Furniture for the decorating challenged
June 23, 2014 10:21 AM   Subscribe

I'm decorating for the first time. I want things to look nice and not "grad school chic". Difficulty: I hate shopping and don't have a lot of time to spend fussing with things. Where should I buy stuff and how do I find out what I like? Is there a website where I can see a beautiful living room and click to buy what I like from it?

I'm used to living in a "grad school chic" (read: the cheapest furniture possible) apartment.

I need to buy some living room and bedroom pieces that will make things look nice. I'm not looking for anything super expensive or fancy, just something a step above a $19 floor lamp. Maybe a $50 - $90 lamp.

I'm used to shopping at Ikea online but if they don't have what I want, I'm unsure about where to go next. I go on Amazon and a lot of the stuff I get is really low quality and I have to return it.

I've read Apartment Therapy but it's a bit above my level. I don't really have time or skills for DIY.

I tend to like modern spaces that are simple and clean. My ideal, I think, would be a website that shows a beautiful living room and I can click to buy all the things I want from it.

- What blogs / resources should I be reading or viewing?
- Where can I buy stuff that's at Ikea level or slightly above?
- I have a decent budget but am really starved for time. I hate shopping. How do I figure out what I want with a minimum of trial and error?

Thank you, Hivemind!
posted by 3491again to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
If you have a decent budget, have you considered hiring an interior designer? This is what they do, and it may not be as expensive as you think.
posted by primethyme at 10:36 AM on June 23, 2014

Have you ever been to an ikea in person? They have rooms set up and everything has a tag, you can buy the whole room (including accessories).
posted by magnetsphere at 10:42 AM on June 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Pottery Barn, West Elm, CB2?

Is that the right ballpark for pricepoint, or we talking higher or lower?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:55 AM on June 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

I am just on the tail end of this same journey - here's what I've found -
- Get a good rug, if you have hardwood floors, or even low pile carpet. Find a big one, with a nice pattern. This will be your anchor in the living room. IKEA actually is a good place for this - they had handknotted wool rugs for fairly cheap.
- For me, I have graduated from press-board/laminate furniture, which IKEA has a lot of, to solid wood furniture. I think this is what you need to do - since you mention quality as an issue. Most of what you buy on Amazon/IKEA/Target, etc, will have plastic hinges or cardboard-cheap laminate backs to the shelves and dressers. Try to move away from that. (IKEA has some good solid wood pieces - like bedframes.) I ended up having the most luck at antique malls in older, smaller towns. I know your time is precious, but if you find a good antique mall/indoor flea market - the kinds that are open every day with booths - you can furnish your entire house with great, old furniture, for just a few thousand, and you can do it in a Saturday morning. (Not all of it is fussy chippendale stuff - I see a lot of midcentury modern, which you might like.)
- IKEA is good for decorations, like frames and vases. Also, slipcovers, if your couch isn't looking too great. A good looking couch and rug and some framed art, and your living room looks like an adult lives there.
I like for ideas, or check out the Domino book of decorating. The IKEA catalog is also actually really good for inspiration - they have themes. I like to thumb through it and dog-ear the setups I like, and then go back and look for trends. That can help you hone in on your aesthetic. There are also lots of design type quizzes online - howaboutorange used to highlight new ones that came out.
posted by umwhat at 10:59 AM on June 23, 2014 is a website that is probably along the lines what you want -- links to both images/ideas as well as products that you can buy. Pinterest may also be helpful in that regard.
posted by suedehead at 11:10 AM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Apartment Therapy has a series called "The Look for Less" where they have pictures of rooms and sources for where to acquire the various items in the room on a budget. Here's the most recent one.
posted by chickenmagazine at 11:12 AM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

My favorite furnishings are vintage pieces I've gotten on Craigslist--nicer quality than most things you could buy in a mass-market store like Pottery Barn, etc. If you like IKEA, you might like classic midcentury Danish furniture. Search Craigslist for "Danish" "midcentury" etc. plus whatever you're looking for (credenza, desk, dresser, lamp, etc).
posted by three_red_balloons at 11:36 AM on June 23, 2014

I'm in a similar boat. And you're not going to like this answer. It takes an incredible amount of time, and effort. The non-cool, generic looking and instant answer is to go to a gigantic furniture store and pick out "room sets". Boom. You're done.

Otherwise, it takes time. My answer so far has been to hold onto "grad school chic" for the time being, and focus on upgrading a few pieces at a time. (I'm assuming you're not sleeping on an air mattress, eating on a milk crate.)

I have a few rules: Can't be made of shitty particle board. Artwork must be framed. And furniture must something I'd be ok replacing if our currently non-existent future kids wrecked it. This excludes like a $6000 sofa. I think about it as building a collection.

I trawl a few regular catalogs: Ikea, CB2, West Elm, Crate and Barrel. I have a few vintage stores I poke through. Home Source, Marshalls, TJ Maxx. I like to find new stores on weekend trips out of town.

