Fully Furnished
September 19, 2011 3:45 AM   Subscribe

I need to furnish a house for myself, my wife and two small kids. We have zero furniture right now. We will only be in this house for a year until we eventually buy a house. Without knowing the space that we will eventually end up in, I am not sure if I should make big investments in couches, entertainment centers, etc. I need to do this as quickly as possible. Should I buy what I really want or should I just buy cheap stuff for now? Either way, what's the easiest way to do this without running around like a mad man? I am going to have to pull this off without any help. Should I just walk into Ikea with a shopping list? Can I have all of this stuff delivered? We are in Austin if it matters.
posted by jasondigitized to Shopping (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'll vote for the cheap stuff. Since you're moving, AND you have small kids. You're kids will just destroy good furniture anyways. Wait until you're in the new place so you know what kind of space you'll have to fill. Run to Ikea, buy a bunch of junk.
posted by Blake at 3:56 AM on September 19, 2011

Craigslist, Ebay and Freecycle are the go-to places for furniture that's cheap (or free) but not as junky as IKEA.

As a bonus, you'll probably be able to sell most of it later, for something like what you paid for it, or even more if you are willing to spend time on making a really good Ebay listing.

If you don't have any access to a car at all, you can probably pay a "man with a van" low $$ per hour to go round with you and collect stuff.

I have a whole set of good 1930s bedroom furniture (bed, wardrobe, chest of drawers, dresser) that cost about £130 and some lovely solid wood dining chairs that were Freecycled. I'm not sure I'd even want to replace it with new, even if I could afford to.
posted by emilyw at 4:10 AM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Get cheap stuff. You have neither the time to scrutinize the good stuff or the final space to know if it works.

Definitely Craigslist. You will find all kinds of decent, but very cheap stuff, on here. Since it will all be local, you'll get it quickly, too. The only problem with eBay is that you would be paying shipping charges on large and heavy items. And Ikea stuff is overpriced crap.
posted by DoubleLune at 4:35 AM on September 19, 2011

Have you considered renting furniture?
posted by Mizu at 4:41 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm going to go against the prevailing opinion here and say make a list, walk into Ikea and buy what you need. You've got small kids, so if I were you I'd want new things that you know are clean.

If you use Freecycle you'll have to coordinate will a bunch of different people. Who knows if people will be reliable and show up with what they say they will, plus you'll have to get someone with a van or arrange that on your own. That sounds like a lot of trouble for each piece of furniture, and you'll still need housewares at the end of it all.

Ikea has vans you can rent by the hour on site.

It's not optimal, but it's one-stop and fast. Everything is new and nothing will have a gross, unknown history. One day or two tops, and then it's done.
posted by vincele at 4:48 AM on September 19, 2011 [10 favorites]

What we did when we were in a similar situation - we went to Ikea and picked out their non-pressed wood pieces that we liked the best. Focused on versatility and modular pieces that could be used in more than one room. We obviously ended up with an apartment full of light pine, but it worked for us until we got into our house and over time were able to replace it with good heirloom pieces.

Look for things that you can use in more than one space. So perhaps instead of a couch, look at a futon or something that will convert into use in your future playroom or guest room. Bookcases work everywhere, and can be painted when you move on. Instead of an entertainment center per se, look for something that you could integrate in the future for other storage options (look in their dining room areas, or even bedroom).

Yes, some of Ikea is overpriced crap, but we only just replaced our dining room table last month, and it lasted us years. We certainly got our money's worth on it (and then gave it to a younger sibling). Furniture is expensive, and when you're in the process of buying a house, make it easy on yourself that it isn't "one more expense" to budget. If you buy mid-range Ikea (not the cheapest crap they sell) you should be able to transition it to the house and then replace when you see the absolutely perfect piece that you'll have forever. (Or until your decorating whims change.)
posted by librarianamy at 4:49 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think it depends if you are a messy family or a neat family. There is no sense in buying expensive things if they are going to get juice and marker on them.

My family tends to lean toward careless. I have allowed my kids to snack in our living room and it shows. Mostly things are clean and presentable but I have some beloved upholstered chairs that are stained.

