How the heck do people find furniture?!
August 31, 2021 11:39 AM   Subscribe

I need a wardrobe, bed, some shelves, a couch, and a dining table. Where do I start? How do people do this?

Things I've tried: browsing Etsy, Ebay, local stores, even Amazon. I don't want any more super-generic items. So, no IKEA.

I looked at previous questions, but they were more about finding your style. I'm okay at knowing what I like, just unable to find any of those things for less than several thousand dollars apiece.

I'm lost. At this point, I would be hugely relieved if someone just furnished my place overnight. Are there apps for this? Please help me.
posted by toucan to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
People pay other people, often called designers or decorators, to do this for them.
posted by AugustWest at 11:43 AM on August 31, 2021 [5 favorites]

I think the problem is, if you don't want super generic stuff from IKEA, then furniture is expensive. The materials are expensive! So are the labor costs if its not mass-produced!

Finding things second hand is the more affordable option for non-mass-produced, but as you're discovering, it takes a lot of time and work to search for it. Most people who can't afford new furniture just... go to IKEA (or Target, or Walmart, or Wayfair...).
posted by EllaEm at 11:44 AM on August 31, 2021 [53 favorites]

Best answer: Have you taken a deep dive into your local Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace? Depending on the era you're into, it could be a goldmine! Or it'd point you in the direction of all the vintage dealers who are snapping up the good stuff first.
posted by fountainofdoubt at 11:48 AM on August 31, 2021 [12 favorites]

1. IKEA/Wayfair/etc
2. Your local Buy Nothing Group (don't click on the app, scroll down to find your local group by choosing your country etc)
3. Facebook Marketplace
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:50 AM on August 31, 2021 [4 favorites] is a great resource for second hand. They deliver or you can pick up. Very reasonable second-hand furniture - no surprises.
posted by mmf at 11:51 AM on August 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

I recently had to buy furniture on a tight budget and found Facebook Marketplace and Nextdoor (I know, I know, it generally stinks, but) to be far the best in terms of quality/options. Thrift stores can work too depending on where you're located.
posted by coffeecat at 11:51 AM on August 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

Finding the perfect piece is really hard. What we ended up doing was buying ikea for the stuff we needed right now (couch, bookshelves, desk, dining chairs, etc.) and have then been replacing each piece as we find the perfect piece. Ikea pieces are really easy to get rid of via facebook, especially buy nothing groups.

They can also be hacked pretty easily to look not so generic. I've taken these small dressers and did a combination of paint and stain and some legs and new pulls. Altogether spent less than $75 on "extras" to make them look completely different. I also have this besta cabinet with cane doors hack in my dining room with a different set of legs, the square wood legs scream ikea, change them.

The legs are an easy upgrade. We replaced the wood block legs with angled metal legs on our couch, again, no one can tell it's ikea anymore.

Take the pressure off of finding the perfect piece right this second if you do want to do it all yourself.
posted by magnetsphere at 12:04 PM on August 31, 2021 [8 favorites]

I got all my (slightly used) furniture for good prices at
posted by critzer at 12:12 PM on August 31, 2021

Best answer: As always, out of "good/fast/cheap" you can only pick two.

The dirty secret of those stylish homes you see on Insta or Pinterest or Apartment Therapy is that they either took tons of time (either in seeking out amazing deals and perfect pieces, or in DIY, or modifying cheap options like magnetsphere describes) or tons of money.

If you're lucky enough to have an aesthetic that isn't currently trendy, you might be able to do some strategic thrifting and antiquing, but again, this will be a time investment. If you love midcentury modern or that super-trendy 80s glass-and-rattan deal that's all over the internet right's going to cost you.

It also depends on your definition of "generic." Is that really JUST "no IKEA particleboard" or does that also write off like, a Bob's Discount Furniture or an Art Van (are they even still around...)? I have gotten decent sofas and such from those places during their big annual sales etc., when you can get 300 bucks off the sticker price. Again, though...that involves holding out until there's a big sale, which is a time investment.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:14 PM on August 31, 2021 [4 favorites]

I had good luck finding what I wanted at one of the generic furniture chains (Ashleys, Mealeys, etc.), googling the product, and then finding the exact product at Overstock/Target/Wayfair. I purchased my dining room table (all hardwood, with 8 chairs) and saved ~$500, but did have to assemble myself.

I've also purchased on Overstock/Wayfair etc. after browsing all the furniture websites I could find, spending hours for just the right style/dimensions/color/price. Always pay attention to material - I much much prefer hardwood, but it's much more expensive.

Back in college I bought everything on Craigslist or yard sales. Easier if you have a car.
posted by DoubleLune at 12:22 PM on August 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

Where we used to live there was a place called 'The Barn' and he bought estate lots and resold everything out of his biiiiig metal shed. He had people come up weekly to check, because he got such cool stuff.

