I want the Camry of sofas, not a Yugo or a Porsche
May 13, 2013 1:51 PM   Subscribe

Where do you go when you've graduated from IKEA and are ready for decent, but not necessarily heirloom quality furniture? We're just hoping to find some stuff to carry us through the next 8-10 years, or is that unrealistic? How much should we honestly expect to spend?

We're buying a house, but we don't really have any furniture. Our parents were both of the "buy it once; buy it for life" mentality, and while we'd certainly like to get some nicer stuff, we're also kicking around the idea of having kids in a couple of years and there's a ~50% chance we won't stay in the area long term, so we're not really sure the best way to proceed.

There are a ton of furniture stores in our area, but the range of price points and quality within any given store seems to be all over the place. And as far as I can tell, they're also always having sales, so I don't actually have a great sense of how much anything actually costs. We don't mind dropping some cash on this, but we're not super loaded and this is mostly new territory for us, so we're not really sure if the average middle-class furniture budget is more in the $1K or $100K range.

Reviews have been mostly useless: usually nothing with the occasional angry rant about how much Pottery Barn/Ethan Allen/insert choice of store sucks. I've read almost every furniture-related AskMe and dozens of home and design blogs like Houzz, Apartment Therapy and YoungHouseLove, but their budgets/DIY savvy/Craigslist fu/whatever usually appear to be way more impressive than ours, and everything I read seems to vacillate between making DIY gold from thrifted junk or why you shouldn't even bother with anything but high-end. 8-way, hand-tied springs, chalk paint, and vintage Eames recliners are fine, but I'm hoping you fine folks can help give me a reality check and some specific brands/stores to explore for that happy middle road option.
posted by Diagonalize to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
I got my sofa at Pottery Barn going on 20 years ago. I've had the velvet slipcover cleaned a couple times, but overall it's in great shape.
posted by ottereroticist at 1:58 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I got a sofa at Macy's last year. It was reasonably priced, I liked their selection, and the shopping and delivery was low-hassle. I kind of loathe Macy's for most other things but I've been pleasantly surprised with their furniture department.
posted by k96sc01 at 2:04 PM on May 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

Look for a few features - hardwood frames, firm cushions, and so on. Also look at the warranty from the furniture maker. If you can find a warranty that's 5 years, great. If you can find one that's a limited lifetime warranty, even better. We just bought a Jonathan Lewis brand sectional that was very reasonably priced, made in the USA, and has a limited lifetime warranty with good construction details, and so far it's proved quite comfortable, although we haven't had it for more than a month. We got it from a giant Texas furniture chain store.

Check out the big, local retail furniture stores in your area. Does your area have a shopping district full of furniture stores? Look there. Also look at places like Macy's, if you have one there. Their stuff doesn't cost an arm and a leg, although you have to hunt down warranty info there and it's not always good. And even the ritzier stores have lower end models, so don't immediately discount them (although I make no promises with Ethan Allen!).

When you walk into a furniture store, you will be met at the door by a salesperson. It's going to feel like you're buying a used car. Don't immediately be turned off by this. Get them to work for you. Tell them exactly what you want and they know what part of the store to direct you to. That way you're not wandering all over the store looking at every price tag in sight.
posted by Addlepated at 2:04 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

My wife has developed a Room and Board habit. I don't like that I can't walk out of there without dropping at least a grand, but in general we've been very happy with the quality of their products.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 2:05 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm kind of shocked but I was pricing sofas and I like Lazboy sofas, they make Bauhaus in the US. They're spendy in my opinion, about $1500 each (the one I like is $1800 with a sofa bed in it, a sofa bed a real person could sleep on!) But, this is easily a 10 year sofa. I had a Bauhaus sofa that I got rid of after 10 years, and it went on to enjoy life as the most comfortable sofa in the Sorroity.

Everyone who ever sat on that sofa loved it, and it would lull people to sleep by it's comfort.

So I'm expecting to spend about $4,000 for 2 sofas, when I bite the bullet and do it.

Now, that said, if you like a different STYLE from Ikea, you can get some sofas from American Signature or Ashley that are in the under $1k price range.

See if there's a clearance center in your location. I used to get amazing deals at the Emporium or Burdines clearance centers (eons ago, but you get my drift.)

