When you go shopping for furniture, whether it’s a new bed or a lounge suite, it is obvious that price differences can be vast. Whilst you can certainly get quality items at lower discount prices, generally you need to be aware that not all furniture is created equally. It is an undeniable fact that more often than not, the more expensive items are better made and will also last longer.
Why Furniture isn’t Created Equally
Life is all about choices, and furniture is no different. Manufacturers decide on the market for which they want to cater, and then make their products accordingly. This doesn’t mean that a manufacturer who is aiming at budget items consciously decides to turn out bad workmanship. In fact expensive items may be badly made simply because upmarket, classy designs often incorporate more difficult joints and features that take experience and skill to produce. Inexpensive furniture may be well or badly made; it’s up to you to recognize degrees of quality.
In fact it is essential that you check all furniture before you buy it, however cheap or expensive it may be. As they say in the classics, the quality of a Monday item and a Friday item out of the same factory can vary tremendously. For example, you may have two seemingly identical tables to choose from, but one wobbles ever so slightly. Or perhaps you are buying an upholstered couch, and notice that the piping on the one has not been as neatly stitched as the other.
Comparing Different Types of Wooden Furniture
There are many different ways that wooden furniture is designed and made. A simple differentiation is that some items are engineered in a factory while others are carefully crafted by hand. Hand crafted furniture is usually a lot more expensive, simply because of the man-hours that go into making it. But weigh up the pros and cons, because a lot of factory-made quality furniture will look just as good and last just as long, without making the same sized dent in your pocket.
Also consider that there are many different ways that pieces of wood can be joined together. Some cheaper tables and chairs, for example, may be screwed together, while traditional designs will incorporate carefully cut, traditional joints. When you compare different items (irrespective of price differences), examine the joints. Even two simple kists – which are really just oversized, attractive storage boxes – may be assembled in totally different ways. For instance, one might simply be glued and pinned or screwed together; while the other is made with traditional, wedge-shaped dovetail joints that interlock and form a solid bond without the need for wood glue and metal fasteners.
When it comes to wooden items of furniture, it isn’t just the design that differentiates one type of item from the other. It is also the variety of wood that is used to make each item.
The two basic types of wood found in nature are softwood that comes from cone-bearing coniferous trees with prickly needles, like firs and pine trees; and hardwood, the type that is cut from a wide variety of deciduous trees. This can be confusing, since not all hardwoods are particularly hard, and some softwoods are in fact relatively hard, even harder than some hardwoods. For instance while ordinary pine is commonly used for mass produced furniture (including tables, chairs and beds), Oregon pine is a lot stronger and is often used to make better quality items. Douglas fir, which is another variety of softwood, tends to be hard, about the same consistency as European walnut, cherry wood and American elm.
Generally furniture made from hardwood is more expensive, possibly since it is more commonly used to make period-style traditional items, which of course require a lot more work. They are also not commonly mass produced (which generally brings down the price per unit).
Another factor is that not all wooden furniture is made from solid wood; many manufacturers specialize in making cabinets, tables and so on from manmade board, and many use veneers to finish items. This gives the impression of a solid wood surface, when it is in fact just a thin layer of wood that covers a much cheaper material.
A particularly popular man-made board is medium density fiberboard (MDF) which is beautifully smooth and easy to carve. Well made furniture from this material, if creatively designed and given a top quality finish, can compete with some of the most beautiful items made from solid wood – although it is true that many people want their wooden furniture to be made of solid wood and not from some sort of manmade fiber.
Finish is another factor to consider when buying wooden or solid board furniture. There are loads of options, the most important factor probably being the ability of the finish to withstand wear and tear, and staining. But having said that, surfaces that have been French polished have to be carefully maintained, because this is one surface that won’t withstand spills and scratches, yet furniture that has been finished this way is usually very pricey. So it’s not that easy to set hard and fast rules.
Comparing Beds and Mattresses
One item of furniture we all need is some sort of bed, with a good quality mattress that allows us to get a good night’s sleep. Some beds are available without mattresses, although most incorporate a base that is designed to be used to support the mattress and elevate you off the ground at the same time.
Beds with bases are commonly made of wood or metal, and include some gorgeous four poster and brass bedstead designs. Leather beds are also becoming a popular choice. In these instances, the bed itself is a feature, adding to the design and style of the room. Sleep sets, on the other hand, are generally more practical and comfort-orientated, but generally plain. However while many comprise simply the base and mattress, others do have bed heads, or can be installed with custom-made bed heads. So in this case you will be considering not only price and quality, but also what the bed will look like in your bedroom – which should be your personal haven.
Then there’s the choice of mattress. Of all the items of furniture in any home, mattresses are not the same, even if they look identical once the bedding is in place! They range from cheap foam, to new-age “memory foam”, and from regular sprung to specially-manufactured orthopaedic mattresses.
Alternatively you might prefer to opt for a cotton-stuffed futon that may be used on just about any type or style of base.
At the end of the day, whatever furniture you are going to buy should be of the best quality you can afford. As long as you are aware that not all furniture is created equally, you should be in a position to evaluate quality as well as value for money.