Investing in quality wood furniture can sometimes seem like a daunting task. I often find that welcoming new pieces into my home feels a bit like dating and marriage. There’s the initial excitement of finding the perfect piece that ties a room together, the comfortable years when it seems to almost blend into the background, and finally the love and appreciation that comes only with time — along with a few dings and scratches.
It’s important to invest in quality pieces that can stand the test of time. Here’s a roundup of my favorite tips for investing in wood furniture.
1. Talk the talk. Understand the lingo so you can be sure you know exactly what you are getting. Wood furniture falls into three categories: solid wood, wood veneer and particle board. Solid wood is typically the most expensive, but you are paying for quality. Veneers have a piece of quality wood on the outside with a less-expensive composite material on the inside (to save cost). Particle board is the least expensive, and often won’t stand the test of time. That said, there is certainly a time and place for each option, so know your space and your budget, and buy accordingly.
2. Joint construction. This is one of the most visible determinants of an investment piece. Check the furniture at its joints. Does it show signs of glue, nails, dowels or screws? If you’re looking for a piece that will last a long time, stay away from furniture with visible glue or nails at the joints — they aren’t as durable in the long term. Dowels and screws will stand the test of time, but if you are looking for the best, in terms of joint quality, look for dovetail (they look like interlocking teeth) or mortise-and-tendon joints (a narrow section of one side fitted into a hole in the other).
3. Be realistic. I once purchased a fantastic, extra-large table that would have fallen firmly in the overlap between industrial and midcentury modern. It was a lovely piece in its own right, but squarely out of my comfort zone. I promised myself I would build a room around it and love it forever, but it turns out forever lasted only a year. There’s nothing wrong with incorporating unique wood pieces into your room design. But be realistic about your design goals for your home. I tend to push myself out of my comfort zone in upholstered pieces and accessories, and invest in wood pieces I know will stand up to my more whimsical decisions.
4. Buy at the right time. Know when to source your pieces to ensure you are getting the most for your dollar. After Tax Day is a great time to check around locally for furniture sales. Many stores discount larger items at that time.
5. Don’t be afraid to really check it out — fluff the cushions, test the knobs, wiggle the table legs, knock on the tabletop, look under the piece, open the doors. If you’re investing in a large, quality piece, you are spending upward of several hundred (or thousands of) dollars. It’s perfectly fine for you to want to be absolutely sure that it meets your standards.
6. Trust your designer. If you’re working with an interior designer, don’t be afraid to ask his or her opinion on the quality of a piece. Designers work with a variety of brands every day, and if they’ve been in the business for a while, they’ve seen lots of furniture. They’ll be able to tell you which lines carry quality, and which just aren’t up to snuff.
Katie Laughridge is the owner of Kansas City interior design shop Nell Hill’s.