Is Expensive Furniture Worth It? (Hint: It Depends)


In furniture, as in life, there are trade-offs.  Do you spend more and get high quality, or do you save money and buy a lesser product? When you consider the difference can easily run in the tens of thousands of dollars, this is an investment decision you want to get right.  So, is expensive furniture worth the extra cost? Let’s find out.

Is Expensive Furniture Worth It?  It depends on what pieces you buy. Buying the right pieces in quality even when more expensive, while saving money on other pieces, can allow you to maximize your investment, give your entire home a richer feel, and still remain within your decorating budget.

As the old saying goes, the devil is in the details. Whether or not your decorating dollars are better spent on expensive furniture or inexpensive depends on your long-term goals. One assumes you want something that looks good, will last as long as possible, and retain value.  One also assumes you don’t want to have to take out a second mortgage to decorate your home. Let’s look at what works and what doesn’t.

What Furniture is Worth Spending Extra On?

This is fairly easy. The more time you spend in or on it, the more value it has to you. The higher you value it, the more important it is that you buy a quality item.

Sofa

Most of us spend a lot of time sitting on our sofa.  The average American adult spends 6½ hours per day sitting down. No wonder your tush gets tired!  For teenagers, that number is 8 hours per day.

60% of Americans spend more than 2 hours per day sitting and watching television.  Others sit while gaming, playing on the computer, visiting with family, and just relaxing. 

Your sofa should be your friend.  This is an area where investing in quality is worthy of your dollars. Does that mean you need at $10,000 sofa?  Not necessarily and certainly not if that isn’t in your budget.  It means, find the very highest quality sofa you can. That is your first choice.

Bed

Another key piece of furniture is your bed. If you’re lucky, you’ll spend 6-10 hours in this one location every single day.  Your bed will help renew you, revitalize you, relax you, comfort you and keep you feeling sane.

It is my personal opinion that your bed is the most important furniture choice.  I can think of no other piece that has such a direct effect on your overall health and happiness.  This is definitely NOT a place to choose price over quality. 

Does that mean to go with the most expensive brand on the market? Not if it isn’t comfortable.  I’m recommending you find the most comfortable bed. Then, look at the most affordable option that the bed comes in.  

If budget is an issue, maybe you can get the bed without the adjustable frame, or without the integrated heating unit or, perhaps even in a slightly smaller size. 

Dining Table

This piece is frequently a focal point in the home.  We all know how the family will congregate around the kitchen and dining areas. 

Additionally, it is a piece that (generally) gets quite a bit of heavy use. Scraping, scratching, utensils on it, food accidents, etc. can leave an inexpensive piece looking shoddy within a year or less.

Spend your money wisely and invest in a quality dining table.

Coffee Table

Your coffee table is another piece that is worthy of a good investment in a quality piece.

The coffee table is seen by everyone that comes to your home. It is used heavily, with beverages (hopefully with coaster), remotes, gaming stations, snacks, and a laundry list of other potentially damaging items.

Investing in a quality piece that will last decades, rather than months or years, is a wise financial decision and has the extra bonus of making the pieces around it look better, too.

Furniture You Can Save Money On

Just as there are pieces where quality is key, there are pieces that you can focus less on quality and more on cost. This will allow you to shift some of your decorating budget into areas that matter more.

Side Tables/Nightstands

In case you happen to use a different term, I am referring to the little table or dresser that sits next to the bed.  You probably keep your alarm clock, phone, maybe a book or two or a TV remote on it.

No one sees it, but you and your partner. If it gets a few nicks, scratches, or dings, who’s to know?

Lighting

This is an area where you can get very creative while still saving serious decorating dollars.

Have you heard of Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore?  It is a store where items are donated and resold at deeply discounted rates.

Many of those donated items come from contractors who are doing remodels, bought the wrong item, or perhaps the wrong size and are unable to return it.

There are AMAZING bargains in ReStores. Lighting is frequently one of the most common to find as well as the most deeply discounted.

Accessories

Some people spend a TON of money accessorizing their homes.  Why?  Yes, it can pull a look together, but it doesn’t have to be expensive.

