10 Tips for Identifying Quality Furniture

10 Tips for Identifying Quality Furniture - roomfortuesday.comHappy Tuesday! Whether you’re thrifting or investing in new furniture, it’s always helpful to understand what classifies as high quality, durable, or well-made furniture. Today I wanted to share 10 tips for identifying quality furniture, so you know what to look for, what to avoid, and can make informed purchases when it comes to your future furnishings. I hope it’s helpful! You know the drill… click through or save this one for later. 

Since I’ve been thrifting lately, I’ve been getting more messages from people wondering why I passed on a specific object. The majority of my furniture answers looked something like this, “Unless it’s something really amazing, Emmett & I don’t need another project right now.” While Emmett can fix just about anything, I actually think a great skill to have is knowing when to walk away. It’s also nice to know how much time, money, and storage space you have to invest in a piece. A big part of that thought process for me is knowing if a piece of furniture is worthy of our time, energy, and budget. Alternatively, if you’re buying new furniture- these tips are also relevant. Quality furniture building and construction hasn’t changed much over the years, so hopefully this post will help you recognize the good from the bad! Ready?

10 Tips for Identifying Quality Furniture - roomfortuesday.com

#1 // The Initial Strength Test

Aside from checking furniture to see if it’s wobbly or sturdy, there are definitely things you can look for to determine its quality… but first- you really should check to see how stable a piece is. Apply pressure to the furniture to see if it wobbles, twists, creaks, and is level. If it’s a sofa or chair, you can also sit on it to test the comfort and construction.

10 Tips for Identifying Quality Furniture - roomfortuesday.com

#2 // Analyze Materials

Not all “wood furniture” is created equal. At first glance, you may assume a piece is wood, only to discover it’s laminate, particle board, or composed of a composite material. Obviously a solid wood or veneer (thin sheets of real wood) is optimal. Real wood pieces can always be sanded and refinished, as opposed to particle board, laminate, composite materials, MDF, or thin plywood. The same goes for being able to spot other high quality materials as well- real stone versus faux, real brass versus a cheap coating, etc.

10 Tips for Identifying Quality Furniture - roomfortuesday.com

#3 // Investigate the Construction

How a piece of furniture is made is an obvious indication of the quality. For example- if a dresser is made with dovetail, mortise & tenon, or doweled joints it’s a superior product to something that is held together with staples, glue, or finishing nails. Are the drawers easy to use, smooth gliding, or soft close? That’s another great attribute!

10 Tips for Identifying Quality Furniture - roomfortuesday.com

#4 // Check the Weight

Is the piece you’re considering heavy? Heavy is generally a great thing when it comes to furniture construction- for both casegoods (like wood pieces) and upholstered furniture. If you think about pressboard or particle board in comparison to solid wood- the better material usually weighs more. The same goes for cushions… down filled cushions versus a less expensive foam- the down will always be heavier. Upholstery that has a solid frame and down cushions will be more dense than a foam sofa. Speaking of upholstery cushions…

10 Tips for Identifying Quality Furniture - roomfortuesday.com

#5 // Consider the Cushion Fill

There are generally a few types of upholstery cushions: down, down wrapped, or foam. Both down and down wrapped cushions have better longevity than foam, can easily be fluffed, better maintain their shape, and are great candidates for reupholstery. Heavy, down cushions have a higher density, so again- check the weight. Lightweight cushions are most often foam or an alternative product, which means they’re lower quality and can be crushed over time. Are the cushions reversible or can they be flipped? This is another positive attribute because the sofa or chair will maintain its shape for a longer period of time, when properly cared for.

10 Tips for Identifying Quality Furniture - roomfortuesday.com

#6 // Determine the Fabric

We’ve talked about fabric selection in the past, and this step is arguably the most important as to how a piece of furniture will age. I usually look for natural materials (linen, leather, cotton, wool, etc) or performance fabrics (Cyrpton, Sunbrella, etc). Sometimes you really have to analyze the piece (or description- if you’re buying online) because it’s easy to mistake a low quality fabric for a higher quality one. For example, something advertised as a “leather sofa” may actually be constructed of bonded leather, vegan leather, or PU- which is not the same as genuine leather. Study the fabric and and try to determine what the material is.

