9 tips for finding quality furniture at a price you can live with

Whether you’re decorating an entire home or just looking for a few key pieces, buying furniture is a big — and sometimes overwhelming — task. A little bit of research and a healthy dose of impulse control, along with an eye for the tiniest of details, can help you choose pieces that will work for the long haul. Here, home experts share their top tips for getting what you want at a price you can live with.

Know where to invest — and where to save

“Spend more money on items you sit on or lay on,” says Amy Panos, home editor at Better Homes & Gardens. “I would prioritize a sofa and comfortable chairs. Then, save on case goods such as dressers, bookshelves, side tables and armoires. It’s important for those to look good, but they’re not related to comfort.”

Do your research, and practice self-control, to help you buy furniture pieces that will outlast changing trends. Getty Images

Do your research

Gather images of rooms you love and analyze the furniture. Are you drawn to sectionals, low sofas or something with a high back? What look, style or colors appeal to you? Go in person, if possible, to see the items you’ve liked, and while you’re in the store, ask to look at similar pieces. Doing this saves time looking at inventory you aren’t interested in, Panos says. Bring along a pillow or fabric swatch to help with color choices.

Read reviews for pieces you like. Are they overwhelmingly positive, so-so or negative? Kelli Lamb, editorial director of Rue Magazine, says it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of reviews on sites like Reddit, where you’ll find entire threads on specific brands. But if you can cut through the noise, social media can be a great place to get opinions. “If you see a piece you’ve been eyeing on Instagram, message the account owner asking if they like the piece,” she says.

Be very careful with measurements to make sure the furniture will fit where you plan for it to go. Also, consider any obstacles to getting it inside your space, such as narrow staircases. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Take measurements

The only essential tool for furniture shopping is a tape measure. Of course, you need to know room dimensions, but that’s not enough. Create a detailed floor plan (including molding and electrical outlets) showing where each piece will go and what size it should be — including length, width and ideal height, Panos says. Try different sofas and chairs to find a comfortable seat depth, size and scale, and note the dimensions. The same goes for the depth and height of a coffee table or dining room set. Also, measure every door, hallway and entry point in your home to ensure you can get furniture into the space.

Pay attention to details

Whether you shop in-store or online, ask plenty of questions, says Noel Gatts, an HGTV host as well as the founder and principal designer of Beam & Bloom Interiors: Where is the piece fabricated? Where are the materials sourced? What fabrics and wood species are used? Can you provide a recommended care and cleaning guide? What is the return policy? “If the seller can’t answer, maybe go elsewhere, especially if it’s a bed, sofa or investment piece,” Gatts says.

You may also want to ask if the piece can be customized and how much time that adds to the delivery. Is delivery free? Does the store outsource delivery to a third-party service? Do they offer white-glove service — with pieces brought in, unwrapped, assembled and placed — or curbside drop-off? Will they haul away old pieces?

Inspect wood pieces carefully

For case goods such as dressers, cabinets and consoles, open the drawers and doors to look inside. Is it constructed with solid wood or laminate film over particle board? Solid wood pieces are stronger but more expensive.

Check the hinges and mechanisms. High-end pieces will often use strong metal parts and screws instead of plastics. Are cabinet doors even? Do they have loose glass panes that rattle?

And while the word “veneer” can make people cringe, don’t be put off. Veneers are commonly used in high-quality artisan furniture. It simply means there is a thinner facing of a more luxurious or expensive wood, such as walnut, on top of a more durable wood, such as maple, Gatts says.

Test upholstered pieces

Be careful not to buy something that’s trendy but uncomfortable. Sit or lie on furniture pieces and move them around the way you would at home. Pay close attention to patterns and seams: Patterns should line up to continue in an even repeat at the seams. Are cushions removable (preferred) or attached (cheaper)?

If a sofa is against the showroom wall, pull it out and check the back and sides. Push on the back. Is it thick, with ample filling, or just a piece of fabric stretched over the structure? The latter is a telltale sign of a cut corner. You may even want to sit or perch on the back of a sofa to see if it feels sturdy.

Also note the filling material. While polyester or foam can be durable, it may lose shape over time. Feather- or down-filled cushions and pillows can be re-fluffed. Gatts suggests giving cushions a simple test: Chop your arm into the middle of the pillow. If the V-shaped indent stays, it’s probably a down-filled quality piece, she says. Check for zippers. Having them makes it easier to clean a soiled cushion or replace the insert.

Consider shopping secondhand

One of the best ways to get a “collected-over-time look” and the most value for your dollars is to shop at thrift or consignment stores. “There’s no shame in shopping smart, and you often find amazing treasures,” Panos says. Just be sure to do the same quality checks outlined above. Even if you have to touch up a scratch or reupholster a piece, the cost can still be a fraction of a new item.

What to know about shopping online

While Panos says she wouldn’t buy anything sight unseen unless there’s a generous and flexible return policy, online retailers are an option. When shopping online for upholstered pieces, take extra time to order a fabric swatch to ensure it’s what you expect. You can also shop secondhand online, Lamb says, on websites such as, which stocks refurbished quality furniture from top brands at discounted prices and offers home delivery.

Be patient

Furniture shopping should not be impulsive. Don’t get everything in one place. Instead, get the best you can afford at the time. There is a movement toward “slow decorating” — taking the time to get the exact pieces you want and need, however long that takes. “The most interesting rooms don’t look like a showroom,” Lamb says.

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