Living room: If you do not allow your kids to eat in living areas, and do not have messy pets, I would most definitely recommend that you spend your money once. Even if junior spills juice you can buy something with durable fabric (like leather or microfiber) that can be wiped clean. You do not have to buy everything now. Buy a couch you like, the best quality you can afford, in a neutral color. You can get away with a storage ottoman that flips to a coffee table and a floor lamp instead of two side tables with lamps. Restoration hardware has beautiful classic lamps. Swing arms are practical and attractive. When you move you can buy a proper coffee table and put the ottoman in a den or wherever you please. There is no need to buy a big entertainment center now. That would be hell to move. Buy an inexpensive TV stand or something you can set your TV on that you or your children can use later. Like this red metal cabinet from Ikea. Here's a pic with a TV on it.

If you decide to take my advice you will have a fully functional living room with a minimum of furniture. You will have a couch. The ottoman serves as storage, coffee table, and extra seating, and you won't need side tables if you buy floor lamps.

Things that definitely should only be bought once are occasional tables and headboards and such. Headboards and entry tables do not get ruined. There is no need to buy things now if you don't want to move it later but don't waste money buying this kind of stuff twice. You can easily just use a bed frame and buy a bedroom set you like when you move.

In a nutshell: buy the minimum in good quality and only spend your money once. Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 5:03 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're short on time and new in town, IKEA is your best route. Make a list, buy actual wood (not composites), have it delivered and maybe even pay them to set it up. Key point: buy only the bare minimum you need to get started without living out of suitcases. Once you've moved in and identified the "really nice to haves" then you can start doing diligent shopping for quality pieces.

So: buy a minimum of durable simple stuff so you can get on with your busy life, then backfill wisely later.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:25 AM on September 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

I would only go the freecycle/craigslist route if I lived somewhere without frequent and widespread bedbug infestations. IDK what the situation is like down in Austin, but if it's anything close to NYC I would definitely go to IKEA instead.
posted by elizardbits at 5:30 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

This would be one of the few instances where furniture rental would make sense.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:03 AM on September 19, 2011

I'm in Austin, and there hasn't been a bedbug epidemic here, so you're safe on that front. I can't imagine the hassle of furnishing a whole house via Craigslist though, unless you find one person selling a whole house full of stuff that matches your needs.

The IKEA in Round Rock delivers to Austin for about $50 flat-fee. I'd go buy all of your essentials there and slowly upgrade from there.
posted by donajo at 6:08 AM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm going to go against the prevailing opinion here and say make a list, walk into Ikea and buy what you need.

I second this; as long as you avoid particle board, Ikea is excellent value for money. As well, if you're inclined to do so, putting some stain and two coats of varnish over anything from Ikea made of unfinished pine looks really good, and makes it look far more grownup and valuable than it actually is.
posted by mhoye at 6:09 AM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

i would go ahead and buy the beds and larger pieces like sofas that you want/need. You don't run much risk with those things - it won't take much creativity to make them work in your next home. You have to have beds - you do not have to have an entertainment center. Personally instead of an entertainment center i would buy a chest or something that could be multipurpose in your next home.

You can get by without a dining table for a week or two - once you get moved in, hit up consignment shops to look for one. Austin is bound to have many that have furniture. Same for side tables etc. I would feel much more comfortable buying case goods from other people than i would upholstered stuff.
posted by domino at 6:38 AM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I also vote Ikea (although maybe I'm biased since I live here in Ikea-less flyover country...sigh..). They have a lot of really basic stuff that would be easy to work into the next house if you decide to keep some of it.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 6:58 AM on September 19, 2011

Ikea is not all that cheap, you know! Once you add up dressers, beds, chairs, couch, tables, etc., you can rack up a fairly high bill pretty quickly.

But check on Craigslist to see if folks are moving and selling entire rooms of furniture. I see people trying to get rid of beds/dressers/nightstands/lights all the time. Some of them are moving and are also selling great couches and TVs. If you could get a room or two from someone, it's worth hiring a man with a van to go get it for you.
posted by barnone at 7:04 AM on September 19, 2011

Ikea really is the answer given your time constraints.