I don't hate Macy's, I've liked their furniture as well.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:06 PM on May 13, 2013

I see you are in CT. When we made this sort of upgrade, we got a sofa/chair/ottoman (also got a dining room table set) from Bob's Discount Furniture (http://www.mybobs.com/). We probably got one of their cheapest sets, but we've had it 5 years now and no complaints.
posted by disaster77 at 2:14 PM on May 13, 2013

Personally, what I like about IKEA is that their stuff is (or at least used to be) pretty modern, and just about the only other place to get stuff like that was Design Within Reach, which is most definitely not within reach. In my area, we have a store that sells modern stuff that's a step up from IKEA, with a price jump, but not $5000 bookcase from DWR level. You're probably in a different part of the country, but if you're looking for modern stuff, you can go through their site and do some detective work on your own with their brands and find out where else they sell it. I was just looking at BluDot stuff, which seems to be priced around the level of the Pottery Barn sofa mentioned by ottereroticist. If you go to Hold It's brands page, you can snoop around to see if there's anything you like by a manufacturer, and then check to see where you can get it locally.
posted by LionIndex at 2:20 PM on May 13, 2013

My non-Ikea-or-Target furniture is from Crate and Barrel. I've never been a furniture-loving person but I love the items I've gotten there. Seriously, to know Chair and a Half is to love. We might have gotten lucky with Chair and a Half also but it's surprisingly light and apartment-friendly. A friend had a different big chair she loved but we had to saw the legs off to get it into her current apartment. Chair and a Half is 25 inches at its narrowest, making it surprisingly easy to move. I'd definitely give Crate and Barrel a look - you can get a new couch for under $2000 with ease. CB2 is Crate and Barrel's younger, hipper cousin that occasionally has nice stuff too.

For what it's worth, seasonally, I do not think this is a good time to buy furniture so if it can wait, maybe move with the furniture you have and plan to upgrade later. I think that furniture is less on sale spring-summer because so many people buy houses and all new furniture. YMMV.
posted by kat518 at 2:26 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

I bought a vintage, hand-tied springs, kiln-dried wood frame sofa and had it re-upholstered with retied springs. Cost less than a new one from Pottery Barn, and I got a far better sofa (originally made in North Carolina for Barker Brothers) with my own choice of fabric. Otherwise, Restoration Hardware.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:27 PM on May 13, 2013

I have purchased more sofas than any other major purchase in my adult life, so here's what I know:

(TL; DR summary: pay a little more for quality, say $800-1100 new, or half to 2/3 that on Craigslist, where it's worth it to be a choosy shopper. Microfiber has proved to be super-durable for us and our pets, probably kids too.)

- The cheapest sofa will haunt you with its cheapness. I spent $400 on a sofa and chair from World Market - that was too little, and the furniture didn't have enough structure to hold up to daily use. But it didn't give up the ghost right away, so I had to look at my bad decision every day.

- Try not to buy an aspirational sofa! I bought an awesome Crate and Barrel sofa for what seemed like a bargain $600 on Craigslist which would have been perfect, but it was white. It seemed like a deal at the time. Comfortable as heck, but it shows every sign of wear. We are in the middle of reupholstering it to hide our shame, and have been for the last 4 years or so.

- Resist the urge to buy a futon (unless it is the CB2 Flex, my newest acqusition. Very nap-worthy.)

- The sofa that sees daily use in our house is from Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams in brown microfiber. Holding up beautifully after five years of constant sitting and naps. Too high end to be your Camry at retail, but if the brand shows up on Craigslist, I'd check it out.

- In fact, if you're in New Haven, Craigslist will probably be a decent source for sofa prospects. 75 percent of Craigslist sofa sellers overprice their sofas; they think that because it's special to them/they paid extra for a custom sofa, it's worth more, but usually the answer is no. We have occasionally had luck in my house with contacting the seller, saying we're interested but the price is too high and asking if they might be willing to negotiate if the stove/sofa/other big ticket item is still available in a week or two.
posted by deliriouscool at 2:29 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I feel like I should probably mention that my husband actively hates IKEA, and our style isn't particularly modern. We're probably more traditional/transitional at heart. We've visited a few furniture stores in the area to have a look around, so we're not complete novices, but it feels like there's a weird balancing act of quality, aesthetics, and price, and you can only ever pick two of the three.

