You can sink a lot of money into furniture. If you dont buy carefully,
you can spend too much, wind up with defective products or months-late
delivery, have to live with items you hate, or get stuck with furniture
that doesnt hold up.
We found big quality differences among area stores. Some stores were rated
superior for the advice provided by their staff by 80 percent or more
of their surveyed customers; others received superior ratings from 40
percent or fewer. Some stores were rated inferior for reliabilitystanding
behind products, delivering on time, etc.by 20 percent or more of their
surveyed customersa big red flag for possible headaches ahead.
Comparing prices is difficult because many retailers sell items that arent
available elsewhere; and its unusual to find the same national brands
sold by more than one or two retailers. But there are steps you can take
to get good prices. One proven strategy is to ask independent stores to
bid competitively for your business.
But before you begin shopping, make a general plan of what will fit your
space, set a budget, determine how the furniture will be used, and decide
how long you expect it to last.
Our list of signs to look for will help you make a general assessment of
Different stages in life require different kinds of furniture. Theres
the post-college-futon period, that gives way to the pre-marriage-pressed-wood
period, followed by the dont-get-anything-too-nice-the-kids-will-destroy-it
period, and, finally, the-kids-are-finally-gone-lets-get-something-we-actually-like
period. Regardless of your current furniture stage, youll want to buy
from a business that makes your transaction go smoothly.
Although buying furniture should be a straightforward purchase, CHECKBOOK
receives an inordinate number of complaintsand poor ratingsfrom customers
of many stores. We too often hear about incompetent and indifferent salespersons,
defective items, pieces that wear out quickly, longoften very longdelivery
delays, and delivery of wrong items. Add that its a hassle to compare
prices and furnishing your home can become a major headache.
Fortunately, some furniture stores make shopping easy. These stores are
staffed by helpful and knowledgeable salespersons who provide appropriate
advice and place accurate orders; offer high-quality products; deliver
items when promised, using careful and courteous personnel; and quickly
step in to make things right when something goes wrong.
Our ratings of area stores, on our Ratings Tables, should help you
separate the good from the bad. We also offer practical advice for choosing
the right products and making sure you get what you pay for from any store.
Most of us have made unwise furniture purchases that a bit of planning
would have prevented.
Start by sketching out various arrangements, possibly making to-scale cutouts
representing different pieces and moving these cutouts around the sketch.
Or move real furniture around the room, using tape to mark where new furniture
would go. Another option is room-planning software, which is available
for free at many furniture store websites. Some software lets you place
specific items in the room, choose different wall colors and floor coverings,
and examine various upholstery options.
As you think about decorating your space, ask yourself several questions
What is your budget? Knowing what you can afford eliminates some options.
How will you use the furniture? Do you want an elegant sofa for formal
entertaining or something more casual for the family? Will pets and active
children be around? Do you need a convertible sofa bed or just a couch?
How long do you expect to keep the furniture? Will you soon be moving to
a larger or a smaller home? Will you have children? Will your children
be going away to college?
What existing pieces of furniture will you keep? Are there items youre
fond of but could live without, and others youd never part with?
Are there limits on what can fit through your doors and hallways or staircases?
Also think about color. Youll want colors that you like, work together
and with existing furnishings (and with furnishings in other rooms), are
practical, and contribute to the desired mood for the room (bright, sunny
colors, for example, for a room lacking natural light).
Think about style. Do you prefer contemporary or traditional furniture?
Stuffed, upholstered chairs or leaner lines? High-tech finishes, dark wood
Victorian reproductions, or bright country styles? An elegant, formal look
or something more casual?
To help your planning, look at what others have done. Buy home decorating
magazines, look at websites and catalogs from furniture manufacturers and
stores, go on showcase house tours, and visit open houses at houses for
Though seeing and reading are very helpful, you may want an expert for
suggestions and answers. One type of expert is an interior designer; see
below for more on that option. Or rely on salespersons at top-rated furniture
stores. Our ratings of area furniture stores will help you find sources
for adviceand furniture stores that sell quality products, deliver on
time, and fulfill their obligations.