We also had a friend who had a line on old office furniture - which was generally super quality (Knoll, Herman Miller, etc) and reasonably priced - we got a good couch and coffee table and some side tables.

Also seconding magnetosphere, I knew a designer who would buy Ikea cabinets and book shelves and them finish them out with different moulding/ custom doors.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:34 PM on August 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

My local “good”/upscale furniture store also has a discount storefront where they put all the stuff that didn’t sell the first time around, often for some pretty deep discounts. That might be something to check out for your area.
posted by acantha at 12:44 PM on August 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you live in a town with a big university, they often have surplus stores where they resell furniture. I have a really nice desk that I got that way, and they often have many different kinds of furniture (not just standard office stuff) available. I also had a pair of really cool chairs from there for a long while.
posted by twelve cent archie at 12:45 PM on August 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you follow auction houses or estate auctions I've gotten great stuff at both. Estate sales have been spotty but cheaper, in that the auction will have bedroom sets, dining sets, lamps, rugs, etc. and it will probably be quite cheap but it is what it is and might not be your taste. Lots of it I've found, though, is older and of much higher quality than what you'd get at Ikea or another site using MDF instead of wood. I got a solid wood wardrobe at an estate sale I've fitted for linen storage, some great lamps and an incredibly durable tank vacuum I still use years later.

You will have to figure out how to transport items on pretty short notice, like 24 to 48 hours, usually. Check online for regional or advertising (free handout) newspapers for advertising, as they usually don't advertise much beyond the immediate region. I'm about an hour outside Lancaster County PA, and there are several auction houses and steady weekend flea markets with regular sellers, so that sort of thing is another option.

Also I got a solid brass coffee table at a thrift store 30 years ago, just tucked away in a corner behind a lot of other stuff. It's definitely unique but I had to get dirty shifting lots of stuff around to find it. Thrift stores in more upscale neighborhoods are usually better in terms of furniture quality than in more modest neighborhoods, but you never know. And unfortunately, some of the best thrift shops, the ones run by volunteers to benefit a hospital, for example, have closed due to covid since the volunteers were largely seniors.
posted by citygirl at 12:53 PM on August 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've gotten a few nice things from a local online action house that I think is mostly estate sales. There may be something like this near you.
posted by buildmyworld at 1:11 PM on August 31, 2021

I don't care enough about furniture to put money into it most of the time. I just want the function of furniture. I like it when it looks nice, but I'm not willing to pay for that. And my furniture is certainly unique.

I get things from the side of the road, dumpsters, craigslist if it feels urgent, or from friends who are moving and who text and are like "hey you want a couple of nice bookshelves made by my friend's grandpa?" mostly.

You find good-enough free pile stuff, and you just keep upgrading until you've got the furniture you want. You start with cardboard box furniture, then you upgrade to free pile furniture, and so forth.

There didn't used to be any good lighting, so we made do with the small lamps that came with the place. Eventually, floor lamps turned up in free piles. The place is now well-lit.

We needed more counter space in the kitchen, so we took a nice piece of wood we found abandoned in an alley and cut it into the right shape for the space and re-finished the edge we had just cut. It has been sitting on top of some cardboard boxes for probably months now and it works great. Maybe someday we'll find its legs.

If I see a residential dumpster, I'll dive. There's a lot of perfectly good stuff in the dumpster. You know, I found a working tablet that way once. I checked and the person who was moving did in fact mean to throw it away.

You can also call up a few friendly eco-realtors who sell expensive houses and tell them you're looking for furniture their clients are no longer wanting and see if they're interested in connecting you.

It takes a while, but that's ok. They're just things.
posted by aniola at 1:26 PM on August 31, 2021 [4 favorites]

With things like Facebook Marketplace and Nextdoor cutting into Craigslist's former second-hand market supremacy this might not be as effective a strategy as it used to be, but setting up email alerts on Craigslist for the things you're on the lookout for has worked well for me in the past. More specific search terms (i.e. card catalog, mid-century modern sofa, etc.) will require more time and patience, but staying on top of the email alerts can usually mean the difference between being the first person to email about a dresser or the ninth.
posted by helloimjennsco at 1:57 PM on August 31, 2021

Best answer: Prioritize the bed (by which I mean mattress or mattress & boxspring; you may mean platform bed frame or headboard+footboard) in your search and in your budget.

For the other items (wardrobe, shelves, a couch, and a dining table), so much is going to depend on your specific location, resources, preferences, and tolerance for clashing pieces as you gradually furnish your home to your satisfaction. Well-made furniture had for cheap is a like scavenger hunt. Twenty years ago, I lived with a basic folding card table and threw a tablecloth over it for almost year, until a solid-wood dining table I really fancied turned up at Goodwill. (That table needed minor sanding and refinishing; the folding table still comes of out storage a few times a year for craft projects.) That apartment also had temporary table lamps, sourced from my mom's basement with her enthusiastic blessing (and she did not want them back). In a different apartment, my (ridiculously sumptuous) sofa was $200 from a consignment store. I'm looking for shelves right now, and a sticking point is wanting a smaller, glass-doored bookcase to keep dust at bay. A local antique mall advertises on Craigslist and Instagram and had sets I liked, but they were sold before I could see them in person. Timing is part of the hunt.

