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Looking for Affordable Furniture? Here's Why you Might End up Compromising on Quality

Furniture industry grapples with quality decline in the era of mass production, leaving consumers facing financial challenges and trade-offs between affordability and durability
A family shops at the Ikea store | Getty Images | Photo by Stephen Chernin
A family shops at the Ikea store | Getty Images | Photo by Stephen Chernin

In the era of rising prices and rent, affordability often takes precedence and this has triggered a shift toward mass production at lower costs in the furniture industry. But this change that has taken place over a long period of time, has led to a decline in overall quality and a lack of 'repairability.' The result is that consumers are left with furniture that simply "dies" when it reaches the end of its lifespan.

Pexels | Photo by ATBO
Pexels | Photo by ATBO

The post-World War II expansion of the middle class triggered a demand for less expensive home furniture, driving manufacturers to adopt cost-effective materials. The introduction of plywood marked a turning point, followed by the rise of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) and particle board, each contributing to affordability but compromising on durability. To cut production costs further, furniture is increasingly shipped and sold in flat-packs, with some requiring self-assembly by customers.

However, every stage of cost-cutting comes with trade-offs, as Lemery points out: "The more that it breaks down into small pieces, the quality is going to be less, period, end of story." What has been lost in this race for affordability is the "repairability" of furniture, leaving consumers with limited options when their pieces reach the end of their usable life.

While the adage "you get what you pay for" holds in the furniture industry, financial constraints often lead consumers to prioritize affordability over durability. The rise of direct-to-consumer models further emphasizes aesthetics and trends, making price tags a significant factor in purchasing decisions.

Unsplash | Photo by Michael Warf
Unsplash | Photo by Michael Warf

Despite the challenges posed by mass production and cost-cutting measures, consumers seeking quality furniture can still make informed choices. Mark Koehler, CEO of the Home Furnishings Association, emphasizes the importance of research in finding durable pieces. Examining construction details, such as dovetail drawers in dressers, can reveal the craftsmanship of the furniture. Checking whether the furniture is made from solid wood or particle board under a veneer provides insights into its longevity.

When considering financing options for furniture purchases, certified financial planner Carolyn McClanahan advises consumers to ensure they are obtaining good value and, ideally, saving in advance. If the need arises to spread out the cost of a significant furniture piece, she recommends exploring no-interest financing deals from reputable retailers or manufacturers.

Another avenue for financing furniture is the Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) program, akin to purchasing household appliances. This approach allows consumers to distribute the cost of a costly furniture piece into manageable monthly payments. But maintaining multiple BNPL commitments simultaneously can also create the risk of overextending financial resources.

In-store sales and financing options present an alternative for budget-conscious shoppers. Seasonal sales from furniture retailers often feature major discounts on select products. In-store financing choices, such as layaway programs or retail credit cards with deferred interest, are also available.

For those considering loans to finance their furniture purchases, personal loans can be a viable option, contingent on having decent credit. On the other hand, secured loans, which necessitate collateral, offer lower interest rates due to the presence of collateral.