Craigslist sofas scare me a bit, only because bedbugs seem like a very real threat in the area, but possibly I'm being too paranoid?
posted by Diagonalize at 2:32 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

JCPenney has surprisingly affordable and attractive furniture. Our living room set was purchased there twelve years ago and is still going strong, and I got another chair there this past winter.
posted by something something at 2:34 PM on May 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

Another vote for Macy's for upholstered stuff, especially if you don't already have a Macy's card - I usually loathe being compelled to sign up for store cards, but for me, it was worth it for the one-day 15% discount when we bought a sofa and loveseat several years ago.

If your husband hates IKEA, I'd be willing to bet that he'll love the prospect of brand new, fully assembled, possibly American-made furniture delivered and set up in your new house, and I don't think anyone can do that for less than Macy's. Room & Board's stuff is often beautiful and their customer service is fantastic (they have a very generous, open-ended return policy), but it's significantly more expensive.
posted by ndg at 2:50 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you are in CT, you should go to "furniture row" in Orange. It's a strip of like 15+ furniture stores varying in price and quality. There's a Jennifer convertibles/leather, Pilgrim city furniture (we bought our sofa there last year and they won't stop sending us promotions), Bob's discount furniture, as well as higher end places like Ethan Allen and some custom place. They are all in a strip like a couple miles long!
posted by chela at 2:53 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

My parents had an Ethan Allen sofa that was given to them when they married 30 years ago. We used it for 20 years and it's been passed on to a cousin of mine now. They still use it. It was used for 10 years before my parents ever got together. That's some serious longevity! High five, Ethan Allen!

Also, I know you're wary of bed bugs but all the furniture in our house is vintage and I tell you, it's been some of the best investments we've made. Our love seat is the most comfortable thing (we call it the "ether couch" because it puts everyone to sleep with it's cloud like goodness) and I paid $20 for it. Our bigger sofa bed came from the 1960s but the fabric is quite mid century modern so it's fits with all my modern decorations and what-nots. Paid $40 for it. I will probably die with that thing in my house and when it no longer fits my personality / decor, I'll just have it reupholstered in town for less than $100.

So, vintage if you're not TOO scared. (Google how to properly check for bed bugs and you should be fine.) If you go the vintage route, do not hit the stores in a big city. Instead, drive out to the country and find a couch you like out there at a thrift store. It'll be so much cheaper. Check the bones of it and tote it home on the cheap! If you find a body you like, do some research and get it reupholstered.

(Also, my parents currently own a sofa / loveseat set they bought for 4 grand at a nice, furniture row type store and both pieces have been falling apart since they bought them.)
posted by youandiandaflame at 3:09 PM on May 13, 2013

I was hunting for armchairs/recliners last year, to replace my husband's ancient and busted LaZ-Boy. I wanted comfortable, but not big poofy marshmallow.

We went to a local furniture store several times and sat in all the chairs, and on all the couches. I finally decided on the Lane Belle Hi-Leg Recliner. I think of Lane as a reputable brand (although I am not a furniture expert). I liked the fact that they were comfortable, but the recliner bit was hidden while upright, yet they have a bit of style (and I can sweep and vacuum under them). We got them Scotchguarded as we have cats.

Ended up buying a used couch from my landlord, as the color and swoopy sort of Queen Ann arms kind of go with the recliners, but we did see a reasonably priced couch at the furniture store where we got the chairs, so now I have a bit of couch regret (i.e., in the future I will avoid couches that have pillows as the back and only two large cushions as it leads to sinking in the middle, whereas 3 cushions might be better). We got a darkish muted sage green paisley fabric for the chairs, which was reminiscent of my grandmother's old swan's neck rocker with a similar upholstery (brocade? only not so obnoxiously prominent as one might think brocade would be) and darkish cherry wood on the wooden parts.

We did buy a couple of wingback recliners from the first store and ended up returning one of them right away and kept the second (they will let you do that, btw, if you are not satisfied, find out their return policy). The remaining one is pretty good still but I love the plushy backs of these Lane recliners and the style at the same time.

If you are also shopping for dining room sets, we got a decent one, but it is Asian hard wood and they couldn't tell us what type of wood. That is something I would definitely do vintage for, or used, as I am not too happy with the softness of the supposed hard wood (nor the color).

I got end tables at a big warehouse cash and carry store, they are narrow and have drawers, and look pretty decent and have held up well. Totally went cheap on the lamps and got a set at Christmas Tree Shoppe, but eh, they work.