At some furniture stores, well-informed, helpful staff make shopping pleasant
and guide you to good choices. They quote accurate delivery time-frames,
goods arrive as promised, and store management makes sure you get the results
you expect. But subscribers send us an alarming number of complaints about
abysmal furniture-shopping experiences, from unhelpful sales staff to long
delivery delays to receiving damaged or defective merchandise. Some stores
compound customers woes by refusing to make things right or establishing
unreasonable return policies.
A lot can go wrong. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to avoid
common furniture-buying pitfalls.
We gathered ratings of furniture stores by surveying area consumers (primarily
CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers). Our Ratings Tables show
the ratings of area stores for which we received at least 10 ratings. (Our
customer survey and other research methods are described here.)
At stores rated highly for advice, you can expect to get helpful interior
design suggestions plus prompt and full answers to questions without excessive
sales pressure. Stores with high ratings for ease of looking at/testing
products can be expected to have well-designed showrooms that enhance
the value of a good sales staff.
Our Ratings Tables also show customer survey ratings on reliability
(standing behind products, doing what was promised, etc.) and promptness
of servicetwo aspects of quality possibly related to serious inconvenience
or other problems. Some stores were rated either adequate or superior
for reliability by 80 percent or more of their surveyed customers, but
others received inferior ratings from 20 percent or more of their surveyed
For firms that were evaluated in our last full, published article, our
Ratings Tables also show counts of complaints we gathered from the
Consumer Protection Division of the Washington Office of the Attorney General
for a recent three-year period. For more information on reported complaint
counts, click here.
One major category of furniture-related consumer complaints is damaged
or defective goods. You can avoid such problems by choosing highly rated
stores and dealing with them in a businesslike fashion.
Some faults are immediately apparentscratched tables, poorly matched upholstery,
improperly shaped cushions. Others, like fading upholstery or poorly glued
chair legs, materialize only over time.
Except for makers of recliners, sofa beds, and other items with mechanical
parts, furniture manufacturers seldom offer warranties directly to the
consumer. Unlike TVs and refrigerators, new furniture arrives with no warranty
statement. Manufacturers often offer or imply promises, or warranties,
to their authorized retailers, but even these are not generally put in
Manufacturers typically expect their retailers to be the point of contact
with consumers. Retailers are expected to inspect items and arrange for
repairs. In many cases, a retailers own service department or an independent
furniture repair shop working for the retailer can make repairs and bill
the manufacturer. While local service obviously is quickest and easiest
for everyone, some items have to be returned to the factory for repair
or replacement. For questionable cases, many manufacturers have local representatives
whom retailers can call in to authorize repair or replacement.
When furniture stores go out of businessa regular occurrence in recent
yearsthe more responsible manufacturers usually step in to back their
furniture, possibly arranging for another retailer or independent repair
shop to make repairs. If your retailer is still in business but unresponsive,
the manufacturer, to maintain its own reputation, might help you apply
pressure on the retailer or help you directlybut the manufacturer is under
no legal obligation to do so.
Most retailers offer their own standard warranty but, in our experience,
do not put this warranty in writing.
Since customers seldom have legal rights against manufacturers, you need
a retailers warranty to have a legal leg to stand on. Even if your retailer
can recover repair or replacement costs from the manufacturer, the retailer
may be more interested in selling furniture than in following through with
service. Youll be more comfortable if you have a legal basis for forcing
action. Furthermore, not all manufacturers are equal, and you may not know
much about the reliability of the companies that make pieces you like.
So you want a retailer that will come through even if it cant recover
costs from the manufacturer.
Its very likely that you can claim an implied warranty of merchantability,
or possibly even an expressed warranty, based on something the retailer
has told you in person or in its advertising or based on a floor sample
youve seen. But in the event of a dispute, life will be simpler if you
received a written warranty.
If your retailer does not offer a standard written warranty, ask the salesperson
to write onto your sales ticket warranty language similar to what appears
here. Or bring a copy of
that statement with you and ask the salesperson to sign it. When special
ordering upholstered furniture, find out whether the manufacturer guarantees
that the fabric pattern will match from base to seat to back (where manufacturers
often fall short). If it does, note it on the sales slip.
