Many of you Gear Patrol readers may own antique furniture that has been passed down through generations of your family. Think of the quality that must be engineered into furnishings such as these, in order that they survive decades (or even centuries) of use. I grew up around the furniture business (my father was a manufacturer) and, sadly, much of what I see offered up by retail catalogs and big-box vendors today is poorly made – trendy designs intended to survive only a limited amount of time before being lugged off to the scrap heap.
Yet, if armed with a bit of knowledge, you can avoid the shoddy furniture mongers and decorate your home with pieces that will serve you well and indefinitely. Furniture construction expertise awaits you after the jump.
What to Look for in Wood Furniture
- Hardwood frames: Kiln-dried hardwoods including poplar, ash, and oak give long-lasting stability and strength. Kiln-drying removes moisture, a process that can take months depending on the species.
- Joints: Never buy furniture with the joints stapled together – look for tongue and groove, mortise and tenon, or double dowel construction, all of which use special joinery techniques combined with strong glue. Screwed-in corner blocks add extra sturdiness. Dovetailed joints in drawer sides are a typical characteristic of quality.
- Floating drawer construction: Drawer bottoms are not glued into place; rather, they are allowed to move freely with changes in humidity.
- Solid wood vs. veneer: Solid wood furniture is often a sign of great craftsmanship, however, veneered furniture is not necessarily of low quality. Veneering has been around for eons and allows for exotic woods, beautiful grain patterns, and intricate inlays on tabletops, drawer fronts, etc. that would not be possible otherwise.
- Another option when shopping for high grade furniture is to simply buy antiques Depending on the piece, they can cost relatively the same (or even less) th an new, and may very well go up in value over time.
A favorite of mine is the model #660 Dining/Conference Table with Double Trestle Base (pictured at top), by Wright Table Company – a company known for the fantastic patina of their finishes, and is made in the USA .
What to Look for in Upholstered Furniture
- Hardwood frames are important here as well, as are screwed & glued joinery.
- Spring systems: There are two main types of support systems. “Sinuous”, consists of s-shaped springs affixed to a frame; offers good, yet firm support as the springs only move in an up & down direction. The highest quality system is “eight-way hand-tie”, where individual coil springs are tied down with cord in eight directions – up/down, left/right, and both diagonals, giving a very individual “sit”. Knotting these coils is a skill that few posses, and is very labor-intensive.
- Cushions: High-density foam is wrapped in polyester, down (feathers), or an artificial down substitute. Buckwheat hulls are marketed as a plant-based alternative to feathers.
- Fabric and leather: look for tight-weave fabrics for durability, and consider fabric protectants such as Scotch-Guard for heavily used, or lightly colored sofas and chairs. Leather is quite durable, and tends to soften over time.
One of the best chairs around is the Hancock & Moore model # 5201 Motif Chair. High quality softened leather, with brass-tack accents – you sink right in. And again, made in the USA.
What to Look for in a Mattress
- Innerspring-style mattresses consist of system of tempered steel coils covered with layers of padding and foam. In order to ensure you are getting a quality product, go with a name brand manufacturer such as Sealy, Serta, or Kingsdown that have proven themselves in the marketplace, and offer warranties.
- Memory foam-style mattresses can be made of a solid core, or of several layers of different types of foam glued together. These foams include polyurethane, latex, and viscoeleastic. If you like the idea of a memory foam mattress, companies that offer great warranties include Tempur-Pedic, and SelectaBed.
- The best advice here is to try out mattresses in the showroom (easy now, be discrete…) and look for a comfort guarantee that will allow you to trade it for another model if you are not satisfied (especially if mail-ordering).
Let’s continue to the conversation. As always, give us your take in the comments section below.