What to Ask Before Buying Furniture

Not everyone expects to own a piece of furniture for the long haul. Sometimes “starter” pieces are the best fit for your stage of life.

But if you do want furniture that’s built to last, there are key questions to ask, says Arianna Vonderohe, sales manager and designer at Fairfield Galleries in Fort Wayne.

“It makes sense to put more money into pieces that take a lot of hard, daily use, such as sofas, recliners, dining sets and some office furniture,” she says. “It’s less important with case goods like coffee tables or other pieces that just need to look good.”

The first thing to ask is where a piece comes from, Vonderohe says.

“Furniture built in North America is usually better quality than items made overseas,” she says. “U.S. and Canadian companies tend to use solid wood for frames, for example. A frame built with solid maple, birch or pine is better than one built with plywood. The key phrase to use is ‘solid wood,’ not just ‘wood,’ which can be plywood. And for furniture with moving parts, like recliners, it’s easier to get the right part and make a repair if the piece was built here. Let’s face it, if it has moving parts, it may need a repair at some point.”

A dining table made of solid wood will look better longer than a plywood table covered with veneer that may crack, peel or swell from moisture, she says. And dining chairs that are screwed together as well as glued will take the weight of daily use more successfully.

Be aware that some companies which boast “made in America” also have lines that are made overseas. A trained salesperson understands the differences and can help you find the best quality lines within a brand.

“There are still many good brands made in the United States,” says Vonderohe. “Of the eight brands of sofas we carry, six are made in the U.S. or Canada.”

With upholstered goods, be sure to ask about the coil system below the surface.

“Whether it’s hand-tied or machine-made, an 8-way tied coil spring system is just better than the more common sinuous spring suspension that zig-zags only front to back and side to side.”

When choosing fabric for your upholstered furniture, be aware that most synthetic fabrics wear better than natural ones like cotton or linen that absorb dirt more easily and are harder to clean.

If it’s leather you want, “choose mid-grain or top-grain leather for the best wear,” Vonderohe recommends. “Stay away from bonded leathers, which are leather shavings melded together and applied to fabric. They look great at first but are likely to peel or crack.”

An attractive new synthetic leather called Brisa offers better wear than real leather but is also more expensive, she adds.

Finally, be wary of furniture sold online; it’s hard to know what you’re really getting.

“In our store, the price reflects the quality. Online, you may end up paying a lot for a brand name and the piece may not even be made well.”

Learn more by visiting Fairfield Galleries, 5010 US 33 North, Fort Wayne, or call (260) 489-5526.❚