Although we recommend getting your rights stated in writing, we feel less
strongly about written language on warranties than about other types of
language discussed belowbecause with furniture defects, legal rights are
not usually the main issue. In consumer complaints concerning such defects,
retailers generally acknowledge an obligation to provide defect-free goods.
Conflicts usually arise over whether the defect is material, whether it
was caused by the customer, and how quickly the retailer should act on
You can take several steps to minimize problems
Inspect furniture when its delivered. If it is defective, it may be wise
to reject it. But if the defect is minor, you may be better off calling
the store to discuss it. Note the defect on the delivery slip; and thenwith
the stores approvalkeep the item until a replacement arrives.
If you discover a defect after delivery, notify the retailer at once. The
longer you delay, the more likely the retailer is to accuse you of causing
Communicate your complaints to the retailer in writing. If the retailer
is slow, youll have a record of how long youve been trying.
If a piece is defective but usable, and your retailer agrees to let you
keep it until a new piece arrives, make sure the retailer agrees in writing
to provide a replacement.
Take at least as much care to avoid the second major category of furniture-buying
problems: delays in delivery.
Delay problems occur most often when the retailer has to special order
your furniture. When a special order is placed, the manufacturer frequently
does not have the item in stock and cant ship until after the next production
run of the item, called the next cutting. On top of this, there may be
extensive shipping delays because so much furniture is now manufactured
overseas. For upholstered furniture, along with waiting for the item to
be manufactured you may suffer additional delays waiting for the upholstering
and for the manufacturer to obtain fabric from the fabric maker.
Although these delays are annoying, furniture manufacturers point out that
their products would cost even more if they maintained large inventories
of scores of different models, or if they kept machines ready to produce
all models on demand. Since youre not going to change the industry, you
have to decide whether you want an item enough to wait for it or to accept
what the retailer has in stock.
If you do special order, make sure you dont have a vacant spot in your
roomand your money tied upwhile the retailer sits on your order. Also,
if youve been promised delivery in three months but the wait turns out
to be twice that long, you want to know as soon as possiblenot after three
monthswhen the item doesnt arrive. Most manufacturers send retailers
order acknowledgments stating estimated delivery dates within three weeks
or so of receiving an order; ask the retailer to tell you if the manufacturer
has promised a later date than you initially were told. Moreover, if the
delay will be substantially longer than the initial estimate, make sure
you can cancel and order something you can get sooner. In short, you want
a retailer that
Gives you a realistic estimate of delivery time before you place your order;
Orders promptly and requests a delivery date from the manufacturer;
Lets you know as soon as it knows that delivery will be later than initially
Lets you cancel, if you wish, at the time the longer-than-estimated delivery
delay is discovered.
Most retailers say they follow these steps routinely, and no doubt many
do. But complaints from our subscribers and to consumer agencies amply
demonstrate that some dont.
To minimize delivery problems, get your retailer to sign a copy of the
second paragraph of this form.
It imposes on the retailer a legal obligation to follow a reasonable set
of steps to improve communication. Your retailer may react with surprise
at such a requestor perhaps suspect that youre some kind of troublemaker.
Dont worry; just press for a signatureand if you feel awkward say CHECKBOOK
made you do it.
Of course, department and chain stores may be so bureaucratic that a salesperson
will be afraid to sign such a statement. If so, youll have to decide whether
to rely on the stores concern for its goodwill.
Although a retailers promise wont make good service happen, a few other
steps on your part will help.
First, put down as small a down payment as possible. Some retailers expect
you to pay in full when you place a special order, and most expect partial
payment in advanceusually between 20 and 50 percent. The less you pay
up-front, the more eager the retailer will be to complete the transaction.
Second, if you havent heard from the retailer three or four weeks after
ordering, call and ask whether the manufacturers acknowledgment has come
in and whether the initially estimated delivery date is still valid.
Third, if you are told of an unexpected delay and decide to cancel, notify
the retailer quickly so it can cancel the order. Once a manufacturer cuts
fabric or ships case goods, the retailer is obligated to pay for your merchandise.
