will last a lifetime. I bought a few dining room chairs and they are fantastic. I’m a very big person so chairs don’t last long for me but these are still solid as a rock after 5 years of use. My parents bought Flexsteel stuff years ago and of all the furniture they bought in their lifetime, that stuff holds up the best.

  23. ~Dawn says:

    I love the old stuff, if it’s lasted 50-100 years, it will probably last another lifetime

  24. Madame X says:

    I’ve been shopping for furniture too– I definitely fall into the camp of thinking it’s better to buy good quality stuff that you’ll be able to use for years, especially for things that need to hold a lot of weight or get a lot of use. I would never buy some crappy particle board bookcase– I’ve seen too many of them that are rickety, and the shelves break and they fall apart if you move them even once. (I have a ton of books, so bookcases are really important to me.) And a couch is something you want to sit comfortably on quite often, probably. I have read that Crate and Barrel’s furniture is very good quality and I liked the things I looked at in the store (the stuff in the actual furniture department more so than the stuff you have to assemble yourself). I bought a couch and chair from Room and Board, where the prices are the same to a bit higher, and almost all their stuff seems well-made. Their catalog is definitely worth checking out if they don’t have a store near you.

  25. Fazal Majid says:

    Particle board is junk, but medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is superior to genuine wood for furniture. It’s essentially fiberglass, except it uses wood fiber instead of glass fiber, and has better stability than wood because it is more homogeneous.

    The best furniture you can get is the old fashioned (think Shaker style) made of wood, and made entirely with joinery, no glue, nails or screws. Small companies like Thos. A Moser still make them, but they are incredibly expensive. A better option is to find a skilled carpenter in your neighborhood and ask him to make the furniture for you. Some people do it as a hobby, and are really good at it because they care about the work.

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