Are there styles of furniture that are always in fashion?
March 8, 2016 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Most of my furniture at this point consists of hand me downs from family or pieces purchased cheaply at Target or IKEA and I'm looking to start acquiring some higher quality furniture that I actually enjoy aesthetically. Since I plan on keeping these pieces for a very long time, what I want to know is this: Is there a style (or styles) of furniture that never go out of fashion?

I'm emerging from grad school and transitioning back into working life. As part of that transition I'm looking to upgrade to a little bit nicer apartment and hopefully buy a place soon. I'm willing to shell out some money for nicer furniture, but as always I'm hoping to find something is high quality, will last a long time, and will not look dated.

The analogy that I would like to draw is to men's clothing. A navy blue or gray suit that is well tailored and strikes a balance between design elements (medium sized lapels, tailored but not super slim fitting, etc.) has always been and always will be in style. Accents can be changed to alter the look of the outfit as fashions change (tie color, width and texture, crazy pocket square, shoes, style of cuffs on the shirt, etc.), but the suit remains a stylish, clean canvas with which to start.

What are the gray suits of furniture?

Some additional thoughts:
- I am drawn to furniture that is simple and unembellished, with clean lines. That draws me towards mid-century modern and IKEA-style designs, but while these are enjoying a resurgence in popularity, I worry that they will soon look dated again. Are there other alternatives that employ similar qualities but are a little bit less extreme?

- Are there styles of furniture (especially couches, sofas, armchairs) that are better suited for reupholstery in the future?
posted by Schwartz to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Eames Chair.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:20 AM on March 8, 2016

Shaker furniture.
posted by neushoorn at 9:22 AM on March 8, 2016 [12 favorites]

Maybe this is too obvious but surely this depends a great deal on the home in which you display the furniture. I love a classic farmhouse table and think they're timeless but one might look a bit out of place in a contemporary-modern glass and steel house?

You say you're still in an apartment for now but hope to be in a house eventually. Do you have a sense of what style of house you'd hope to end up in? Admittedly for lots of people that's probably going to be a somewhat cookie-cutter suburban house but even those have different architecture accents that will shape what furniture fits best.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:36 AM on March 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

My parents inherited a couch and armchair from my grandmother that were wooden with upholstered seat and backrest cushions that weren't attached. Mom's reupholstered and replaced the cushions a few times with relative ease. The wooden parts were quite heavy though, more man-cave or ranch house fashion than urban chic.
posted by lizbunny at 9:37 AM on March 8, 2016

I can't give specific advice but I do have an observation that might help. I think that good design is somewhat timeless. While a given design may be dateable I don't think that is quite the same thing as dated. The last job my father had as an architect involved a lot of consulting for coop apartments in NYC. He visited a lot of apartments occupied by well off people of different ages. He said that it was like visiting a series of exemplars of interior design from different eras, perfectly put together and all very nice. To me this means that it is less important to be the grey suite than to be well tailored.

Even design that I think is baseline horrid, like the 70's, if it was done with money and by a good designer has a certain put together appeal to me. The fact is artifacts of design will take on different subtexts as time goes by. In the 50's / 60's the old McMansions of the twenties in close in Portland were considered dark tomblike reminders of the depression and a lot of them were torn down. (This from conversation with an older man about construction in Portland.) So people are going to react the way people are going to react.
posted by Pembquist at 9:44 AM on March 8, 2016 [11 favorites]

Just about any piece of Amish-built furniture will last forever and be absolutely classic in style. We've used this company in Indiana for some time, and have always been delighted with their work. It's all solid wood, they will customize it to your specifications, and is very reasonably-priced.
posted by DrGail at 9:53 AM on March 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Mission furniture. Chairs are often wooden with upholstered cushions.
posted by FencingGal at 9:54 AM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

If I were doing this, I would buy antiques/semi-antiques from estate sales, and just assemble a collection of pieces that were high quality and pleasant - that is, I wouldn't worry about "decorating" or "matching". The pleasantest (and most Class X and/or UMC) houses I've been in are all a bit ad hoc, and it's probably cheaper than buying "nice" new furniture.

One of the nicest rooms I know has a rather forgettable modern sofa, a few bits of mid-century, what looks to me like a thirties armchair, some sort of thirties or forties sideboard, a couple of bookcases in dark wood and a modern middle eastern rug. Plus a few odds and ends of cheap prints from friends. The keys: tone (everything is pale warm tones - beiges, maroons, the brown kinds of grey, greens, a sort of reddish lavendar. Not at all my color palette but harmonious); material (texture good wood, wool, leather, nubby fabric - one might opt for smoothness and gloss instead); no sharp contrasts in the woods used (all are dark to middling). All this was fairly ordinary - estate sales, a bit of lucky thrifting, those kind of semi "antique" stores which really just have things from about 1925 to 1980.