Flea markets, second-hand stores, estate sales, and yard sales are all excellent places to find unique, interesting, and one-of-a-kind accessories for your home at a fraction of what you’ll pay retail.

A secondary bonus is the fun you can have shopping for these unfound treasures with your friends or family.

So, sometimes paying the extra for a higher quality of furniture is a good investment.  However, if you can get that same higher quality at a lower price by buying second hand, that’s the best of both worlds! 

How Can You Tell Between Cheap and Expensive Furniture?

This is an issue many people face.  They like the way it looks, and they like the price. But, how can one know if the quality is worthy?  There are a few “tells” to look for when examining furniture (particularly used furniture) to determine if what kind of quality you’ll be getting.

There are two different kinds of cheap. Cheap as in inexpensive and cheap as in low quality. Sometimes the two go together, and sometimes you can get cheap quality at a high price. Clearly, this is a situation we want to avoid wherever possible.

Finish

Look at the finish of the piece(s) you’re considering.  Are the tones deep, rich, and glowing? Or are they shiny and tawdry?  Looking at the edge, can you clearly see the “wood” is a thin veneer overlay?  If so, that is a “run-away fast” sign!

Go deeper.  How to the joints look?  Is everything flush and smooth?  Are there any areas of “not quite right” that you need to evaluate?  If the furniture is dovetailed together, are the connections smooth, or is there any visible glue?

Materials

Certain materials immediately speak to quality.  Oak, marble, travertine… I’m sure you can think of others to add to the list.

Conversely, certain materials scream “cheap.”  If you’re looking for quality, you’ll want to avoid materials like Formica, particle board, laminates, softwoods, and melamine.

Don’t misunderstand me. There are times or locations where “cheap” furniture is perfectly fine. The desk in your 6-year old’s bedroom maybe. You know it’s going to be used as an airplane, drawing easel, car race and everything but a desk, so you probably don’t need to spend $1,000 on a fine oak. That said, you also probably don’t want a $24.95 item that will fall apart the first time he or she decides to parachute off of it.

Test Drive It

Don’t be afraid to give that potential new furniture a test drive.  If it’s a sofa, sit on it.  Bounce around a little to make sure it’s comfortable and doesn’t have loose springs or any sagging areas.

If you’re looking at a bed, lie on it. It’s good form to remove your shoes first. Roll around a little and see if it feels comfortable to you.  

When I look at a new bed/mattress with my husband, I make him lie down on it next to me.  I want to know when he rolls over, am I going to roll as well?  Obviously, you aren’t going to test every aspect, but you do want to get a good idea of how the furniture feels.

Weight

Quality is heavy. There is no better way to state that. If you’re buying a dining table and you can pick up with one hand, it is not a high-quality table.

That said, don’t be fooled by secondary weight.  Some items, like a bed, for example, can have weight outside that of the external frame.  If you buy an adjustable bed, you will get a very heavy supportive frame, with a motor to manage the adjustments.  Does that weight mean the exterior bedframe is of high quality?  No, it just means there are a heavy motor and a lot of metal in it.

Another example of weight not being the only yardstick are some materials are coarse yet not high quality. If you want a wooden end table, oak would be a high-quality wood.  Equally dense and heavy, palm wood wouldn’t be a good quality choice. 

Antiques

If it fits within your personal style, antiques are a great way of knowing you are purchasing a quality item.  How?  The piece has already stood the test of time. It’s proven its durability, strength, and appeal, simply by virtue of being there and attracting your interest.

Antiques will seldom be “cheap” in terms of dollars, either. 

Online

Online shopping is awesome! That said, you can see where quality furniture is probably not one of those things. Like most of us, you’ve likely purchased something online at some point and were disappointed in the quality of the item. It’s so prevalent that Facebook has sections devoted to it.

I’m not saying never buy furniture online. I am saying don’t expect to purchase high-quality furniture in that fashion. To make sure it’s a level of quality you want, you will need to see it, touch it, feel it, and use it (sparingly).

How Much Should You Spend on Furniture?

This feels like a catch-22 question.  How much you should spend is up to you. You know your budget and your needs. That said, I’d like to give you some ideas of what you should expect to pay for various types of furniture.  