10 Tips for Identifying Quality Furniture - roomfortuesday.com

#7 // Check the Tag

This may seem obvious, but lots of info can be found on the tag. Check to see if the furniture you’re looking at has a tag. It can contain the brand name, the materials used, the location & year the piece was made, and all sorts of details that can help you make an informed purchase! I always flip cushion covers over to see if I can locate the tag, and I’ve been known to crawl under a table looking for a stamp or sticker. It’s also fun to know more about the history of a piece!

10 Tips for Identifying Quality Furniture - roomfortuesday.com

#8 // Is it Handmade?

Handmade furniture is usually a win in comparison to quickly produced, machine-made furniture. It passes through the hands of skilled tradespeople or carpenters who know what they’re doing and take their time to do it correctly. I’m very close to one of my uncles who has been building quality furniture for over 35 years in my hometown. I’ll never forget a school field trip to the furniture company where he worked- we got to witness first hand the construction of a chair from start to finish. It’s an incredible, time consuming process, that takes many talented people to complete. I think that’s honestly when I started to appreciate what goes into furniture… I understood that it wasn’t just design.

10 Tips for Identifying Quality Furniture - roomfortuesday.com

#9 // Is It Old?

I also like to determine or find the age of a piece. You know the saying, “They don’t make them like they used to” … that’s pretty accurate. Antique furniture is usually very well made, very heavy, and is constructed of quality materials. It also has history, character, and is often one-of-a-kind, so obviously taking the antique route is never a bad idea. I know we’re all vintage & antique lovers around here, so I won’t try to sell you on that idea. Haha!

10 Tips for Identifying Quality Furniture - roomfortuesday.com

#10 // Does the Price Align?

This tip really only applies to buying new furniture, as many pieces found in thrift stores are marked low, because most don’t know the history, value, or what the item even is. I’ve come to find the higher-end furniture I buy online (here is a big list of favorite custom furniture retailers, BTW), from designers, or in showrooms is priced according to the quality or construction. For example, the daybed I just bought for my office renovation wasn’t exactly cheap, priced at $2,600. That’s a lot of money! I saved for awhile to make that one happen, but I know that it will be a worthy investment, as the frame is constructed of kiln-dried hardwood, the upholstery is Crypton (a performance fabric), and the cushions are down. I wouldn’t have paid nearly as much if the cushions were foam, the frame was plywood, and the fabric was less durable. I was able to justify my purchase knowing that when it arrives, I’m going to be happy and we’re going to have that piece in our home for years to come!

10 Tips for Identifying Quality Furniture - roomfortuesday.comWas this post helpful? I could talk about furniture all day long. I hope that wasn’t boring! Let me know if you have any questions or bits to add. Is all of the furniture in my home high quality? Definitely not, but over the years I have tried to purchase certain pieces that make us happy, knowing they’ll last for years to come. Tomorrow, per your request- I’m sharing the story of how my grandmother and I started our pillow collection together! In fact, I just got off the phone with her and she was thrilled to hear all of your questions. I hope you’re having a great day!

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  1. Wait. Who could find talking about furniture boring?! Happily, over the years I have learned most of these tricks. As you might imagine, I’m not shy about lifting and unzipping cushions or turning chairs over. Doesn’t everyone crawl underneath a table looking for a manufacturer’s stamp? I have struggled identifying genuine leather on thrifted pieces (cue me intently sniffing furniture). That’s a great frustration of mine when looking online at new furniture. Manufacturer’s call something marble or leather or “all wood”, but the fine print reveals the truth. I guess that’s where a knowledge of reputable brands comes in handy. It’s also one of the reasons I prefer to trust my eye for quality vintage over new. (Plus, we all know the hunt is half the fun!) I love these list posts! I get to evaluate my knowledge against the expert and see what I’m missing!
    Can’t wait to read about you and your gma tomorrow! 😍

    1. Haha! I feel like I was rambling there for a bit. It sounds like we’re the same kind of thrift shopper, Peggi! I hope everyone does that because that’s certainly the best way to determine if something is amazing or not. Leather can be tricky and the sniff test is tricky these days while wearing masks. Lol! It’s really misleading when manufacturers inaccurately describe their product. I wish it was more regulated like the food & beverage industry. I just ordered 50 really gorgeous nero marble serving boards for the shop, asked the maker multiple times if it was genuine marble, to which they responded yes. I waited 5 months for them to arrive, only to realize they are in fact- NOT marble. Of course I can’t get a refund since it’s wholesale, but it’s definitely frustrating when things are not labeled correctly. Team vintage, for sure! It’s definitely more fun. The list posts are fun for me too :) I’m glad you enjoy them! Working on my g-ma’s post right now. Just like me- she hates having her photo taken, so she has asked to not include “too many photos” lol! Happy Tuesday!

