Sit a Spell

Buying New, Fashionable Furniture Without Straining Brain or Budget

By Marita Stup Loose | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 07.25.17 – Lifestyles, Style

It’s just about that time of summer when Marylanders face the fact that, no matter how lovely our patio is and how charmingly the lightning bugs twinkle, we’d really be more comfortable indoors. We crave a relaxing spot in the cool of an air-conditioned living or family room, a place that’s devoid of mosquitoes, 90-degree heat, and the curse of living here that’s called humidity.

So inside we head, to sprawl out and binge-watch the hot new Netflix series or curl up with Grisham’s latest bestseller. That’s when we start to notice the sagging seat. The worn, wrinkled arms. The faded, dated, tired appearance. (We’re talking about sofas and chairs here.) Should we dash back outside and vanquish these sad images from our minds? Or grab the credit card and proceed to a nearby furniture store?

If you’re likely to choose the latter option, heed the advice of furniture sellers and interior designers: Take your time. New upholstered pieces can take a large bite out of your wallet, and you’ll probably be living with them for several years. So it’s wise to give some thought to a number of criteria before you even enter a store.

Wendy Flynn, co-owner of Drean House Furniture & Design in Downtown Frederick, finds that a client’s answers to “questions about lifestyle and how the room is used can be a good start” in the selection process. She wants to know if there’s a television involved, whether the family has pets, how many people will typically sit there, if the room is for family gatherings or for entertaining guests. Color preferences come into play as well.

Casey Koester, assistant manager at Wolf Furniture’s Frederick location, says her staff takes a similar approach. “We also want to know what’s already in the room, the wall and flooring colors, and whether the customer likes to sit up straight or curl up on the sofa or chair. … Sometimes we even plot out where the dog will sit.”

Shoppers must often work around existing furnishings—a rug, Great-Aunt Millie’s vintage rocker, a piece of art. The Dream House staff might ask a customer to bring in a pillow or chair arm cover. A photo of the room provides helpful insight. If there’s nothing in the room yet, they might ask the customer to react to pictures of rooms and try to drill down to exactly what they like or don’t like about them.

From there, says Flynn, they suggest fabrics. “If we find it’s difficult to give good advice, we offer our design services to go to the home and get a better look and feel for what the client needs.”

“Room dimensions are the Holy Grail,” says Wolf Furniture’s Koester. With these numbers in hand, staff can begin to identify the appropriate sofa and chair sizes and use the store’s room-design application to “plug in pieces, rearrange them and look at room flow.”

Koester identifies quality as the typical customer’s top priority. “Almost always, they’ve owned something that didn’t last the way they’d hoped. Even young millennials, the so-called ‘throwaway generation,’ are willing to sacrifice the wait time and spend more to get furniture that’s higher quality.”

Then there’s the matter of budget. Koester suggests creating a whole-room budget that includes upholstery, case goods, rug, lighting and window treatments—essentially everything you need to complete the room. With that number in hand, you’re able to ballpark price tags for each piece and perhaps go high on investment items like the sofa and go low on the end tables and chairs. At Wolf, that direction might lead first to a classic American-made sofa from Smith Brothers, for instance, and then to a trendy $499 accent chair from another manufacturer.

Dream House represents high-end furniture lines such as C.R. Laine. For customers who can’t buy everything at once, staff keeps their selections on file so they can budget their purchases over time. Flynn advises that paying a designer to help with a space can actually be a savings because it prevents costly mistakes.

Now, before you commence your shopping mission, prepare to be overwhelmed by the vast array of fabrics, frames, arms, legs, backs, fillings and details available in upholstered furniture today. As you browse, you’ll see sofas whose looks you love but price tags you don’t, fabrics that draw the eye but are scratchy to the touch, over-stuffed frames that you sink into but can’t get out of without a crane, and a darling tufted chair that seems so sweet but would clash with Great-Aunt Millie’s rocker.

And suddenly there it is: The ideal sofa, right next to two flawlessly paired chairs. Downright comfy. Perfectly priced.

Order it. All of it. Then go home, kick back and imagine how fabulous your room will look in eight weeks or so when it’s all delivered. That will be about the same time the mosquitoes have disappeared, the evenings are delightfully cool once again and the humidity is reaching new lows. Just the right time of the year to enjoy the patio.