Perhaps also give Overstock.com a quick look before you go, you might find a good bed or rugs there that you like. We bought a great contemporary king four poster bed on Overstock for one third the retail price on other websites. Their merchandise changes all the time so you may not be as lucky.
posted by Dragonness at 7:08 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing consider renting furniture.
posted by amro at 7:39 AM on September 19, 2011

Once I would have said Ikea too but now I'd say make a list, do the rounds of every thrift shop in your neighborhood or city, and bring home what you like. There's an amazing variety available, there's the thrill of the chase and of finding some fantastic surprising bargain, and you save so much money you'll be able to buy much better stuff when you eventually settle into the house where you'll stay. And then you can either donate the stuff you don't want to keep--a great feeling, and the stuff goes right back to some charity where it helps folks--or even lay some of it off on Craiglist and maybe make a little more money. If you start with a clear list and are efficient, you can probably knock all this out in a day's shopping, which can even be fun, or sort of fun. All you miss is the Swedish meatballs and gravlax.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:48 AM on September 19, 2011

Purchasing from Ikea to fill out a home will be thousands of dollars. I know because like an idiot, I did that. A couple hundred for bed frames and mattresses. A couple hundred for a sofa. Over a hundred for a desk. Shelves, chairs, dining room sets, everything adds up. And none of those things will move well to your new house.

You probably don't want to skimp on mattresses (I regret doing so), but everything else? Skimp. Yardsales first, and then thrift shops

Some things will be hideous but functional. A few things might be awesome, and you will be able to incorporate them into your new house. All of them will cost less than new, even if it's Ikea new.

Just remember that prices at thrift stores and yard sales are always negotiable, and there will always be another bookshelf/sofa/dining room table down the street. Go for a low price, and be willing to walk away, and you can fill the whole house for a thousand bucks. Make a whole weekend out of it with your wife, get something to eat, and take your kids on part of it so they can pick out something too. If you can stretch it out to two or three weekends, you'll be a pro by the end and will likely have found some great stuff.

I wish I'd done this. I could have paid less and gotten real furniture.
posted by jsturgill at 9:13 AM on September 19, 2011

In Austin, you'll have plenty of competition for Goodwill and yardsales and CL. I'd go for Ikea and plan to sell it all when you move. And some of the particle board stuff is great--the Expedit, for example. I've got 6 and they're very useful.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:51 AM on September 19, 2011

I have friends who knew they were going to live across the country for just a year. (They also had two young children.) They bought everything from IKEA, then sold it all before they left. In a college town like Austin, I'd guess you'd have no problems whatsoever selling it at the end of your year.
posted by pyjammy at 9:56 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are things that you need that you probably can't afford to go hunting for. Beds, a kitchen table, a place to keep your socks - that sort of thing. Then there is a spectrum of want (one end of which will start to feel like needs as soon as you're not sleeping on the floor). Get your needs taken care of at IKEA or the like. Then, when you have some breathing room you can consider higher end furniture, hunting down and cleaning up something vintage, or just going with something cheap for the moment.

If you're thinking about moving again shortly, but considering getting something nice in the near term, think about how much it weighs and how likely it is to be damaged while being carried in and out of the house.

If you get a lot of "some assembly required type stuff, remember that trying to assemble furniture in a room full of boxes of unassembled furniture is not a pro-sanity game plan. If you don't have space to work out of and into, spread out your deliveries.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:12 AM on September 19, 2011

Some of each:
cheap/Ikea/Craigslist for the kids' stuff; they'll be outgrowing it soon enough and/or destroying it.
quality stuff for your own bedroom, and maybe the dining room.
new mattresses for everyone; I know someone above said there's no bedbug problem in Austin, but do YOU want to be the one to find out otherwise?!? ditto new for any stuffed furniture, like sofas, but that could be cheap OR quality.
posted by easily confused at 11:23 AM on September 19, 2011

Never used them, but had heard that some military families like Home Reserve furniture. Tough fabrics, easy to move, sectionals, washable?...I think its inexpensive and is shipped to you ups.
posted by vitabellosi at 12:13 PM on September 19, 2011

Another advantage of IKEA is that several of their couches and chairs have slipcovers or the covers can be removed and dry-cleaned, then replaced, or purchased separately if it gets ripped. As I have a cat that pukes a lot, this is something I find helpful.
posted by telophase at 1:31 PM on September 19, 2011

I'm floored that anyone is suggesting renting furniture. It's so exploitative as to be basically a fleecing operation. 100% interest is not uncommon, though that's not exactly the rate you'll be led to believe up front.

Secondhand stores and thrift stores do require some investment of time, depending upon how picky you are. But just a tiny bit of handiness and craftiness and a few tools/supplies can go a long way for aesthetics and functionality -- you can tighten bolts and sand and paint anything wood that's crappy-looking. (This will take less time than putting together Ikea furniture and can be far cheaper.)
posted by desuetude at 11:48 PM on September 19, 2011

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