  2. Hahaha!! I’m laughing at the thought of you inside a crammed thrift shop crawling under a table to look for a stamp…mainly because I’ve done it myself! I’m pretty impressed that I knew most of these tips-but the information about cushions is new, and very helpful! One of my main frustrations with looking at new furniture is the craftsmanship. There are beautiful pieces of furniture out there, but sadly not a lot that are made with exceptional craftsmanship. My FIL turned me into quite the skilled searcher when it comes to quality. He owns a custom woodworking business, and has been my go-to when I have a question about something. When it comes to online shopping I’m the one that’s reading every last detail in the item description, looking in the specifications for weight…it rather annoys Jeff, haha! Great tips Sarah! I’m curious about identifying true stone, brass, etc. Maybe a follow-up post on that would be a good one. Have a happy Tuesday!

    1. That is definitely me! Haha! Crawling around inspecting pieces, carrying way too many things in my arms in an awkward way, and going back and forth to decide if I actually want something. It’s not the best look. Lol! You’re so lucky to have a FIL who knows all about this stuff and is your go-to resource. That’s amazing! I’m with you on reading the description thoroughly (although Emmett does that too), so no annoyances there. I feel like stone is pretty easy to identify, as the faux products haven’t evolved to mimic it exactly- it’s really just looking at lots of stone and practicing or training your eye. Weight is another big indication or imperfections. As for the brass or metal- carry a magnet in your purse! The magnet won’t magnetize to the fake brass. I learned that trick from my friend Kyla! Hope you’re having a great Tuesday so far :) xo

  3. Jonelle Riboni says:

    silly question, but how do you know you are looking at a mortise & tenon, or doweled joint? I know what a dovetail looks like, but not sure about the others.

    1. Not a silly question at all, Jonelle! Mortise & tenon or doweled joints are usually totally concealed or hidden, so this is usually something that would be in the description about the construction- or I always ask how a piece was made. In antique pieces, sometimes you can actually see the joints (or dowels slightly separated), since they’ve expanded and contracted over time.

  4. You aren’t kidding when you said, “they don’t make them like they used to.” We have furniture since we got married that has held up beautifully and a couch and chair that literally is coming unravelled after only a year. Makes me so mad when you take your time to find something you like and it fits your space to fall apart after warranty. I have learned my lesson and you have pointed out a few key things about fabrics that I will use in the future.
    Cannot wait to read about your sweet grandmother.

    1. It’s true! I love that lots of your furniture is holding up perfectly- I think that makes it more special… having it for years, and the memories associated with that as a backdrop in your home. Some of the new stuff just isn’t the same quality- you definitely have to be cautious and carefully read what it’s made of and how it is constructed. Bummer about your sofa unraveling. That’s never a good feeling! I hope you’re having a good Tuesday so far, Danna! xo

  5. Great advice! Knowing when to walk away takes discipline but is definitely important. It is easy to get caught up in what’s right with the piece but fail to see was wrong. I have been feeling the pain of an impulse thrift store purchase this past week. I bought a cane top coffee table and side table to paint and resale but it has been a pain. Once it got it home I realized it wasn’t as great as I thought, it took way longer than anticipated, each time I moved it to paint, photograph or store I needed help and I don’t have a great place to store it until it sells. Ugh! Buyers remorse is the worst! I hope this sucker sells quickly.

    1. Thanks Melissa! I’ve definitely had those moments too- we all have. Fingers crossed it sells quickly, you make some money, and the effort was worth it! I bet they look much better after your makeover. Buyers remorse is never a good feeling. Haha! Hang in there! xo

  6. I love your vintage dining room table and chairs that you restored! I read your blog about how much time and money went into fixing all of it. Knowing what you know now, would you still have bought the table and chairs? Does Emmett feel the same way? Would it have been less expensive in the end to have bought your inspiration table instead? I think it turned out incredible, but it sounded like a very tedious restoration project.

    1. Thank you, Becky! Amazing questions. We definitely wouldn’t have done anything differently. The dining set is so special and I love knowing that it has history, is a product of our hard work, and I think that makes it even more special! In terms of cost, it still cost significantly less for us to go the vintage / restoration route.