We spent a while at various places, sitting on things and looking. Then we moved and I found a local dealer who could order the Lane chairs for me. Keep in mind it can take a while if you are ordering special fabric. So while we didn't go with a Bob's style place, we went with a place that could give us the brand we wanted and I figured their other brands weren't going to be all that bad. I personally would not spend over $1,000 on a couch, but we did end up doing $1,200 or so for the two Lane chairs.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:51 PM on May 13, 2013

You might want to keep an eye on Costco if you have one in your area. They tend to have sturdy, basically attractive microfiber and leather sofas for under $1000. Not huge selections, but the pieces they offer aren't so trendy that they'll go out of style quickly, nor are they so formal that they will feel out of place in a modern home.

My person feeling on furniture is that as long as I have a cat, there isn't much point in going for anything truly nice. Your cat mileage may vary.
posted by Brody's chum at 4:13 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding JC Penney. I got my loveseat in 2005 on the recommendation of someone on Apartment Therapy who inquired where the couch in his doctor's waiting room was purchased.

It has a hardwood frame and sinuous, not coiled, springs. It's in great shape except for where the cat has been at it.

I also like Macy's furniture, especially the case goods.
posted by jgirl at 4:17 PM on May 13, 2013

Seconding Costco though watch that the size isn't too enormous for your space.

If you like to change things up every once in a while, consider that furniture styles change.
posted by RoadScholar at 5:27 PM on May 13, 2013

Costco, yes - they sell furniture mostly in January and July. I have deep remorse that we didn't get the sectional that was on sale in January. Costco's return policy is so amazing that buying just about anything from there makes a worrisome purchase much less worrisome.
posted by Addlepated at 5:46 PM on May 13, 2013

I bought living room and bedroom furniture from Bassett Furniture and couldn't be happier with them. They have lasted 8+ years and are still very comfortable and look great. They have stores in CT.
posted by BigVACub at 7:03 PM on May 13, 2013

For a middle road I suggest these in this order: West Elm, CB2, and Room & Board. Congrats on your new home!
posted by happysocks at 8:20 PM on May 13, 2013

We've had our sofa for 17 years-- I just have one note about choices

It's my opinion that hide-a-bed sofas are not a good investment. The construction of the sofa itself is different, with a large channel in the back seat to allow the mattress frame to slide inside [thus preventing springs behind your back] and the seat cushions rest directly on the other part of the mattress [preventing springs under your sit-upon.] As a result, the cushioning and springiness of the sofa is reduced.

The mattress itself is no treat for guests-- joking that they are guaranteed to leave after 3 days to protect their back.
posted by ohshenandoah at 8:43 PM on May 13, 2013

I see you are in CT. When we made this sort of upgrade, we got a sofa/chair/ottoman (also got a dining room table set) from Bob's Discount Furniture (http://www.mybobs.com/). We probably got one of their cheapest sets, but we've had it 5 years now and no complaints.
posted by disaster77 at 1:14 on May 14 [+] [!]

With all due respect, Bob's is not where you go to buy quality furniture.
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 10:10 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's another vote for Macy's. If you sign up for the card and go when there's a sale, you can get a very good deal for pretty decent furniture.

I love Room & Board, and you might like a lot of the Ethan Allen style, but they're quite expensive relative to Macy's, so you may not want to consider them.

On ohshenandoah's sleeper sofa point, the only brand I've found that is actually really great -- SUPER comfortable to sleep in, very well made -- is American Leather's Comfort Sleeper. It's very expensive, though. We have one of their smaller queen sized sofas (slightly bigger than a love seat) for an office/guest room, and it cost nearly twice as much as the big living room sectional we bought from Macy's!
posted by odin53 at 8:35 AM on May 14, 2013

If you want nicer than Ikea but not quite Macy's or Pottery Barn, try Ashley Furniture Home Store or Rooms to Go. Bonus if they have an outlet store. We just got an Ashley couch at the outlet and are very happy with it. Friends have an RTG sofa (Cindy Crawford line) that is the most comfortable thing I've ever sat on. It's withstood several years so far of parties, lounging, and napping.
posted by radioamy at 10:10 AM on May 14, 2013

We purchased Flexsteel furniture for our living room and have been very happy with it. It is made very well and they have some type of lifetime warranty. There is a great assortment of styles and you can customize with many different fabric choices. If you go to there website - http://www.flexsteel.com/ you can look for location that carry them by zipcode.
posted by MrsMGH at 5:53 AM on May 15, 2013

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