ForRent.com has a wonderful infographic to share.  The information is based on what the average person spends furnishing their apartment.  Obviously, if you have a house, you’ll probably have more square footage and require more furnishings.

Living Room

The average person spends about $2,200 on decorating their living room.  That includes sofa, coffee and end tables, area rug, drapes, and decorative drape rod and a print for the wall.

Their price structure breaks down as follows:

Sofa$1,024
Tables$760
Area rug and furnishings$290
Drapes and rod$90
Print from Etsy$36


Let’s take a quick comparison with our recommendations.

The online consensus is that a quality sofa will cost you $1,000 to $2,000.  The good coffee table is in the range of $300 to $500.  Remember, the rest of these items we can look at going less expensive.

Area rug?  Check out your local Target or Walmart for inexpensive options.  If you’re looking for something fancier, estate sales are your best friend.  You can easily pick up a first-rate area rug for under $100.  

Get a side chair for another $75 and buy a couple of floor lamps. Jut get a style you like and update with a new lampshade. A floor lamp should be less than $20, and a lampshade will run $10 to $20 depending on what you like.

Drapes and rod? That’s a definite Walmart/Target sort of item. Rod will be about $15, and drapes will cost you $25 to $40.  As for that print, find something that goes with your style. Find something at a yard sale or second-hand store for about half the price; then, you can get 2.

Our cost comparison:

Sofa$1600
Coffee table$300
End table$50
Area rug/furnishing$175
Drapes and rod$40
Print (2)$35


Our cost is the same $2200, as shown earlier.  The difference is where we’ve chosen to spend our dollars. We’ve chosen to spend them on higher quality “big” items, meaning the sofa and coffee table, and spend less on the “smaller” items like the drapes, end table, and prints.

When those “cheaper” items wear out, replacing them is less expensive than the bigger ticket items, easier to do, and the cheaper items will have a smaller impact on the overall feel of the room.

Bedroom

The average renter spends $3,586 on their bedroom. That expense is broken down like this.

Bedframe, nightstands, and dresser
$2,050
Mattress & box spring$1,536

Not terrible, but I think we can do better.  

A truly first-rate hybrid mattress, meaning one that is partially innerspring (for stability) and partially memory foam (for comfort), runs $1,000 to $2,000. With this type of mattress, no frame is necessary, nor any box spring.

You can simply place the mattress on platforms.  A platform is a flat surface, usually of wood or metal, that supports the mattress to prevent it from sagging.

Platforms come in various heights, widths, and styles, in order to accommodate all types of mattress choices.

If you choose, you can get a platform that is a little taller than the average bed.  You can purchase inexpensive but attractive bins and store linens, sheets, off-season clothing, and other items in the bins right under your bed.

Platforms are fairly inexpensive.  I got mine online for under $125. It is a queen-sized 18” high platform, and yes, I do store sheets, extra bedspreads, and off-season clothing in decorative bins under it. It more than doubles my storage space with no clutter. Bins were $15 each, and I chose a nautical style to match my beach theme.

No bedframe is really necessary with this type of bed.  If you really want one, you can pick up an inexpensive headboard or footboard if you choose.  I can think of no reason you would spend over $100 on such an item.

Dressers are kind of in the middle.  Some people place a high value on a good dresser, and others think it’s just a box to hold clothing. A quality dresser can run upward of $2,000 or more. Let’s go with a mid-range dresser in the $750 range, just for comparison.  We’ve established nightstands are not a piece we want to purchase as “quality,” so let’s go $50 each on those.

 Assuming you keep the same budget as the “average” person, you now have spent the following.

NO Bedframe, nightstands, and dresser

$800
Mattress & platform$1,825.

We have gone from $3,586 for our bedroom to $2,625 while upgrading the quality of those items most important. If you still want a frame rather than a platform, clearly, there is plenty of money left in the budget!  Another choice is to move those funds to a different room in the house where you may be running short.

I’m not going to continue room by room. You’ve got the point. Just to sum up, though, by shifting money away from things that don’t need to be “quality,” you can stretch your design budget farther and get the true quality pieces you do want without breaking the bank.

What Furniture Brands Holds Their Value Best?

Just like cars, clothing, and other items, certain brands hold their value better than others.  Why care?  When you’re ready to replace that piece of furniture, you may decide to sell it. A brand that holds value will get you more money at the end of the furniture’s life with you.

According to MSN.com, there are two inexpensive, midpoint, and high-end furniture that tend you hold their value over time.

Inexpensive, but Worthy

The two “accessible” (read less expensive) brands that do very well over time are Wayfair and Urban Outfitters.

Wayfair.  Not all of Wayfair’s products hold value, but two of their lines do exceptionally well. Those are the All Modern and the Mercury Row lines.

The All Modern line includes items like shelf units, area rugs, room dividing panels. The prices are very reasonable, meaning you can afford to indulge a little in those “cheaper” or lower quality items we discussed. 

Wayfair’s Mercury Row line includes sofas, chairs, dressers, and coffee tables.  Again, the prices are fairly reasonable, and since these items have a higher resale rate, this is an area you can spend a little more money, anticipating a better ROI (return on investment).

Urban Outfitters.  Urban Outfitters has a really nice, light looking lineup of furniture. They are heavy on materials like rattan and bamboo. You aren’t going to find a solid oak cabinet here!

This is a light, airy look and could do very well with certain decors or themes.  Be aware, however, this is not “formal” furniture. If you’re looking for a formal feel, this is not the place for you.

All of Urban Outfitters line seems to hold value well, and resale time tends to be quicker than most other accessible (think inexpensive) brands.

Mid-Range Options

The two mid-range furniture brands that hold value well are CB2 and West Elm.

CB2. CB2 offers furniture for your living room, dining room, bedroom, office, and entertainment area. Their furniture has clean, crisp lines with a bit of a modern flair.

Resale markets state they simply can’t keep CB2 furniture in stock, due to its high demand. This is good for you because that means resale markets will pay you a premium price to get their hands on your used stuff.

West ElmWest Elm furniture also leans toward very crisp, clean lines and has a focus on a modern lifestyle feel. Colors tend to be light and neutral, with a lot of light wood or chrome-type accents.

West Elm has you covered in the living room, dining room, bedroom, entertainment area, and office.

A feature they offer that I really like is the ability for you to select your own fabric colors and weaves. This lets you really dial in on your style.

High-End Value

Our resale king and queen of the high-end market are Restoration Hardware and Herman Miller.

Restoration Hardware.  With Restoration Hardware, you work with a designer who is there to help you get the exact look, dimensions, color, and style you are going for. 

Unlike some of the less expensive furniture options, this is where formal and quality can come together. 

Because of their attention to detail, coupled with the outstanding quality of workmanship, Restoration Hardware retains its value over time and has an extremely high resell demand.

Herman Miller.  Herman Miller has a focus on simplicity, modern with a bit of a retro feel. Founded in 1948, the first “collection” was designed by George Nelson.  

Today’s line continues with Nelson’s vision of collections, rather than pieces.  Each piece is designed to complement and work with all the others to achieve an overall look and feel that is unique and instantly recognizable.

It is this unity, coupled with quality, that causes Herman Miller furniture to hold such high resale value and demand.

Final Furniture Thoughts

Whether you find decorating to be a delight or only one step above spending 5 hours on the rack, deciding how to spend those decorating dollars can be torturous.

The important things to take into consideration are:

  1. How much time do I spend on this piece of furniture?  Remember, if you spend a lot of time on it, you want to go with a comfortable, high-quality purchase.
  2. How visible is this piece of furniture? Large pieces that are in highly visible portions of the home need to have a higher perceived quality than smaller pieces in more private locations. This is particularly true if you use your home for business entertaining.
  3. Whether you spend a lot of money or are more frugal, there are certain brands that hold their value over time better than others.

If your budget doesn’t allow for a high-end coffee table, for example, purchasing a less expensive table from one of the brands that hold value can still be a good long-term investment for you.  When you’re ready to trade up, you’re more likely to be able to resell that table for a higher price and in quicker turn-around time.

  1. Is expensive furniture worth it? Expensive, no. Quality, yes.  

Quality is not expensive. Quality is an investment in the future. Buy the highest quality items in those key areas, and you will not be disappointed. Now, let’s go shopping!

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