How to Distinguish Between High-Quality Furniture vs. Shoddy Imitation

Posted by Denise Cripps

So tell me, do these two concepts co-exist in your home: “children” + “gentle treatment of furniture”? Or are your kids like mine, where their bunk beds are jungle gyms, their open dresser drawers are scaffolding, the couch is a trampoline, the armchair cushions are fort walls, and our kitchen chairs are step ladders for all things up too high (which, when you’re small, are most things!)? Sigh. It’s okay. You don’t need to answer. I already know.

Basically then, we’ve accepted that our pre-kids days when we could walk into Ikea (or other typical big box) and buy cute new furniture for cheap – even though we knew we’d end up disappointed by its lack of durability only a few short months later – are officially over. It’s high time we educated ourselves on exactly what qualities make furniture strong, long-lasting, and a worthwhile investment.

A Parents’ Guide to Purchasing High-Quality Wood Furniture
Personal finance writer, Karawynn Long, hit the nail on the head (no pun intended) when she said, “Judging whether a piece of furniture is likely to last two years or twenty – just by looking at it – is harder than you might think.” This is especially true when you’re only seeing it online, which is the way many parents today are buying furniture. Bad idea.

To really know what you’re purchasing, you’ve got to see it, feel it, and try it out in person. Open and close the drawers and doors, look to see how deep and far back the storage space truly goes. How does it feel? Smooth and well-built by craftsmen, or cheaply and hastily thrown together with pressboard?

Learn to judge quality by looking at four basics which include:

  • Composition – Hardwoods, softwoods… don’t worry about that. Instead, concentrate on scratch-resistance. Test this by lightly pressing your fingernail against the wood in an inconspicuous place on the piece, like the back or underside. If it leaves any indentation at all, you know it won’t stand up to much (ab)use.
  • Structure – Any kind of solid wood or sturdy plywood (at least nine layers thick) will provide good structure as long as it’s knot-free. Knots are susceptible to cracks, and some woods, like pine, are knottier than others. Pass on any furniture made of particleboard, pressed wood, or fiberboard.
  • Construction – The sturdiness and joinery of a piece tells you a lot about its quality. Anything held together with staples, glue, or nails is poorly constructed. Joints held by screws are adequate, but the best joints are either constructed with dowels, dovetails, or mortise-and-tenon, as shown below.
  • Finish – A quality finish involves sanding, staining, and finishing; so check for: 1) any blotchiness or scratches from improper sanding, 2) even-toned staining on all sides, and 3) a satiny smooth finish, free of rough spots, dust specks, or bubbles. A high quality piece is finished on the back and underside as well, which reduces swelling and shrinking.
  • Veneers – A veneer is a thin piece of premium wood that covers lower-quality wood beneath it. Veneers are often used even in very high-quality furniture with a base of solid wood or thick plywood. Do check the veneer’s finish, however, by running your hand over it to feel for any imperfections or blemishes. Even distressed furniture should have texture, but no rough patches.

Other tests of wood furniture’s quality:

  • Drawers should run smoothly on strong metal glides and have “stops” which prevent pulling them all the way out accidentally.
  • The best drawers have bottoms that “float” in a groove, providing extra strength and allowing for minor expansion and contraction caused by humidity.
  • Doors should hang on good quality hardware and close neatly, flush with the cabinet front.
  • The piece should not twist or squeak when lifted at one corner.
  • Check that all four legs are touching the floor and that the piece doesn’t rock or wobble.
  • Back panels are generally attached with screws to help provide stability, so they should be well-fitted. They should also be sanded and finished – as should all other unexposed areas – exactly like the rest of the piece.

USA Baby carries only the highest quality wood furniture, as described above, crafted by manufactures they’ve built trusted, long-standing relationships with. You can also feel good about shopping at your nearest USA Baby because you’ll be “shopping local”. Each store is individually owned and operated – they’re true “Mom and Pop shops” in every sense – not faceless big box chains full of inexperienced, uninterested, under-trained staff. So though you can check them out online, go in and experience their quality in person. When you learn where you can go to find highly-trained, experienced staff with detailed knowledge of every brand and product, you’ll never go back to a big box. Some of USA Baby’s quality wood furniture lines include Munire, Young America, Bolton, and Baby’s Dream, just to name a few. Examples of some of the beautiful pieces available in a variety of styles and colors are pictured here: All Seasons 6 Drawer Chest, Seaside Dreams Bureau Dresser, Belize Double Dresser, and Spring Garden Drawer Chest.A Parents’ Guide to Purchasing High-Quality Upholstered Furniture
Ahhh, now for a primer on buying the soft comfy stuff. Again, there are several important things to look for, feel for, and consider before you purchase a piece of upholstered furniture. And again, you want to ensure you’re making a wise financial investment in a piece that will last your family a long time. Considerations include:

  • Composition – If the chair has removable cushions, unzip the cover and take a peek. A block of foam wrapped in a protective cover is best. Foam-only cushions are less durable and less comfortable. Cushions should have a seat foam density rating of 1.8 pounds or higher. The back cushions may be made of foam as well, or possibly loose fill. Multiple internal compartments are preferred in this case to prevent the fill from settling to the bottom. If the chair has a skirt, one that’s lined or weighted holds its shape better long-term.
  • Construction – Eight-way hand-tied coil springs, standard coils, cones, sinuous, and grid springs may all work well, but you must try out the piece you like by sitting in it to check whether any spots tip or sink. Lift the cushion and press down on the deck underneath to feel for even coil spacing and even resistance to pressure. Squeeze the arms and back too. Ideally, you shouldn’t feel the frame through the padding.
  • Cleaning – Look for a tag with a cleaning code. “W” means water-based cleaners, “S” means solvent-based cleaners (dry-clean only), and “X” means no liquids (vacuum only). Think carefully about how and who will be using this piece and how convenient you want it to be to clean. Are the cushions reversible? If so, you’ll get twice the wear. Flip them over in the store though, to ensure any patterns match up both ways.

USA Baby highly recommends the Best Chairs brand for all the reasons above. Available in a wide variety of styles, colors, and patterns, you’ll be impressed by the selection. Come in to inspect the construction and composition, then settle yourself into these super-comfortable chairs and experience their quality for yourself. Some favorites include the adorable Peyton Swivel Glider, the Mandy Swivel Glider, and the April Swivel Glider shown below. Armed with this information, you should now feel much more confident approaching your next furniture purchase. At your local USA Baby, experts will help you find the perfect high-quality piece for you nursery, bedrooms, or anywhere else in your home. And, when you buy local, old-fashioned customer service – the kind you should expect everywhere but find almost nowhere – is a top priority and provides you with access to replacement parts for the lifetime of your furniture

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