Also, if you look back at genuine mid-century or even English country house interiors, the period and style is usually mixed anyway. You don't get rid of a perfectly nice 1930s chair just because you've got a fifties table, and you don't toss grannie's sideboard just because it's from 1890.

In short, maybe don't pick a style - pick a tone of wood, decide on your favorite color palette and pick whether you're likely to want "textured and shadowy" or "shiny and spare".
posted by Frowner at 10:00 AM on March 8, 2016 [22 favorites]

I had a grandmother who had a house which was eclectic mid-century in the 1990s, at which time mid-century was very firmly on the outs. People in the 1990s considered her house wonderfully designed and lovely, even though it was not in line with any of the design aesthetics of the time.

I think one of her wise ideas was not to limit herself to mid-century items -- her major pieces were either mid-century or had those influences, but the house overall didn't look like a mid-century time capsule, which is one of the failure modes I frequently see over on Apartment Therapy.

If you like smooth lines and simple design, I think mid-century will always be around. It may not be the major design influence at any given time, but something like an Eames chair or a Finn Juhl sofa is unlikely to ever look completely out of place.
posted by pie ninja at 10:02 AM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would heartily second Wretch729 and Pembquist's points, but I would also add that unlike a nice suit, where you would definitely want the jackets and trousers to match, interior design needs a little more freedom to prevent feeling staid. I find that many people approach furniture shopping with an eye towards recreating a catalog photo and end up with matching sets of everything. This just makes everything look very bland, and it tends to feel dated fairly quickly. Good design takes everything about the space into account (architectural details, size, shape, function, etc.) and also leaves room for small updates here and there over time if needed.
posted by Diagonalize at 10:03 AM on March 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I don't think the style of home matters as much as having a consistent style of furniture. If you like clean lines and simple design, make sure all of your furniture has that and is of a similar wood and color. Our current home was built in 1953, out last apartment was built in 1965 and first apartment was built in 1913. Those are all very different styles of homes, but a consistent style of furniture has looked great in all of them.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:19 AM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think you want to reframe the question a bit. If you plan on keeping the pieces for a long time, you don't care what will be "in style" for a long time; that only matters if you are thinking about resale value. Rather, you want to know what you will be happy to have for a long time. There's a connection, as anyone who's looked at photos of themselves from the mid-70's knows. You don't want to walk in your living room in 10 or 15 or 20 years and ask yourself, "What was I thinking?" But you very well be happy with a Rococo chair or a Victorian cabinet or a mid-century in 50 or 60 years, even if your grandchildren snicker at your outdated taste. One way to make this more likely is to delay purchases. If there's something you like, come back to it after a week or month or year and decide if it's still appealing, or if it was the thrill of the new.

On the other hand, if you buy high quality used (and nonupholstered) furniture, you can generally resell it without taking a huge loss, especially if you buy it from an individual (Craigslist, estate sale) or at auction. So if you see something you think you like at a reasonable price, grab it, and if it doesn't hold your interest, you can probably sell that $1000 cabinet for $800 or so next year.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:22 AM on March 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm starting to buy some nice furniture for my house too and I've thought about this a lot. I really love mid-century stuff but I don't want my house to look kitschy or like a set of Mad Men. So I've been trying to buy stuff that kind of follows the general design but doesn't look too dated. (For example, this instead of this.) If you do like mid-century then also look at "contemporary" or "modern" in your searches.

I also heard some great advice a while back (can't remember where, though!): buy things you really love and it will all come together because generally you'll love things that fall into a general theme or style.

I also agree with checking out estate sales. You can get great furniture that will last a lifetime, usually at a really good price.
posted by dawkins_7 at 10:47 AM on March 8, 2016

Sounds to me like you are looking for furniture that is "neutral" -- high quality, won't date, won't embarrass you, will go with a wide array of styles. If so, I second the recommendations for Amish and Shaker furniture. Mid-century modern won't date too badly either, although I do think its revival peaked about 10 years ago.

As a practical, specific answer, I recommend Room and Board. Their stuff is not trendy. I would characterize it as in good taste and well made, and it mixes well with a contemporary/modern style or antiques. Their tables and cabinetry are particularly good: I find their upholstered furniture a little less appealing, but that's true for me for most upholstered pieces. It's expensive. I have been slowly replacing Ikea things with Room and Board, maybe a piece a year, and that's working well for me.

