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How to Buy Furniture by Barbara Jennings

Picking out furniture for your home should be a careful decision, one based on the same kind of research and thought process you'd give if you were looking to purchase a new vehicle. Open the drawers. Sit on it. Bounce up and down. Lie down flat. Open the doors. Smell it.  Try to use it as it was meant to be used.

Ask questions of the salesperson. Never go to look at furniture without first taking measurements of the space you're going to be using.

But before you even get to the store, flip through magazines and watch home-improvement shows to get ideas of what you might like to have. Ask yourself if you're ready for a complete change of style. Have the needs of your family changed: have the children grown from toddlers to teenagers since you last purchase a sofa?  What are your preferences now and how have they changed in the last ten years?

Have you developed a budget for what you want to spend? When do you need the furniture? What is the size of the room? How much sun does the room get? Is there glare where you want to put that TV? Try to sit down and write down all of the questions you can think of and be sure to answer them before you ever set foot in a furniture store.  This will not only help you make sensible decisions, it will help the store clerk to help you more efficiently too.

Be sure to take any paint chips, wallpaper, fabric samples, pictures, or anything else that will be in the room that can affect your color or texture choices.

Always look inside a piece of furniture for flaws that can't be seen on the outside. Look underneath tables, at the back of an armoire, between the bureau drawers. Check for plywood, particle board or staples. High quality furniture does not have any of these. High quality furniture is made to last the test of time.

While you're checking things out, ask the salesperson about their exchange policies for in-stock and special orders, about how soon the furniture can be delivered, any delivery charges and what kinds of warranties come with the purchases.

You'd be surprised at how many people make purchases, take the item home only to discover it is not going to work or not really what they wanted after all. Lack of preparation on the part of the buyer is the number one reason for unhappiness later on.

A common mistake is purchasing furniture that winds up being too small or too large for the room. Other problems arise when purchases are made without a predetermined color palette or a budget based on reasonable, realistic expectations and ability to afford.

In-stock items can usually be delivered in a day or two by the store or you can arrange your own delivery methods. However the average time to acquire a custom order is 6 to 8 weeks, sometimes as long as 12 weeks.

Be sure if waiting for something that you pre-check to see if there are any restocking or cancellation fees should you tire of the wait.

When the long awaited furniture arrives, check immediately for problems such as the wrong color, a tear in the fabric, a scratch in the wood.  If you see any problems, do not accept the furniture. Have the delivery people immediately contact the store or showroom and let them know there is something wrong.

Call the store yourself as well to alert them to the problem. Have the delivery people place the item back on their truck and never pay for the shipment nor its return.  Do not sign for the delivery unless it is perfect. The delivery company has a responsibility to return the product to the store if you have not signed their paperwork. 

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(2004-05 Copyright Barbara Jennings)

Barbara Jennings
is the West Coast Pioneer in Redesign, author of 7 decorating books, a published artist, corporate art consultant, and furniture arrangement consultant. For training in professional furniture and accessory arrangement, or to start your own redesign or art consulting business, please visit: