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How to tell your superior furniture from the shoddy

When it comes to the world of furniture, it is important to focus on quality. Whether it is a dining table, armchair, or wardrobe, it needs to be able to stand up to the rigors of everyday use. Sadly, these days we are increasingly seduced by furniture that looks pretty on the outside, but after a couple of months’ use, we regret our purchase when it falls apart.

So what can we do to avoid costly mistakes when it comes to buying furniture? We aren’t made of money and we need to be sensible about the furnishings in our homes. That said, it’s our home – and we want it to look the best it can, even on a modest budget. Splashing out on priceless antiques or vintage classics is out of the question when money is tight, but sourcing really lovely furniture is possible when looking in the right place.

See the wood for the trees

Wooden furniture comes in three modes. Solid wood, which is heavier and the best quality, will cost more but generally features better craftsmanship. Veneered wooden furniture is constructed of cheaper quality timber, which is given surface layers of veneer to create an authentic-looking wooden finish. At the bottom end of the scale comes particle board and composite creations made from wood pulp, plastics, and basically all the poor quality offcuts – they can look quite good in the showroom but don’t expect longevity of use.

Assessing wooden furniture should be done in good light. Take a torch if it’s hard to see inside cupboards, for example. Avoid wooden furniture that is affixed at corners with glue, nails, or staples – look for proper carpentry joints as these signify quality and strength. Check that doors and drawers open and close smoothly and without snagging and that all handles and fixtures are well attached and do not wobble or spin uselessly.

Which soft furnishings?

Buying a sofa or armchair is an important investment because it gets a lot of use. As with wooden furniture, look for framed sofas with proper joinery. The frame should be constructed of hardwood, the best options being alder and oak – and if it’s kiln-dried, even better. Choose sofas or armchairs with solid wooden legs jointed to the chair. Take a seat and test it for comfort. Coiled or zigzag springs are both acceptable, but coiled give firmer support. Check that the cushions are firm and well-filled with removable, washable covers. Most modern furniture stores offer a range of comfortable seating in a huge range of styles, the general rule being, the more money it costs, the better it is. For extra support on a sofa, consider models that have central legs as this really helps with distributing weight and extending the life of the frame.

Whether it’s fabric or leather, upholstery needs to have good strong stitching at the seams and robust piping along the arms. For the ultimate in durability, top-grain leather is best – but it comes at a price. Good-looking alternatives made from tough, stain-repelling microfibres can look just as beautiful.

Any home is enhanced by superior furniture and by following these simple tips the shoddy stuff can be avoided.

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