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Furniture
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otb
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Furniture - February 7, 2013, 09:13 PM

Buying Furniture
I'm in the process of recovering a Hickory Chair Company copy of a Sheridan loveseat ; and by the looks of it, this is the third time in it's 70 year long life it's been recovered.

Everybodies' circumstances are different; I got that. But having been in the business of selling, repairing and restoring furniture since 1989, I fell qualified to share wth you a couple of generalizations:

A. Buy the best that you can afford;
With a couple of notable exceptions, Furniture, both wood and upholstered, is usually one of those items you normally get exactly what you pay for. Be it a dining room set or a nice comfy sofa, money spent up front will get you quality that will last you a lifetime.

50% more cost on a quality, USA made solid wood set, be it pine, oak, cherry or whatever your favorite flavor is will keep you from spending the same as what you just spent again in 2 or 3 years. Well made domestic made furniture will literally last a lifetime, given a modicum of care. The USA still builds the BEST commercially made furniture in the world, period.
You might find some little old guy in Baveria still making exquisite museum-quality hand-carved walnut pieces; but for all 'round generally affordable furniture, Made in the USA still means something. That being said, there are some shlocky bargain basement mass-producers out there, but USA mid-priced builders are pretty much decent; the competition for dollars is so fierce, they all need to have game.

B. Don't believe a word the sales (wo)man tells you;
WIth the exception of some family-run older businesses, most of the salesfolks and designers have NO IDEA what is inside that sofa, or what type of wood is in that case (or even if it IS wood), or the difference between nitrocellulose laquer, polyureathane and waterborne catalyzed finishes. I can't tell you how many times I've gone into a store or a patrons home to do some repairs on shipping or delivery damage to imported ornate "wood" furniture, only to tell the folks that the ornate carving on that $3000 desk is really, well, uhm, cast polyureathane foam that's glued on to .3mm thick veneer thats been bonded to fiberboard or chipboard.

Most salespeople don't lie (usually); most just don't KNOW how it's made or what it's made FROM.
 
C. Bargain basment volume furniture stores aren't really selling you furniture; they are selling you financing, too. Trust me, they are making a killing on the crap furniture they're peddling, but they make almost as much on the "no payments for a year" financing.
Example;
One nationally known retailer was advertising a four-piece sectional recliner set in the Sunday paper this last weekend for $999.99. A sofa/loveseat recliner combo, reclining chair and huge ottoman. Sounds like a GREAT deal, doesn't it?

I mean, I can order you one from one of my domestic manufacturers and my COST on the thing is going to run me about $2500; during a big sale with some manufacturer participation, I might be able to sell it to you for $3200-3300 bucks; and it'll look about the same (some nicer details, but from 10 feet away, most people can't tell the difference). By the time I'm done with free delivery and paying the shipping, I'll be grossing about $300-350 on that set.

That imported bargain-basement set cost the national retailer $109.00 by the containerload from China. They charge for delivery so their net is around $850 per set, plus the $400-500 they make on the financing.
Looks good on the showroom floor, so why not,eh?

The manufacturers I sell make theirs from hardwood frames, hand doweled together and built to last 30 years, with 10 year premium foams and dacron; eight-way hand tied coils, real leather and precision cut, sewn and upholstered.

The "discount house " units are made from chipboard, held together with pin nails, serpentine springs (or worse, a burlap sack), the cheapest foam available, and topped off with "recycled" leather made from scraps, put in a blender with some vinyl and sprayed onto a cotton backing. Looks good for about a month.

Then the foam cushions start to sag, the seams start to pull, the frames squeak or worse, the joints start to pull apart. I once made a service call to a consumer who had purchased a "mass produced" sofa because it was making a clunking noise when they sat in it; when I took the back fabric off, I found that one of the "uprights", a verticle support for the back, had come loose. It was a branch that still had the bark on it; it had been shot with about 20 pin nails (20 ga) to hold it in place. The rest of the frame was made from chipboard scraps that had been glued together. The customer was freaked out.....

As for "furniture warranties", there is only one thats worth anything (Guardsman); the rest are all more concerned with "excluding" your claim for not following the fine print in the contract.
In furniture, as with so many other things in life, you get exactly what you pay for.
 
 
O, ohh, and lets talk about the guys with trucks selling their sofas on streetcorners or internet furniture sales some other time....that'll really get me going.


Riding fast bikes slowly since 1969....
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February 7, 2013, 09:42 PM

I like Littles Furniture in Frederick. They only sell made in USA furniture.

Little's Furniture
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February 7, 2013, 10:14 PM

I made the regrettable mistake of buying living room and bedroom furnishing from a local independent retailer about a decade ago.
I certainly didn't want the standard "House By Ikea" look but knew I didn't have the budget for Better Homes & Gardens either.

The salesmen showed me some floor samples as well as catalog items. What I found looked near identical to sets I wanted from Ethan Allen and Havertys, but at easily half the price. $5,000 over $12,000 made financial sense to me even if it wasn't precisely the same finish detail and material quality visually.

