Shopping for Used Furniture

Do you want to give your home a new look in furnishings, but don’t have the budget to allow a complete makeover? Your answer may well lie in the used furniture market. Now, there’s used furniture of a cheap and short-lived variety, just to fill in a gap in this month’s group of friends to bridge a temporary gap in respectability. On the other hand, if you’re operating on a shoestring budget and still want to gradually enhance your home with quality furniture, you can attain your goal. If you’re a careful and diligent shopper, you can find quality furniture which answers more to the description of “antique” or “period” pieces than “used”. You just have to know where to find quality used furniture.

used furniture1Just the term “used” implies something inferior in quality or a stop-gap measure to hide the fact that you can’t afford the best in quality. If you believe this, you need to educate yourself in the world of used furniture.

Used furniture falls into the same category of “pre-owned” cars. Sure, the car may have been used by the person who bought it new, but that doesn’t necessarily detract from it’s value. If your used car was owned and driven solely by Grandma, who regularly maintained the vehicle, that used car may be as good as new. The same is true in the used furniture market.

Perhaps you’re looking for a new dining room table. Your local furniture store may have a beautiful set of table and chairs, brand new and quite expensive. What if you take your time and look in each issue of your local “Nickel” paper? Chances are, a few weeks of looking in your Nickel paper or local classifieds will return a lead on that antique oak dining table with matching chairs at a substantial price discount over the new product. There’s another bonus in this approach. New furniture lacks the patina and history of an older piece. Furniture that has been well cared for often has a lot more character than the new piece. Grandma spent many hours polishing her table and chairs, and the resulting patina may well prove to be far more attractive than its “new” rendition.used furniture2

The undisputed key to success in the used furniture market is quality. If you buy a poor quality new furniture piece, it won’t stand the test of time. It may fill in until your budget grows, but it won’t last as you grow out of the current moment of thrift.

On the other hand, if you shop garage sales, estate sales and the classifieds, with a little patience, you’re sure to find a quality piece of used furniture at a bargain price.

used furniture3Remember, ”used furniture” does not necessarily mean inferior quality. You just have to know where to look and for what. Of course, we hope you’ll be looking at Furniture Works.

10 reasons to support local business

Here’s a little something different this week. This article was produced by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, as part of its Community-Scaled Economy Initiative, which produces research and partners with a range of allies to implement public policies that curb economic consolidation and strengthen locally owned enterprise.

1.  Local Character and Prosperity

In an increasingly homogenized world, communities that preserve their one-of-a-kind businesses and distinctive character have an economic advantage.

2.  Community Well-Being

Locally owned businesses build strong communities by sustaining vibrant town centers, linking neighbors in a web of economic and social relationships, and contributing to local causes.

3. Local Decision-Making

Local ownership ensures that important decisions are made locally by people who live in the community and who will feel the impacts of those decisions.

4.  Keeping Dollars in the Local Economy

Compared to chain stores, locally owned businesses recycle a much larger share of their revenue back into the local economy, enriching the whole community.

5.  Job and Wages

Locally owned businesses create more jobs locally and, in some sectors, provide better wages and benefits than chains do.

6.  Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship fuels America’s economic innovation and prosperity, and serves as a key means for families to move out of low-wage jobs and into the middle class.

7.  Public Benefits and Costs

Local stores in town centers require comparatively little infrastructure and make more efficient use of public services relative to big box stores and strip shopping malls.

8.  Environmental Sustainability

Local stores help to sustain vibrant, compact, walkable town centers-which in turn are essential to reducing sprawl, automobile use, habitat loss, and air and water pollution.

9.  Competition

A marketplace of tens of thousands of small businesses is the best way to ensure innovation and low prices over the long-term.

10.  Product Diversity

A multitude of small businesses, each selecting products based, not on a national sales plan, but on their own interests and the needs of their local customers, guarantees a much broader range of product choices.


Why I sell furniture

Yes, I know it is a little self-indulgent, but I thought a few folks might be interested.  Why do I sell furniture?

I had worked in almost every aspect of information technology for two and half decades.  Because it is a volatile industry, there were occasional periods of unemployment and during one of them I had made some Adirondack chairs for myself.  I found I really enjoyed the process of making furniture and when my wife & I moved into the country and I had a big shop, I started making furniture for my house.  I discovered I had a hobby and, with employment by state government, a steadier job.

Most of the furniture I made was in the craftsman/mission style, suitable to my house. It matched my other furniture and it was mostly straight lines (easier to cut than curves).  I made about a dozen pieces and I got to know about different species of woods, their qualities in woodworking, various wood finishes and joinery.