I have a short list of furniture pieces I'm looking to upgrade in the near future, and if something pops up that's on the list and meets the rules, I consider buying it. I also consider pieces that are non-essential but meets a certain aesthetic. Getting an aesthetic that is modern and comfortable and clean is difficult.

I've come to these rules after buying furniture that I ended up truly hating, but bought because I felt I needed it right away. I'd rather buy something I love and has a story and a memory to it, than buying crap.
posted by fontophilic at 11:52 AM on June 23, 2014

And IKEA is fine as you get to know your decorating style. Really. I was just back yesterday and they have some really great, clean pieces. The trick is to inject your personality into it so it doesn't look like a showroom.

How to do this:

1. Get art from different places.
2. Get lamps and pillows from different places. (I love TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Home Goods, World Market, and even Target for decent quality lamps, throws, bedding.)
3. Have something old and personal in every room - an old trunk, an old chair, an old toy. Rooms need a little history to hint at who lives there.
4. Have something shiny in every room. This can be a mirror, a vase, a candleholder.
5. Something black in every room. It gives the room some weight. (I don't mean a TV.)
6. Have something with a sense of humor. I have a funny little owl in my kitchen. It delights me and makes things cheerful.
posted by mochapickle at 12:16 PM on June 23, 2014 [9 favorites]

Home Decorators has a good variety. If any dept. store near you has furniture, they probably provide decorator services, same with a big furniture store. To start, a couch you like and a big rug will set the tone. Then maybe a coffee table, side table and lamp. Many TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and Home Goods stores carry rugs and some furniture. Pick a color you like a lot, then maybe a 2nd color, and choose stuff that will work with those colors. Pier One and World Market have lamps and chairs that are affordable and interesting. Things that make your home feel more grownup - good rugs, curtains, nice bookcases(at least my Ikea Billy bookcases match), and a nice table and chairs for dining. Things that feel cheap - chipboard, things with fake woodgrain, things in bad condition, uninspired art(cheesy posters).
posted by theora55 at 12:53 PM on June 23, 2014

Here's the thing about furniture, it's either cheap and disposable, or expensive as fuck and fabulous. Sometimes it's as expensive as fuck and it's also crap. So don't feel bad that this is hard to do, because it is!

For tables and things like that, it doesn't matter, go to Ikea or Target or whatever.

For mattresses and sofas, you're going to want to step up in quality.

Rooms to Go, American Signature and Ashley Furniture are sort of the sweet-spot of just one step above Ikea. Don't get me wrong, most of it is still imported from China and the sofas I bought at American Signature have NOT held up over time, not even a little bit. I can't complain about the case-goods (dressers, etc) though. Those have held out perfectly fine. So if you want to start with a decently put together look, that's as good a place as any to start, at a price-point that won't make you run screaming into the night.

I like Ethan Allen stuff, but they are EXPENSIVE.

Department Stores are actually really great places to buy furniture. Most will have deals, and you can actually bargain a bit with the sales person. Buy 4 pieces, see if they'll throw in delivery and Scotchguard.

Another option is to check out the furniture clearance centers. I used to score amazing deals at the Burdines Furniture Clearance Outlet in Ft. Lauderdale. Mattresses and Sofas and all kinds of cool stuff. Maybe something had a scratch (who cares, it was a night stand, I put the scratch facing inwards towards the bed) or the color was weird, but it worked for me.

If you like clean lines, but don't want your shit to look like it came out of a Pottery Barn Catalog, I would encourage you to check out Danish Modern Furniture. These stores aren't everywhere, but occasionally, you can find one. This is the one we shopped at in Phoenix. Now, some of the stuff is beyond bizarre, but check out this dresser for $149. That's really pretty right? The wood isn't too dark, and it's not white, and you don't see it everywhere. That's teak, and it gets prettier and prettier with age. Now, would it blow your mind to know I have this dresser, only mine is 35 years old? My parents have this table and it's been around since 1972! What's cool about it is it's expandable. So you can put it together for regular life, or make it larger for Thanksgiving.

So there's some stuff to consider. I will say that I have a lot of Scandinavian furniture and even after all these years, I still like it. It mixes and matches with a lot of stuff, and the simple lines still look nice to me.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:02 PM on June 23, 2014

I enjoy browsing Joss & Main (full disclosure: I am cheap and have never actually bought anything there). They organize everything into complementary collections, so it's easier to buy pieces that match. They tend a bit to the bohemian/shabby-chic side of things, and the photography is quite nice.
Local fairs and street markets are often a great place to find art, especially photography.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 2:00 PM on June 23, 2014

Seconding Crate and Barrel - they have beautiful sofas and stuffed chairs, coffee tables and lamps - everything you need! The looks run from clean and modern to nineteenth century with a modern feel.

Like Ikea, they have areas "staged" so you can buy the whole kit and kaboodle.

posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:26 PM on June 23, 2014

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