Good luck!
posted by Susan PG at 10:56 AM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Chesterfield sofa, wing chairs, club chairs--I think anything very solid and comfortable is always appropriate. Too extreme MCM and too extreme Victoriana look dated as whole rooms, but an accent piece can work forever.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:47 AM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm in the process of trying to furnish most of a house and the approach I'm taking is to buy mostly estate/antique/vintage stuff (with the exception of the couch) on the premise that they have already been in style and then fallen out of style and are now just old. There are trends with that of course too--traditional style "brown furniture" is very unstylish and is therefore dirt cheap, but you can still find a few cool things if you look around. I do try to make sure that they are reasonably high quality, both because I figure if they've held up this long they will also last a long time in my house (although I'm not looking to invest in anything too expensive since I also have 2 small kids and 2 cats) and because, as someone above noted, if you don't like it you can resell it.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 11:58 AM on March 8, 2016

I think quality and good design tends to work together, within your tastes. A baroque chair and a mid-century modern table would be hard for me to imagine, but you probably prefer either sleek or detailed. The current trend seems very match-y to me. I've become quite happy to layer rugs and fabrics and not worry about it. Maybe spend some time with books that detail what furniture is in what period - it may help you refine your own sense of what you like.

My previous house was 1910 with lots of period woodwork and strong proportions, and early art deco - ish looked great. Current house is a converted cottage, and I'm replicating the summer cottages of my youth - cast-off but gracious furniture, a mix of threadbare and oriental rugs, and a strong sense of not worrying about it as longs as it's comfortable and good quality.
posted by theora55 at 12:24 PM on March 8, 2016

If you plan on keeping the pieces for a long time, you don't care what will be "in style" for a long time; that only matters if you are thinking about resale value. Rather, you want to know what you will be happy to have for a long time.

This is important— style and fashion are different. Develop your eye and taste, figure out what you like rather than what 'people' like right now, and you'll be happier in the long run.

For example: the things I buy are anywhere from 20s Modern, Danish/MCM, or vernacular craft, with some industrial and Arts & Crafts/Mission thrown in. I like solid woods, natural fabrics with lots of texture, simple ceramics, and patina on wood and metal surfaces.

Keeping the colour palette restricted mostly to neutrals gives you flexibility to own a few pieces that you love, even if they don't fit the overall style. If you find a bright red desk fan, or an butter yellow jackstraw Eames chair, it will still fit in.
posted by a halcyon day at 1:07 PM on March 8, 2016

Seconding the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman. I recently spent a few days at an Airbnb rental that had a pair of them, and I spent most of that time sitting in one and ogling the other. They are so damn beautiful, and so damn comfortable. (Link to the real deal from Herman Miller, if you have a spare $5000 lying around. Knockoffs can be had for less.)
posted by usonian at 2:21 PM on March 8, 2016

Everything at Room and Board. Most of these pieces are handmade here in the U.S. still -- the quality is great. They also have clean, classic lines.
posted by Ostara at 2:30 PM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Everyone raves about my apartment. All our furniture is antique/secondhand and just a mixture of slightly different styles and eras. It's all unpainted wood. We have a lot of rugs, plants mixed in, and a LOT of books and shelves with knick knacks. You really don't need a particular style, I think it's nicer to have different styles together. It looks less curated. We buy what we love, and so we love our apartment.
Go for things that are good quality, that you like. That's all you need.
posted by shesbenevolent at 3:16 PM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Two design rules I've learned the hard way: Don't buy furniture sets. That means, don't buy a bed, nightstand and dressers in a set. Don't buy a duvet cover with exactly matching drapes, throws and pillows. Don't buy a couch, loveseat and chairs from a set. Or a coffee table and matching end tables, floor lamps and matching table lamps, etc. It's far more fun and will always look better to find complementary, but not identical pieces.
Second rule: Don't match something you don't like. This is surprisingly tough to follow sometimes! Just the other day, I was considering a backsplash for my kitchen. And I've been really considering getting subway tile in an ivory or cream color that would match the bricks of an adjacent fireplace. And then I stopped and realized, I hate that freaking fireplace brick. It's ugly and looks dirty to me, and that fireplace is probably one of the biggest eye sores in the house. So why would I want to match it? Far better to pick a backsplash I really like, or at least a white subway tile that will be relatively classic.

