Dean Sharp's Furniture Buying Guide

There are 3 categories of value for evaluating a piece of furniture:

1. Aesthetic

2. Comfort/Ease of use

3. Construction

  • Frame
  • Upholstery
  • Finishes - oil or top coat finishes - lacquer, oil, varnish, wax, polyurethane
Salesclerk showing fabric samples to man and woman in furniture store

Photo: Getty Images

Tips for Buying Furniture:

1. Know your wood types. Wood furniture falls into three categories: solid wood, veneers, and particle board or composite wood.

• Solid wood can sometimes include plywood (look for 9 layers)

• Solid wood can be made up of finger jointed (glued) pieces

• Veneers are often on top of less valuable solid wood

• Hard woods vs. Soft woods (deciduous/coniferous)

Ask the species - some hardwood (aspen) is softer than some softwoods

2. Avoid nails and staples.

• Best - Joinery - mortice and tenon

• Second best - dowels

• Third - screws - pocket screws

• Fourth - glue - well applied but not dependent

• No - nails or staples

3. Open the drawers and cabinets.

• Do doors soft close?

• Do drawers glide smooth and straight?

• What is the drawer guide mechanism?

• How are the drawer boxes fastened?

• Dust panels between drawers

• Remove drawers and look inside

  • Lift one leg and listen for creaks
  • Lean against it and feel for wobble

4. Consider your lifestyle - durability

• finishes

• upholstery - natural/synthetic, weave tightness, cleaning - SUNBRELLA!!!

If there’s a tag or label, look for a cleaning code:

‘W’ means water-based cleaners, ‘S’ means solvent-based cleaners (‘dry cleaning’), ‘X’ means no liquid (vacuum only).

5. Look under the skirt and check out those legs

6. Springs - there’s no one best springs style - look for even feel, good pressure, close together

7. Upholstery

You should not be able to feel the frame through the padding.

Lined skirts hold their shape better.

Solid backing

Check to see that patterns align at seams

8. Know your cushions

pillow back vs. box

foam - down - springs - synthetic fill

number of cushions - number of sitters

attached, semi-attached, loose


unzip a seat cover and have a look inside. You should see a block of foam wrapped with dacron, cotton, or (for very high-end cushions) down, preferably with a protective inner cover (usually muslin). Foam-only cushions are both less durable and less comfortable. If you’re buying new furniture, inquire after the density rating of the seat foam: you’re looking for 1.8 pounds or higher.

Removable back cushions may have foam as well but are more often loose fill. In the latter case, multiple internal compartments are preferred as they prevent the fill from settling.

9. Don’t rule out used furniture - Facebook Marketplace, estate sales, vintage

10. Haggle!!!!

Buying the right mattress:

Of all furniture, no single piece is more important than our mattress. ⅓ of our lives.

Compared to car shopping:

Car Mattress

• 6% of life spent in the car • over 30% in bed

• performance standards - mileage, horsepower, etc.

• virtually no data

• industry standard technical terms • techno-speak

• weeks researching car purchase • one afternoon

Mattress types

• inner spring

• memory foam

• adjustable air (the 21st century water bed)

• Spring turns don’t matter because metal gauge may vary

• Spring count doesn’t matter if above 400

• Foam comes in various firmness levels and proprietary formulas

• Latex foam is a natural product and avoids some allergy issues

• No mattress is perfect for side sleep and back sleep at the same time - body proportion - so be careful with permanent “customized zones”

• Adjustable air beds are highly rated but can be a maintenance issue

Standout beds worth looking at:

• Sleep Number 360 Smart Bed

• Purple - comfort grid

The key to successful mattress buying is a change of perspective...

1. Spend time laying around - 15 minutes for mattress to adapt to body heat

2. Bring a pillow

3. Take advantage of 100 day trials

4. Ignore techno-speak - your back doesn’t care what an ad says

5. Bring a friend - friends don’t let friends shop for mattresses alone

• to run interference with high pressure sales people while you lay there

• to check your spinal alignment

• to verify movement sensitivity

6. Haggle - typical mattress markups are well over 50%

7. Start less expensive - you never know!

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