I am no dummy (or so I thought) and know how padded the profit margins can be in furniture, and as such believed I was beating the fleecers at the aforementioned retailers. I mean really, how different can furniture be - wood, nails, some binding, springs, foam, stain, and the fabric or covering. All these items are coming from Asia anyway. This no-name brand is probably produced in the same factory Cort, EA, and Marlo use as suppliers was also part of my rationale.

Now understand, I'm fairly decent about maintaining my furnishing. Dust and wax regularly. I wipe down spills as soon as I see them. I regualry tighten anything that gets a bit loose with use because with due care, there is no reason why furniture cannot last a lifetime - unless it's shit to begin with.

Well, 3 years into its life it became apparent that I had made a grave mistake. The first signs were things like the finish and stain on various wood items like the dresser, coffee table, headboard... It began to discolor or even chip up in places. Things got progressively worse from there. The coffee table developed a bit of wobbly play which, no matter how many times I retightened the locking nuts on the pegs, would not go away.

The couches, or dear god - the cushions went to hell in about 24 months, then the springs felt as if the were made of wet noodles. I'm not particularly heavy - 185lbs on my worst day, and yet it felt like I was sitting in the couch not on it. Then the back began to sag, so now when I sat, I was folding over into the letter "C". It got so bad I began to use the love seat all the time. Final straw was when the couch began delaminating. I'm no idiot. I knew the couches were alacanata and viynl, but after 4 years pieces began peeling and flaking off.

It reached a point where I was truly embarrassed to have company, fearing they would see the condition of the couches, coffee table, end tables - let alone sit down. When you have to coyly herd your guests to sit on the good couch without them realizing what's going on, there's a problem. Furniture ought not be a source of tension and worry.

That was the final insult. I scrapped everything from that store with the exception coffee table and end tables because I liked the design. I'll get them refinished at some later date, but for now they occupy the junk room.

So OTB, lesson learned. Buy once, cry once and always pay attention to craftsmanship when purchasing furniture.



“Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good. Hence a Prince who wants to keep his authority must learn how not to be good, and use that knowledge, or refrain from using it, as necessity requires”.

- Nicolo Machiavelli 1469-1527

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February 8, 2013, 07:07 AM

good read. i made the mistake of buying my things from Bob's...
looked good in the store. and im about 400 big ones away from paying everything off. and it already seems as if, im going to go back and buy everything new all over again.

not sure of a good place to go buy all my furniture.. but this time, i will shop around and buy the best i can. And not be in a rush to get things like i was after getting married and getting a house
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February 8, 2013, 07:24 AM

'Zacly...

Some things to look for as an indicator of quality:

A. Manufacturers Warranty
Most of the cheap stuff has a 30 to 90 day warranty, if that. The reputable US manufacturers offer 1-5 year on casegoods, with a couple upper-end makers offering lifetime on materials and workmanship.

Upholstery makers in the US usually offer 1-10 year frame warranties with 1 yr fabric and 1-5 year sewing warranties.

Some retailers (like Ashley) don't allow for returns for ANY reason...it's in the fine print on your receipt. That should give you an indication of what to expect if you have a problem.

We try to resolve an issue, and if we can't we always refund and return.

I'm working on a piece for one of the manufacturers right now that's been in the home for 4 years, has obviously not been taken care of, and the manufacturer still authorized the repair. Try THAT with Bob's or Ashley or Value City. They'll laugh you right out of the showroom.


B. Marketing Materials/Specs:

Quality cost big time, so if it's in there, the manufacturer wants you to know about it:

In upholstery, the frames will be made of hardwood plywood, solid oak, ash and/or maple; the manufaturer will tout it. Cheap frames are made of chip board, mdf and fiberboard and the manufacturer and retail won't want to disclose that.

Spring systems in quality sofas will be 8 way hand-tied ONLY; it's labor intensive, time consuming and can only be done by skilled (read: expensive) labor; cheap stuff will have webbing or serpentine springs; they don't last. You might see serpentine sustems in good chairs or ottomans, but NOT in quality sofas and loveseats. If it doesn't SAY eight way hand tied coils....it's likely NOT.

Fabics and sewing.

Most of the mills in the south and east are out of business; not able to compete with $.50 per day overseas labor. MOST fabrics today are imported.

Cotton prints look nice but fade and wear quickly'''they are cheap, though.

Poly blends are OK, but most require dry cleaning if they are blended with silk , wool or rayon.

Olefin and olefin blends wear like iron, clean easily with water and water-based cleaners.

In high use areas look for cleaning code W or WS; stay away from S or X code fabrics unless they are in low-ue (formal living room/dining roon type0 areas.

Leathers:

I could devote paragraphs but I'd put you all asleep:

There are 4 types:
Aniline/semi-aniline:

Which are dyed split cow-hide with or without a knap. Dyed and wax or oil treated they are the most expensive, last the longest and require the most care.