When the government went through one of its periodic contractions, my division was cut by about 20%.  Gee, I thought, if I could be cheap to keep, maybe I could stay in my job longer, so I went to half time with the intent of opening some kind of business.  My wife had a fondness for retail because her mother had a retail store when my wife was a girl.  So we asked ourselves, what kind of business does Olympia need?  We decided our town needed some place that sold good, used furniture.

There had been antique stores and new furniture stores but we wanted a business that would reflect our personal ethic of recycle and reuse.  Good stuff is made to last and it seemed a shame that folks would take their good, used furniture to the landfill because there was nothing else to do with it.  We began meeting with furniture wholesaler reps, looking to find scratch & dent furniture that we could repair and have available for sale.  We started frequenting auctions, yard sales, estate sales and anywhere else we could find good furniture.

Like many other towns, business in Olympia was moving away from the central core of downtown to the periphery.  After considering a number of different locations, we figured we’d like to have a business downtown, to support other local businesses and to help keep the unique character of downtown Olympia alive.

We started our research in how to run a business and began shopping for used furniture and we were rapidly filling up my shop.  Finally, we found a building available for lease (it was the old South Sound Printing building) and worked like dogs for a month to paint, clean & rehab the building to convert it into a retail space.  I remain eternally grateful to our friends for helping out with the hard work.

At last, we had a store…and, ten years later, we’re still in the same location, selling gently used, consignment and new home furnishings.

Las Vegas Market

I just flew back from the furniture market in Las Vegas and boy, are my arms tired…and my feet.  Las Vegas is the Home of Wretched Excess (Humvee limos? Male Joan Rivers impersonators?) and the furniture market is no exception.  This year’s show had 1500 companies showing their wares in 2.6 million square feet of show space to approximately 68,000 furniture buyers.

The show occupies 3 venues.  The World Market Center is a 10 story building with 1.3 million square feet of space, roughly equal to 27 football fields.  The temporary Pavilion buildings add another 350,000 square feet (or 9 football fields) and 2 floors of the Convention Center add another 1 million square feet.  And, yes, my wife and I saw it all.  Trust me on this, after the first hour, most of the furniture all looks the same.

So, as the most insanely bored amongst you might ask, what’s new?  For colors, a brown-black usually called espresso is the new, hot color.  Espresso is the new, well, everything.  There’s still a smattering of oak, maple and mahogany (the latter is usually just the color, most real mahogany is long gone) but beds, dressers, sofa legs, etc. are probably 90% espresso.  Upholstered goods are most commonly neutral earth tones in beige, tan, browns and greens.  Lime green is increasingly popular.

There remains a goodly amount of what I call semi-Tuscan style furniture best suited for McMansions (overstuffed with rolled arms, brocades, tapestries in muted earth tones, etc.).  I saw three vendors who only sell tassels, for instance.  But most of the styles of furniture have incorporated many of the retro revival look with an Asian influence.  Clean, but stylish, lines where the shape of the object creates its style.  I guess it has to, since it is all espresso colored. This means that headboards may be the standard rectangle but with a gentle curve to the edges.  Sofas are frequently square lines rather than rounded curves.

The Mission style vendors looked lonely and disappointed, but that may just be because of their gambling losses.  Southwestern styles were nearly absent.  I only saw 2 or 3 vendors of cowboy furniture.

Home décor items provide the color.  Many of the vases, lamps, statuary, etc. were in brilliant reds, blues, oranges and greens.

The Asian influence is not surprising, since I would guess that 80% of all furniture is now imported from China.  The good news is that this keeps the price down and it is easier to find solid wood furniture.  The bad news, you can imagine for yourself.  Most of the vendors accept the need for imports with a shrug of their shoulders as inevitable.  When was the last time you could buy a t-shirt made in the US?  And the quest for ever-cheaper production continues.  I saw many more Malaysian- and Vietnamese- made furniture than I did a year ago.  Many of the companies are only selling container-sized loads of furniture, eschewing any US-based warehousing which is the beginning of Chinese vendors entering the market selling directly to retailers, rather than through wholesalers.

I’m pleased to say that ecologically-sound furniture is increasingly popular, although still hard to find.  I found a new Washington-based business that will be importing solid wood furniture made from bamboo and I hope to start selling some their items in a couple of months.

The advent of more top-end mattresses in the market has lead to a slew of middle-line mattresses incorporating many of the same features, such as memory foam.  As for the business side, furniture sales are nearly universally flat or down slightly, which will probably lead to more sales in the retail outlets.

My advice?  Buy the best quality you can, buy local when you can and never hit on 17.