If the retailer is on the line, it is likely to resist your efforts to
cancel and get your deposit backespecially if you could have, but didnt,
communicate your desire to cancel promptly.
No matter how well a retailer and manufacturer do their parts, you may
still dislike the furniture you get. This is a particular problem for special-ordered
merchandise. Some retailers may take back special-ordered items and sell
them as regular stock or clearance merchandise, but most wont. A returned
special-order item means a store is stuck with stocking an item it doesnt
want, doesnt have room to display, and cant easily sell to another customer.
But some stores will take back special-order items, as indicated on our
For items that you buy out of a stores current stock, returns should cause
no such difficulty. Our Ratings Tables show which retailers told us
they accept returns of regularly stocked furniture in original condition.
Keep in mind that furniture returns may be limited to a few days or weeks.
Also, some stores offer only store credit, and others charge restocking
If a retailer promises that youll be able to return an item, get the promise
in writing. Ask the retailer to write on your sales slip language similar
to the third paragraph of this form,
or bring a copy of that paragraph and ask the salesperson to sign.
Some stores are more flexible than others on payment arrangements. Almost
all stores accept credit cards, and some offer their own charge accounts
(open-end, revolving credit). Both arrangements offer flexibility on timing
your payments and, under the Fair Credit Billing Act, in many cases allow
you to refuse payment for unsatisfactory or undelivered merchandise. Other
stores offer financing through installment loans, promote special financing
terms under which interest is not calculated for a certain period or payments
are delayed, or have layaway plans. Unfortunately, store-sponsored financing
arrangements often impose very high interest rates.
A final consideration is the stores convenience services. Our Ratings Tables show which stores offer delivery and repair services, allow customers
to special order from catalogs and select from a variety of upholstery
fabrics, offer soil and stain treatment for upholstered furniture, and
offer interior design services in the customers home.
One reason price comparisons are extraordinarily difficult in the furniture
marketplace is that many products are sold exclusively by a single chain
or by only one or a few stores in any market region. Ethan Allen and IKEA,
for example, which are affiliated with a specific manufacturer or set of
manufacturers, dont carry lines from other manufacturers and dont let
other stores carry their lines. Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn, and some
other national chains and independent stores make price comparisons impossible
by altering brand names and styles from the names given by manufacturers.
At first glance, store advertisements and price tags may appear to provide
a basis for price comparison. Tags often list a regular price or ticket
price or some similarly denoted price, and then a sale or discounted
price. But comparing stores regular and discount prices is meaningless
because the concept of full or regular price means different things
in different stores. For many items, manufacturers dont state a list
price, and even when one is stated few stores sell at that price.
Another problem is that many stores dont list prices on their websites,
forcing their customers either to visit the stores or to call for prices,
thus making price comparisons time-consuming. On each firm's detailed ratings
page, we list their websiteand indicate if the website list prices.
The best way to compare prices among independent stores is through a competitive
bidding process. Although it might be difficult to find several local stores
that stock the exact item you want, stores that at least carry the same
furniture make may be able to order the item for you. Take the following
First, get the make, model/style number, and fabric grade or number (for
upholstered pieces) from a store which displays the item. Some stores try
to mask the needed information; price tags contain a hodgepodge of numbers
and include only code numbers to identify manufacturers. Although these
stores make comparison shopping difficult, you can usually identify manufacturers.
On upholstered pieces, look for tags under seat cushions; on desks, dressers,
and other non-upholstered items, manufacturers names often appear inside
If you cant easily determine an items make, model/style number, and fabric
grade or number, ask a salesperson. If necessary, explain that you want
this information so you can compare prices. If he or she refuses, decide
whether you want to do business with a store that fears such comparisons.
As a second step, call the manufacturer or check its website to confirm
that it is still making the model/style you want. Then ask the manufacturer
(or check its website) for names of retailers selling its products within
50 or 100 miles of your home.
Third, call each retailer and explain that you are conducting a competitive
bidding process to get the best possible price on the item. Invite each
retailer to quote you a priceincluding delivery costs.
If the prices quoted by other retailers are higher than the price at the
store where you started, you know the initial price was a good one. If
not, either buy from one of the other retailers or use their prices to
negotiate with the first store.
Unfortunately, this competitive bidding process may work only on moderate-
to high-priced items. In our experience, stores that sell budget or low-priced
items generally decline to bid.
When comparing prices of local stores, take into account their delivery
charges. Different stores have different ways of calculating delivery charges.
Some charge a flat fee regardless of the number or size of the items delivered;
others charge per piece, per pound, or per hour; and some waive delivery
charges on large orders.
Our shopperswithout disclosing their affiliation with CHECKBOOKcalled
furniture stores, including some outside the area, to obtain competitive
bids for several items (including delivery). Table 1 shows the price variation
we found for each item. In our experience, its not safe to assume that
a stores low price on one item means youll get low prices on others.
Table 1Low, Average, and High Bids Obtained Through Competitive Bidding
Process for Five Furniture Items
|Hooker entertainment console Brookhaven #281-55-459
|Riverside Castlewood table #33550
|Bernhardt Garbo cocktail table #536-11
|Kincaid Cherry Park end table #63-022
|Lane Darian sofa #740-30
|1 Prices include delivery and setup.
A much less precise way to choose a store that offers good value for the
money is to become a good judge of furniture quality by looking for the
quality features discussed later in this article and then making subjective
judgments as to whether a stores prices correspond to the quality of its
The customer survey ratings for prices, shown on our Ratings Tables,
are a compilation of subjective consumer judgments. Many of our customer
survey raters presumably have little or no expertise regarding product
quality and prices. But some do have a degree of expertise and considerable
experience in the market.
Some stores were rated superior for their prices by 50 percent or more
of their surveyed customers. Even for the stores that sell mostly moderate-
to high-priced furniture, our raters may have considered the prices justified
by the quality of the products sold.
Although the easiest way to get good prices is to shop at competitively
priced stores, other strategies can help.
Wait for sales. If something you like is not on sale, you can often have
the salesperson hold it for youthen close the deal during the next sale.
Look for items on clearance. The prices may be terrific, but be aware that
clearance items are often sold as is. Inspect them closely for defects.
Negotiate lower prices. This may be difficult (though sometimes possible)
at department stores or chains, but independent furniture stores are often
responsive, especially if you agree to buy a number of items.
Consider buying through an interior designer. Although this doesnt usually
get you low prices, it might if you can find a designer who (for a very
modest charge) will order for you and pass along his or her discount. (See
discussion of designers below.)
Whatever styles you choose and prices you find, you need to make sure you
get the quality you pay for. By choosing a store that is rated high for
advice and reliability and has few or no complaints with consumer agencies,
you improve your chances of getting honest assessments of the quality and
durability of pieces from store personnel. But it helps if you know enough
to make some assessments of your own.
Unfortunately, because there are no reliable ratings of the many thousands
of furniture items found in stores, you have to do your own product inspection
and testing on the spot in each store. Though you may not be able to afford
the highest quality furniture, youll need to make sure lower quality items
are priced accordingly. The signs of quality described here may at first
sound a bit abstract, but as you visit a number of stores and look at many
pieces of furniture youll get a feel for quality. There are two broad
categories of furniture: upholstered goods and case goods, which include
tables, desks, dressers, cabinets, and other items that are not upholstered.
Each category has its own indicators of quality.
Many signs of upholstered furniture quality are easy to observe. Indeed,
the most important indicator is comfortwhich you can test by sitting on
a piece for a few minutes. But to check some aspects of an items underlying
construction, youll have to ask the retailer for a manufacturers catalog
or other materials that describe, or show, whats inside.
Arms should not wobble.
The frame of a sofa or loveseat should be rigid, and not creak or sag when
you lift one corner off the floor.
The best frame construction consists of solid pieces of kiln-dried hardwoods.
The pieces of wood forming the frame should be joined with dowelswooden
pegs that connect pieces inserted into holes drilled in the end of each
Corners of the frame should be reinforced with corner blocks that are glued
and screwed into place.
Springs and Padding
The entire frame should be covered with padding so that you dont feel
hard corners on the arms, seat back, or front edge of the area under the
seat cushion. This padding contributes to both comfort and appearance,
and greatly reduces wear.
Padding should have no lumps or uneven places.
An excellent construction for the seat beneath the cushions consists of
hand-tied coiled springs. For the most firm and even response when you
sit, springs should be tied to each other eight waysthat is, with twine
tying each spring to the other springs or the frame in eight directions.
Although such construction is a sure sign of quality, there are other high-quality
Springs should not compress so much that you feel the hard surface of the
frame when you sit.
In the deck (the area beneath the seat cushions), springs should be covered
Reversible cushionscushions that can be removed and turned overare best
because they provide a second surface if the first becomes dirty or worn.
The most common filler for high-quality furniture cushions consists of
solid pieces of high-density (at least 1.8 pounds per cubic foot) foam.
Springs, down, and synthetic down-like materials also are sometimes used
in high-quality pieces. Cushions filled with shredded foam dont maintain
their shape as well and allow upholstery seams to shift.
The foam, or spring core, should be wrapped with a layer of polyester fiberfill
or similar product to soften edges and improve wear.
Beneath the upholstery, each cushion should be covered with a fabric liner,
Cushions should fit snugly side-by-side and within the frame.
The best fabric is tightly woventhe more threads per square inch the better.
Threads should not slip or separate under pressure, and backing should
not show through.
Woven-in patterns are generally preferable to patterns printed on only
one side. Printed fabric is unacceptable if the print comes off when you
rub two surfaces together.
Fabric pilling may be a problem if bits of fabric come loose when you rub
a piece of upholstery with an eraser.
Treatment with Scotchgard, Teflon, or similar protectors helps fabrics
Fabric should fit tightly around the underlying frame and padding.
Seams and welting (round trim composed of fabric-covered cord) should
be straight and cleanly finished, with no loose threads or irregularities.
Buttons should be securely sewn into place.
Better-quality cushions are zippered at the back (but dont remove the
covers, as this will ruin them).
Patterns and stripes should be centered and match at seams.
Patterns and stripes should line up from skirt to base to cushion to seat
back. If you are ordering custom upholstery, find out whether the manufacturer
guarantees such alignment.
Matching arm covers will add to the life of a piece.
It is somewhat easier to judge the quality of case goods than of upholstered
items because its easier to see how they are constructed.
Drawers should fit snugly, and open and close effortlesslyeven when you
push or pull from the right or left end of the drawer. Good-quality drawers
have glides either underneath in the center or on both sides.
The sides of high-quality drawers are joined to the front and back with
dovetail joints (one piece fits into a series of flared slots on the other
piece). Avoid drawers in which the side pieces are just butted up against
the front and back.
Side and back panels of drawers should be made of wood at least a half-inch
Drawer bottoms should slip into grooves in the drawers sides. The bottoms
should be strong enough so they dont give significantly when pushed down.
The insides of drawers should be smooth, with nothing to snag fabrics.
Dust panels between drawers are a sign of quality. Although many quality
pieces lack this feature, dust panels add strength to the furniture and
keep clothes from getting snagged.
Furniture should be constructed with stops to prevent drawers from being
accidentally pulled out too far.
Test drawers to make sure they are real, not false fronts.
Doors, Top Lids, and Flip Tops
Doors and other hinged pieces should swing smoothly and quietly, close
easily, and latch snugly.
Insides of doors should be finished.
Inset glass panels should fit tightly so they dont rattle.
Long cabinet doors should be hung on piano hinges that run the full length,
or nearly the full length, of the door.
Furniture should not wobble or rock.
Legs are usually stronger if built into the frame, not merely attached
In high-quality chairs, the arm and leg or back and leg are made out of
a continuous piece of wood (though this isnt possible with some styles).
Stretchers (pieces of wood connecting two legs near the floor) add strength.
The finish should feel smooth to the touch and contain no cracks or bubbles.
There should be no deposits of excess glue and no streaks or areas in which
excess finish material has collected.
Grain patterns and coloration should be similar on all drawers and doors,
and should blend with other areas.
Joints should be tight, with no visible space or filler material.
Hardware should be substantial, have no rough or jagged spots, and be firmly
bolted from the inside.
In better cabinets, desks, and chests, the back panel is inset and screwed
into place, not just nailed or tacked on the back.
Joints that receive stress should be strengthened with corner blocks.
Dining room table leaves should be easy to insert, fit flush, and match
the tabletop. If the table has an apron, leaves should have aprons.
Large pieces should be fitted with leveling devices.
There have always been mail-order alternatives to local furniture stores,
and now most of those outlets have made a transition to the Web. The existence
of numerous out-of-town shopping options benefits shoppers by applying
downward pressure on local independent retailers.
The only compelling reason to buy via the Web is price. But as Table
1 shows, local retailers quoted our shoppers prices
roughly equivalent toand often belowprices on the Web when delivery costs
were added. (Delivery from Web-based sellers often costs $150 to $200 for
large pieces; local stores generally charge less than that, and sometimes
Along with the lack of a price advantage, consider other possible drawbacks:
There will always be a delay. Not only will shipping itself take time,
but there is usually a delay while the seller special orders your items.
Of course, theres also a delay on special orders from local retailers,
but many local stores stock substantial quantities of merchandise that
can be delivered in a week or less.
Because it probably wont have anyone in the area to inspect the furniture,
it may be difficult to convince an out-of-town Web-based store that you
received a defective product. You can send pictures or call in an independent
appraiser, but it still may be difficult to force a remedy. Because Web/mail-order
companies are not likely to have repair capabilities in the area, you may
have to pay shipping and give up the piece to have repairs made. (For minor
repairs, the seller might let you use a local repair service and pay the
bill.) And if you must go to court, youll probably have to travel to the
location of the Web-based store.
If an item is damaged during carriage by an independent van line or freight
carrier, you wont know whether the carrier caused the damage or if it
was present before the carrier received the item. If neither company accepts
responsibility, youll be left in the middle, trying to force one or the
other to make amends.
If there are long delivery delays and the seller wont return your deposit,
you might have to file suit in the location of the Web/mail-order outlet.
Some Web-based stores offer delivery only via freight carrier. Goods might
be deposited in your front yard or driveway, leaving you to carry them
into your home and unpack them. For an extra fee, many stores do offer
white glove delivery, which includes unpacking, assembly, and placement
in the home.
If you decide to order from a Web/mail-order retailer, here are a few suggestions
Have your furniture shipped by a van line that will pack it blanket-wrapped
after the seller has inspected it and place it where you want it in your
homeassembling the items, if necessary. This way you can inspect before
Order from a store that accepts deposits of no more than 30 percent of
the purchase price when you place your order, and pay no more until the
store tells you the item is ready to ship. The smaller the deposit the
more leverage you have for obtaining prompt service and the lower your
risk if disputes arise or the company goes bankrupt.
Before submitting your deposit, send the seller a written notice that includes
the first two clauses in the box on this form
(regarding warranty coverage and promptness of delivery);
have the seller sign both clauses and return the paper to you.
Pay by credit card. If there is a problem, youll have the option of disputing
the transaction with your credit card issuer.
If the job of decorating your homenot only with furniture but with floor
and wall coverings, artwork, and other elementsseems too big for your
available time, know-how, or artistic talent; if you want the benefit of
someone elses ideas; or if you want access to furniture choices available
through wholesale showrooms not open to the public; consider using an interior
You can use a designer employed by a store or hire an independent designer.
You can hire a designer for the whole job, from developing a design concept
to purchasing and supervising installation of the furnishings. Or you can
hire one for a two- or three-hour consultation to provide new ideas and
perspectives. But even if you hire a designer for the full job, you can
remain thoroughly involved. Youll need to meet with the designer regularly
to review plans, fabric samples, proposed furniture pieces, and other design
The cost of hiring a fully trained independent designer to redo a living
room (including furniture plus design fee) is typically more than $20,000.
But it can cost considerably more or considerably less depending on room
size, quantity and quality of items purchased, and other factors. Although
some independent designers wont accept clients who arent prepared to
spend in this range, others are willing to work with much more limited
budgets, and most understand that you might want a plan now and spread
out actual purchases over many months.
Although some store-based designers offer limited service, some provide
fairly extensive services, including drawing floor plans, advising on color,
and ordering furniture. Different stores design departments use different
payment formulas. At some stores, you pay a small design fee, which is
returned in full if furniture purchases exceed a certain dollar amount.
You purchase items through the designer at the stores current prices,
including sale prices. At other stores, design departments may charge on
a per-hour basisor charge a flat fee for a consultation and additional
hourly fees for other tasks, such as writing up purchase specifications.
Stores may waive the fee if your purchase is large enough. Since arrangements
vary so widely, check with stores to find what services they offer and
how they charge.
On the detailed ratings page for each firm, on our Ratings Tables we
list if the store offers in-home design services.
Independent designers also charge according to a variety of formulas. A
few charge no explicit fee but retain the difference between the discounted
price they pay for your furnishings and the retail pricetypically double
what the designer pays. More commonly, designers charge a flat fee or hourly
fee, and may also add a markup to the items purchased.
Because the client pays one way or another, we favor an arrangement in
which all or most of the designers compensation is based on a flat fee
or hourly rate. Such arrangements make the cost explicit, dont incentivize
designers to encourage you to spend more than necessary, and avoid the
tension that can arise if you spend less than the designer anticipated.
Despite the discounts designers can get, buying through a designer means
you will probably spend more than if you bought the same products on your
own at one of the areas best-priced storeseven if the designer charges
on a fee basis and passes along his or her discount.
To get the most for your money from a designer, choose the person carefully.
Start by soliciting recommendations from friends whose taste you admire
or from homeowners whose furnishings you admire when you take house tours.
Also check the Neighbor-to-Neighbor reviews of interior designers
from CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers.
You can also receive referrals from the American Society of Interior Designers
(ASID) by visiting www.asid.org. ASID membership is a meaningful credential.
Full Professional Members must complete an exam that lasts more than
10 hours and includes both written and practical components. Before taking
the exam, a designer must meet specified standards. For example, one basis
for eligibility is completion of a four- or five-year college degree program
with a major in interior design plus two years of experience.
Meet with any designer you are considering. Talk about your lifestyle,
needs, and tastes. If you dont feel comfortable enough with the designer
to talk about budget limitations and occasionally reject his or her suggestions,
then this is not the person for you. Ask to see samples of the designers
workeither photographs or, better still, the homes themselves.
Be specific about your total budget and discuss the designers fees. Its
reasonable to negotiate fees.
Finally, compose a letter of agreement spelling out your understanding
of the specific services the designer will perform (which rooms will be
furnished, whether shopping is included, and whether tradespeople will
be supervised), how fees will be calculated, and whether the designer will
retain any portion of the actual price paid for purchased items.
State and Local Government Consumer Agencies
Delaware Office of the Attorney General
Consumer Protection Unit
820 North French Street
Carvel State Building
Wilmington, DE 19801
New Jersey Office of Consumer Protection
124 Halsey Street
P.O. Box 45025
Newark, NJ 07101
1-800-242-5846 or 973-504-6200
Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General
Bureau of Consumer Protection
14th Floor, Strawberry Square
Harrisburg, PA 17120
800-441-2555 or 717-787-9707
Burlington County Consumer Affairs
49 Rancocas Road, 3rd Floor
Mount Holly, NJ 08060
Camden County Consumer Protection
Jefferson House, Lakeland Road
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Gloucester County Consumer Protection
254 County House Road
Clarksboro, NJ 08020
Philadelphia Regional Office of the Bureau of Consumer Protection
21 South 12th Street, 2nd Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Better Business Bureaus
Better Business Bureau of Delaware
60 Reads Way
New Castle, DE 19720
Better Business Bureau of New Jersey
1700 Whitehorse-Hamilton Sq. Road
Trenton, NJ 08690
Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Pennsylvania
1880 JFK Boulevard #1330
Philadelphia, PA 19103