Protected (coated) leather.

What 90% of all furniture uses, and what your wear (hopefully) when you ride; wears like iron, requires a lot less care than aniline, easy to fix and what most folks shoul be using on their furniture. Has a vinyl layer of color sprayed over the top ot good quality cowhide. Pretty much wipe it and forget it, with maybe a once a year treatment.

"Recycled leather":

Leather scraps that have been liquified and sprayed on a fabric substrate; not really leather with about 1/4 the service life, but lableing requirements in the US still allow this stuff to be called leather.


Pleather, vinyl, made-made leather....

It's all plastic over a fabric substrate....wears well, doesn't breathe, but looks OK......but it's not leather. Some imports come with leather center sections sewn to vinyl sides and backs so that the salesman can say it's leather without lying.


I'm out of time...we'll go into casegoods, chairs and tables later....


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February 8, 2013, 07:46 AM

I will eventually replace all the casegoods I've got at home with stuff I make myself. I just have difficulty finding or making the time to do it (realistically I need to stop sitting on the couch so much). I should probably just do some of it with cabinet grade plywood rather than the extra time consuming jointing and planing of solid wood.
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February 8, 2013, 09:28 AM

OTB -
Out of my own sheer lack of education on the matter, what are the names of some of the better manufacturers and more reputable retailers in the area, whether national & region chain or independent?

Including yourself, who are some of the better reupholesters, refinishers, and craftsmen in the region?

When I lived in New York, we knew who to go to for great furniture at a fair price. A little Jewish family owned chain of shops - the Rosenblatz (Rosen's Home Furniture). I never questioned their quality or warranty. My grandmother still has Rosen's furniture pieces, all of it older than me. It has survived several moves throughout NY and then NC and only now beginning to show signs of wear.

If you needed a set modified to fit into your apartment, no problem. For not much more money they would have it customized and reworked. Many of their wood craftsmen were ex-employees of the Steinway Piano factory in Queens. Fabric and Textiles often came direct from some of the last remaining merchants in the Garment District.

Sadly, they sold off and closed shop back in the early 00's. The national box chains began moving into the region and when IKEA opened across the river in NJ, this served as the nail in the coffin.



“Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good. Hence a Prince who wants to keep his authority must learn how not to be good, and use that knowledge, or refrain from using it, as necessity requires”.

- Nicolo Machiavelli 1469-1527

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February 8, 2013, 03:15 PM

The answer is: depends on what you like.

For Shaker style white pine, maple and oak go with A Little Touch of Old up in Clearfield, PA.

For Traditional, Queen Anne and Mission occasional tables, I would go with Leisters, in Hanover PA.

For traditonal knotty yellow pine, especially their hand-painted and antique finishes; American Heritage in Tacocca GA.

For traditional and modern dining and case goods, I would go with Canadel (up in Montreal) or Saloom, in Maine.

For traditional and modern designs in upholstery, I would stick with Hickory Chair, CR Laine, and Johnston Benchworks.... all are solid hardwood frames, eight-way hand-tied coil and exceptional detail and craftsmanship for the money.

If you don't find what you are looking for there; there are many local and regional folks that I can hook you up with to make reproductions of Louise Xv or Hepplewhite, or whatever.

As far as retailers, I believe in going local; check the manufacturers websites; they have links to local retailers.

Or buy it from me.


I'll give you a great deal


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otb
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February 9, 2013, 07:53 AM

Also, I'm going to a furniture market for small speciality regional manufacturers.
in two weeks ......if anyone has special requests drop me a line.


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i dont like you either
 
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February 9, 2013, 09:29 AM

I'm buying my first home soon. This is very relevant to me.
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cake > pie
 
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February 9, 2013, 10:10 AM

I'm looking for the worlds best reading chair....any input?
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5 yrs till Brood X emerge
 
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February 9, 2013, 01:25 PM

Do you have a furniture store?
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otb
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February 10, 2013, 05:09 AM

Yes; in keeping with TOS here I would share info via Pm if interested.


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otb
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February 10, 2013, 05:32 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by absinthe_now View Post
I'm looking for the worlds best reading chair....any input?
Yes, there are sooo many styles and they all "sit" differently, you'll need to figure out what kind of reader you are ; are you a sprawler, a tuck a foot under, a sit up ramrod straight or do you slouch and slide?
Sit in as many styles as possible, keeping in mind that readers spend long stretches in their chairs.

Highback wing chairs are what I like, but I'm 6'2 so I need some support, my wife is tiny, so she likes a chair and a half with a low back....everybody is different.


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Last edited by otb; February 10, 2013 at 06:33 AM..
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February 10, 2013, 08:33 AM

Great read. I'm laying out on a couch my grandfather made in his furniture shop in 1946 when he got back from WWII. for the most part it still looks good and it's crazy comfy. Just as you can imagine the leather is starting to go after ~67 years. Need to find a good shop for a touch up. Is that some of the stuff you handle otb?


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