My three local Habitat for Humanity Restore outlets sell furniture. They're willing to transfer purchases to the store nearest me at no cost, and offer free home delivery once a $250 minimum is met.

So, family or friends might be resources for temporary or permanent acquisitions, there are charity, consignment, and antique/"junktique" shops, and you might luck out at estate sales, on craigslist, and at certain times of the year depending on your community (designated "bulk pick up" refuse collection, college semester clean-outs, etc.). There are huge sites like chairish, too (checking delivery fees, always); in the US, once you give your ZIP to Chairish's email list, it will regularly generate a 'newly available near you' come-hither alert, and shopping locally can save on those charges, too.
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:30 PM on August 31, 2021 [5 favorites]

I've made some really lovely pieces using IKEA stuff as a starting point. Not all of it is flimsy. Swapping out hardware, legs, painting or covering with contact paper, things like that. They even make decorative carved wood or molded plastic bits that can be glued on and painted or stained to make it look like the piece was hand carved. I saw someone use them on tiktok and it turned out really cool -- they were making a knock off of some $5000 Anthropologie dresser, and theirs looked pretty much just like it, for a couple hundred bucks. There are a ton of YouTube channels and blogs dedicated to this kind of thing, so there's plenty of tutorials and inspiration.

If getting crafty isnt sounding like your vibe...patient searching on FB Marketplace, estate sales, and your local large item pick up days is where it's at. Good stuff is out there, it just takes time to find it.
posted by ananci at 4:24 PM on August 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

Cost Plus World Market has not-generic, pretty and functional furniture for very reasonable prices.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:54 PM on August 31, 2021 [2 favorites]

It depends on your budget.

The second non-hand-me-down piece of furniture I bought was a microfiber chaise from Macy's for about $700.

But is fantastic. Definitely look there.
posted by bendy at 7:36 PM on August 31, 2021

IKEA hackers might inspire you.
posted by bendy at 7:38 PM on August 31, 2021 [2 favorites]

I’ve spent the last year building a big wardrobe, Shaker chimney cupboards, cherry bed frame, wall cabinets, lounge chairs, lamp, side table, etc. but couldn’t get excited about building replacements for my old Billy shelves. I went to a local unfinished furniture shop and was able to order the exact size I needed and even modify the styling slightly. It cost the equivalent of US$1000 for a 7ft x 30” x 14” bookcase but it's solid maple and should last me to the end of my days. They offered dining tables and wardrobes as well. It seems like most of these unfinished furniture places offer some kind of finishing options.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:41 PM on August 31, 2021 [2 favorites]

You might have some luck searching for e-design services. There are lots of decorators, decor bloggers, studios, etc. who offer a really rich range of virtual offerings - everything from "send me some measurements and I'll bang up plans for a built in" to "let's do a Facetime walkthrough of your space, you give me a budget, and I'll give you some design options and sourcing recommendations". This can also get you access to to-the-trade sources you might otherwise not have access to.
posted by ersatzkat at 7:39 AM on September 1, 2021

One thing to think about - used mattresses/sofas/etc may be a vector for bedbugs.

Also, if you're renting? Check your lease. Mine prohibited second-hand mattresses, specifically because of the bedbug issue. Luckily, I am perfectly happy with my Amazon Basics twin bed frame and futon solution.
posted by spinifex23 at 9:51 AM on September 1, 2021

Best answer: Do your (rich) friends know you need furniture? Friends / coworkers / relatives who have furniture in their basement or are re-decorating are a good source, especially for smaller things like side tables. Anybody making a cross country move and getting rid of everything?

Also, you can use generic furniture for things nobody will really notice (sheets and pillows cover almost all of the bed anyhow, nobody's looking at your boring dining chairs if you have a nice meal on the table). Focus your effort on things like the couch that get attention.
posted by momus_window at 3:52 PM on September 1, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. What worked for us was to set an imaginary, but firm deadline (we even invited friends for dinner). That took care of the procrastination. Then, compromise and flexibility. We each found two pieces we loved, plus another thing we both liked okay. We decided to just accept that we woudn't love every single thing in our house, and then we contacted those five sellers. Picked everything up on that same weekend. It was a lot of work, but the money is reasonable. And we really like our furniture now! For the last remaining piece (the dining table), we went to IKEA. Whatever. It doesn't look great, but it's covered with a lovely tablecloth, and we're happy. One day, we can upgrade.
posted by toucan at 3:46 PM on January 10, 2022

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