I used to sell furniture at a store that specialized in Amish and mission-style furniture. I completely agree that the style can be very timeless and functional, but one caveat: consider the finish of the furniture you buy. Furniture stains go through huge design trends. Golden oak was big in the 90s and looks really dated now, the same with red cherry stained pieces. Dark stains went out of style and now they're back. Of course, solid wood furniture can be stripped and re-stained. But what a hassle. This leads me to my final advice, which is train your eye to recognize design and then buy the design you love. Buy the furniture in the stain you like, not the stain that's in style. Libraries are a great resource for home design books. The Restoration Hardware catalog is basically my dream design source. I like Ethan Allen too - it's very traditional, but that is what you're looking for, right? They have pieces with a more mid-century look too. Page through books or catalogs, familiarize yourself with design names and note what catches your eye. One problem I run into is I find myself liking pieces without realizing I'm liking something just because it's trendy. I watch HGTV to get an idea for what is trendy right now. (Also, I just love to watch HGTV. Nicole Curtis forever). The show, Fixer Upper, for instance is a huge example of the farmhouse chic look mixed with industrial. Big current trend. I like noticing trends so that when I'm shopping for my home, I can pinpoint if I truly like something or if I'm drawn to it because I know it's trendy. I found myself contemplating buying a 70s wall hanging at a thrift store the other day and then put it back on the shelf. I hate wool wall hangings and I don't especially like 70s colors. So I had to take a moment to say, "Yep, this is cool and it's in style. But I can never get wool clean, it ends up smelling dusty and now that I think about it, I don't even like this thing." I knew it was cool, but it wan't my kind of cool. Put it back on the shelf and then yeah! found a vintage paint-by-number of some kittens. Scored that for my daughter's room. PBN's are also kind of trendy now, but I don't care because I know I have loved them for years, and the colors and kitschy pallete work with the mid-century, Scandinavian, punk rock bungalow look I like to curate. I never would have found that style in a book or catalog, but I did learn to recognize elements of it from many, many years of antique shopping and reading design books.
Final, final tip: It sounds like you may have a bit of a budget to invest. Consider hiring an interior designer to help you shop. Some have surprisingly affordable rates and will work on an hourly basis - they can help pick paint colors, etc too. I've even seen designers shopping with clients at my local habitat restore. Just make sure it's a designer with a style you like before hiring. Have fun!
posted by areaperson at 6:23 PM on March 8, 2016

Scandinavian furniture works well when the rest of the room contents can be described as simple or uncluttered. I've seen two basic styles differing only by sharpness of angles. IMHO the sharper angles call attention to themselves and thus don't age well.
posted by Homer42 at 6:55 PM on March 8, 2016

I would suggest that Laver's Law may also apply, mutatis mutandis, to furniture that is very distinctive. Art Deco furniture is somewhere between "charming" and "romantic" right now. Of course, furniture is bought to last over a longer time period than clothing, so perhaps the calibration is different, but it's worth thinking about.

I personally think the most important thing is to have some thematic points in common between each of your pieces of furniture, and you don't really need to consider the architectural style of your house too much unless you live in a very distinctive house.

But for example, take the wall to the left of me, where the chimney is built in, with the alcoves on either side of it. In the left alcove I have some beech-veneer pigeonhole/cube shelving, like Frasier Crane has in his apartment, only cheap/nasty/low-end. The good news is that most of the shelving is enclosed in the alcove, so you only see the edges.

On the right alcove I have a dark wood Japonesque stepped cabinet... which really needs a polish, but it has the cube effect in common with the pigeonholes.

In the middle I have an Art Deco curved dresser with a walnut veneer. The colour is exactly in between the light and dark colours of the furniture on each side of it.

I also have two Van Gogh chairs, one large and one small.

In one corner I have a cheap modern bookcase with wood veneer, which is so plain and unostentatious it doesn't matter that it's cheap and nasty, because you don't even see it.

Along another wall I have a plywood cupboard that I painted and papered to match the wallpaper.

But, I say this as someone with not much money to spend on furniture and decor, so I have to furnish with what I find.
posted by tel3path at 3:53 AM on March 9, 2016

I too have a house everyone raves over, as in friends who are interior designers come over to see what's new in my house. Hardly anything's new; most of it's been collected over the years from estate sales, auctions, thrift shops, hand me downs, dumpster diving. I agree with almost everything said above, except do not match woods. There is no reason for this. My fave room in my house (my living room) has painted wood, a pale pine piece, a dark walnut stained piece, and a medium tone piece. It will all work beautifully together if your pieces are thoughtfully chosen. Another thing I think is so important is a variety of textures, as in....say a glass side table, a concrete bust, a wood table, something leather, some fabric....that kind of thing. We have that very iconic Eames lounge in the first link, and also some authentic Mies van der Rowe Barcelona chairs, two white leather ones. The lounge and the chairs I found on craigslist years ago, and paid a whopping 200. for the lounge (with footstool) and another 200. for both of the Barcelonas. So.......craiglist. Yeah.
posted by the webmistress at 5:53 AM on March 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

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