By Gabrielle Savoie,
We would never mess with our water conduits without hiring a plumber or knock down a load-bearing wall without getting our plans approved by an architect. We hire specialists because as experts, they can foresee problems we can’t – and investing in furniture shouldn’t be different.
Before dropping serious cash, consulting a designer prevents buyer’s remorse, which can be all too real when a sofa doesn’t fit through the front door, or the marble table we spent rent money on is stained and scratched after a hard realization that we are not, in fact, marble people. Designers, after all, have navigated decor showrooms and trade fairs enough times to make quick and informed decisions on virtually any piece of furniture you want.
But since we can’t all afford to consult an interior designer on every shopping trip, nor rack up the historical knowledge of one, we’ve culled the 12 questions an interior designer always asks before saying yes to a new piece. Get ready to become a seasoned furniture buyer with these expert tips from top-notch interior designers.
Will you still love this item in 10 years?
James Wheeler of J. Wheeler Designs says, “It’s important to ask yourself this question, because it can help to align money in your budget with the pieces that count.” While some pieces that are made to fit a specific space in your house might warrant less of an investment, it’s usually better to buy fewer, more versatile pieces of higher quality so they can move with you from house to house. Interior designer Ken Kehoe suggests assessing its trendiness. Ask yourself, Is it a timeless piece, and can I live with it for the long haul?
Can you use this for multiple purposes?
Whether a piece is multifunctional or can easily transition from one home to the next has a huge impact on decision-making, especially when deciding to save or splurge. “Naturally not all pieces will pass this test,” says Wheeler, “but where possible, try to find big pieces that can serve double duty as it will lengthen the life of the item and save you money in the long run.”
Is This Piece Proportional to the Room?
It’s easy to fall in love with a piece that you desperately want to squeeze into your home at any cost, but Caitlin Murray of Black Lacquer Design says to “ensure that there is enough space between items to walk around.” Sound advice. She says that means leaving three feet around every piece of furniture, especially in high-traffic areas (think living rooms and dining rooms). Also, make sure that the pieces feel proportional to each other. You don’t want your coffee table dwarfed by a too-large sofa.
Is it in a color that will complement your home?
“Interiors don’t need to be matchy-matchy,” says Murray, “but picking something that works within your existing color palette will ensure a cohesive, elevated look.” Look for analogous tone-on-tone options or complementary colors that work well together. When in doubt, stick to neutrals!
Would a custom alternative be better?
It’s surprising how bespoke furniture often costs the same or even less than store-bought counterparts. “If you fall in love with something that’s just slightly off for your space due to material, color, or size, it’s worth looking into whether a local fabricator can tailor-make the perfect piece to your exact specifications,”
How long do you want this piece to last?
It’s perfectly OK to buy a piece of furniture to last only a few years, especially if you’re prone to moving frequently or if you just want your furniture to survive your children’s messiest years. But if you’re ready to invest in a piece that will go the distance, really take the time to investigate the quality and longevity of your purchase. “Spending $2000 vs. $1000 on a sofa could mean many more years of use,” says Jaclyn Joslin of Coveted Home.
How often do you want to fluff the cushions?
Here’s a quick designer trick for you: “While down cushions are plush and cozy, they’ll need to be fluffed after every use to maintain shape and loft,” advises Joslin. If constantly fluffing pillows is not your speed, opt for synthetic alternatives that will keep their shape.
Are you falling into a trend trap?
Trends: We love them, hate them, and love to hate them. Just like with catchy pop songs, it usually takes a few months of foresight to truly know whether the cool new trend you can’t seem to get enough of will truly become one of your classics, so don’t rush into purchasing a trendy piece. “Live with the idea of the piece,” recommends Joslin, “and if you still love it after a week, make the investment.”
How many people do you want to entertain?
Considering your space when planning a dining room is important, but so is knowing exactly how many people you want to be able to accommodate at your table. For instance, if your room is small but you love throwing huge dinner parties, consider a round dining table with extension panels you can use when entertaining. Alternatively, if your room is large but you don’t foresee hosting many dinner parties, opt for a smaller table and use the rest of the space for another purpose.
Will this fit through your front door?
This can be the Achilles heel of many an unsuspecting furniture customer, especially in larger cities, where living quarters are small and elevators old. When purchasing a big piece of furniture, always look for a clearance measure or ask the sales rep. This will usually involve measuring all doors, hallways, and clearance length between all interior and exterior walls. The last thing you want is to wait eight weeks for your custom sofa to arrive, only to realize that it will not fit through your front door.
How much can you actually spend on this piece?
This goes back to how long you want to keep a piece of furniture — but it also forces you to really take a hard look at your finances. Can you really spare $5,000 on that statement chair you’ve been eyeing for years? Can you buy it now, or should you save and wait a little longer? Being ruthlessly honest with yourself here will force you to stay on top of your budget. You might even get creative and find a better budget alternative!
Steve McKenzie of McKenzie Interior Design also suggests asking yourself whether this dramatic piece will complete a particular space. If it does, then maybe that one standout piece is worth the investment.
When do you need this to arrive?
Do you need a guest bed before your in-laws arrive in a few weeks? Are you hosting a dinner party for 12 in two short months? Some purchases are a little more urgent than others, so prioritize each piece and always check furniture lead times, as they can wildly vary from one store to another.
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