What I've learned from furniture shopping

Before this move, I knew of two reasonable ways to get furniture:
1. cheaply, whatever you find, yard sales and stuff.
2. IKEA.
I sort of had an inkling that there was a third way involving furniture stores but that it was hell of expensive, and it would make your house look like Martha Stewart.

This move, however, I figured we needed to get some “real” furniture. (because we can? because we’ll be here a while? because we are a couple of Young Urban Professionals who have to have a respectable apartment? eh.) I started to dig deeper.

Thing #1 That I Learned: Styles
There are styles of furniture. Some of them are:

ok those are the only ones I learned about really. An important thing is to find things that you like and figure out what style they are. Once I honed in on Scandinavian Modern, and learned the name, it got a lot easier to tell whether entire stores were worth looking at or not. Here are some other style names I’ve heard more than once: beach house, industrial, shabby chic, mountain/rustic, antique, craftsman. (these also sort of sound like music genres.) Anyway, find some things you like and see what people call them, then go to stores and websites that specialize in that.

Thing #2 That I Learned: Where To Find Stores And Websites
Ok I did not learn this very much. Hopefully you will have more luck than I did. I asked my friends, and got a ton of choices. I googled and got a ton more. I didn’t really know enough to narrow them down until I’d been doing them a while, so I went to:
Noe: Echo (liked it a lot! didn’t have what I wanted in stock, and when I got a quote, it was a bit too expensive)
Mission: Salvation Army (nothing good), The Apartment (too vintage), Gingko (too pricey), Aldea Home (maybe that was the name? another pricey place), Monument (again, maybe? oh yeah also pricey), Blu Dot (nice stuff, but pricey), Harrington Galleries (vast. a few gems.), that thrift store on Valencia by 18th
Downtown: CB2 (turned out pretty good. a bit chainey. so it goes.)
SoMa: Funky Furniture (cool.), Stuff (too mid-century modern), MScape (3x my budget, 3x my apartment size), Design Plus (good place, nothing speaking to me), Modani (almost. nice prices.), BoConcept (another almost.), Room and Board (expensive, chainey, but really the problem was that it was expensive.)
The Internet: MoveLoot (I really wanted to like this! but nothing quite right), HauteLook (same), Overstock (same same), Design Within Reach (hah! it is a misnomer), West Elm (expensive), and Urban Outfitters (nothing jumped out at me, and I noticed that all their marketing is for me in the decade I’m leaving, not the one I’m entering, so maybe not a wise choice)

Or, let’s sort by price tier:
super cheap: Salvation army, that other thrift store, yard sales
a little cheap: The Apartment, MoveLoot, IKEA
kinda our tier: Harrington Galleries, Design Plus, Stuff, CB2, Funky, Modani
a bit above our tier: Echo, Blu Dot, BoConcept
way above: anything on Valencia that looks nice, MScape, Room and Board

Thing #3 That I Learned: Anything Goes With Anything
Ok, not quite, but almost. If you just trust your gut and pick out a few things that you think you like, they’ll work together. Especially wood: you can mix woods. I didn’t know this at first, and it made it much harder to find stuff.

Thing #4 That I Learned: What The Hell Does Anything Cost, It Is Hard To Know
Like, how much should I expect to pay for a kitchen table? You can be off by an order of magnitude. And sometimes places don’t have their prices online. Or you can’t tell, until you walk into a place and think “that table is nice, it is $500, hmm” and then realize it is actually $5000 and walk right back out. Uh, here are some rough guidelines I found myself thinking:

- new sofa that you can sleep on: $1000 seemed not terrible. Likewise, a new quality bed would probably cost that much. for IKEA, you can halve it.
- nice kitchen table: in the high hundreds-of-dollars. Again, halve it or better at IKEA.
- chairs with cloth on them: $100 is cheap, 200 is not surprising, 300 is a bit much. (and this is for each chair! so like 300*6?! what the hell!)
- lamps: $100 or 200 for a nice floor lamp. Or 20 at IKEA.

Let me know, by the way, if these are way off from your experiences.

Thing #5 That I Learned: Get Stuff That Is Cheap Or Great
We went with some things that were cheap: thrift store chairs, thrift store work table, yard sale desk, thrift store desk chair, ikea bed, ikea dressers, a few LACK. And then three things that are great: a gray sofa bed that is really quite appealing in its simplicity and has convinced me at least that it is somewhat durable from CB2, two sturdy teak bookcases from Harrington, and a reclaimed Douglas Fir table from Funky Furniture. For the cheap things, it doesn’t matter too too much if it turns out we dislike them after a while (though it seems unlikely); for the great things, we trusted our guts and both felt that they were top notch stuff that we really liked.


h -

There’s also some additional tricks…like don’t shell out tons of money for stuff that is essentially in a minor accent color. Minor accent colors are for the cheaper stuff (rugs, curtains, maybe an accent chair, plant pots, etc.). But this is assuming you have a color scheme, which is also not entirely necessary.

Dan -

That’s smart. Like, don’t buy a big orange sofa; buy a gray or brown or black or whatever sofa and have the big things be neutrals, and then get an orange lamp or something. That’s a principle I didn’t really know or think about, but luckily have accidentally followed.

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