News & Politics

2006 Great Home Design: Good Value

Is a $4,000 sofa better made than a $2,000 one? How to judge furniture--and a good value.

With hundreds of manufacturers offering thousands of products at scores of stores, it can be hard to get a fix on who offers good value for the money.

This take-along shopping guide is meant to help. What do phrases like “all wood” versus “solid wood” mean? Is “top grain” leather best? What can you expect in workmanship at the low end of the price scale, the middle, the top?

This guide will help you recognize a good buy no matter your budget; you can decide when it’s worth it to you to spend more. We’ve listed a generous handful of stores and brands that represent value at each price point.

Before heading to stores, you might browse company Web sites. They provide information that makes comparison shopping easier. At a store, don’t be shy about asking for complete product information; you may be surprised at the special-order features available even at big-box stores.

For more ideas click on the “furniture finder” button at, sponsored by the American Home Furnishings Alliance.



“All wood” construction usually means particleboard, fiberboard, and other engineered products covered with plastic or foil laminate to simulate wood grain. Watch for staples or bolts holding joints together—dovetailing is preferable—and for cardboard on cabinet backs and drawer bottoms.

Where to find it: Ikea, West Elm.


“Solid wood” means solid boards glued together. Wood veneer is commonly laid over solid wood—a construction technique at all price levels—and can take all sorts of stain, so furniture with a “cherry finish” may not be solid cherry. Be aware that softwoods like pine or cedar dent more easily than hardwoods like maple and oak. Sofa and chair frames at this price should be kiln-dried hardwood to resist warping.

Where to find it: Restoration Hardware, Crate & Barrel, Bassett Furniture Direct.


Natural wood grain, even on veneer, glows through a clear finish. Internal structures include dovetailed joints, solid blocks, and double dowels glued at corners and joints for extra strength. Visible surfaces are solid wood—backs, sides, and drawer interiors. Hardware may be customized.

Where to find it: Baker line at Baker, Kellogg Collection, and Colony House; Henredon brand at Danker Furniture and at Gallahans Home Furnishings; E.J. Victor at Urban Country; Artefacto.



Tabletops tend to be only 3/8-inch thick and prone to chips or cracking. Finished edges will be plain right angles, and glass will lack depth of color. May scratch.

Where to find it: Rooms to Go, Kmart.


Look for glass that’s 1/2- to 5/8-inch thick. A variety of edge finishes and surface treatments create interest—for example “broken edge,” “waterfall,” or “triple ogee” edge and crackle or frosted finishes.

Where to find it: Crate & Barrel; Charleston Forge brand at Shofer’s Furniture and Gallahans.


“The greener the better” for high quality—look for a deep green cast when inspecting glass from the side. Oval, serpentine, and free-form shapes are more commonly available at this price point.

Where to find it: Anora Collection at Anora Home; B&B Italia at Adlon.



Make sure all legs sit squarely on the floor and shake the frame to check stability. Often made of tubular rather than solid metal, furniture in the budget category may have legs that are bolted on rather than permanently attached—such legs can loosen. Joints may be unwelded, increasing the chance of rust.

Where to find it: Pier 1, West Elm.


Typically, you get sturdy hand-forged iron construction that lasts for years. There should be no gaps in any welding, and welds should be ground for smoothness so no burrs catch on clothing. Shelves or inserts should fit snugly.

Where to find it: Ethan Allen; Restoration Hardware; Charleston Forge line at Belfort Furniture, Colony House, and Gladhill Furniture.


Typically made of rustproof steel or cast aluminum. Powder-coat painted or brushed finishes are flawless. Any woven-textile components may have mildew inhibitors or sunlight blockers added for long life.

Where to find it: Minotti or Molteni at Contemporaria; Weiman Furniture line at Theodore’s; Brown Jordan line at Park Place and Mastercraft Interiors.



“Corrected” or “finished” leathers look good for a while but may not hold up to prolonged wear. “Top grain,” also used at this level, doesn’t necessarily mean top quality. A gentle scratch test with the back of a fingernail can reveal an especially thin finish.

Where to find it: Target, Rooms to Go.


Midgrade leathers can give years of serv­ice; many have sealants and pigments integrated deep down so that colors stand up to kids and pets. Expect a homey patina of wear to develop.

Where to find it: Crate & Barrel; Bernhardt Furniture at Haverty’s and Danker; Barcalounger at Urban Country, Hecht’s, and Storehouse.


Full-grain leather, also called aniline-dyed, is buttery soft and comes in a wide range of colors and finishes. There’s even leather with Spandex for sleek contemporary styling.

Where to find it: Natuzzi at Colony House and Scan; Poltrona Frau.



Drop-in springs or webbing under seats have a shorter lifespan than other assemblies. Foam cushions can make for a bouncy “sit.” Check that upholstery patterns match, that seams are straight. Zippered cushion covers are a plus for cleaning.

Where to find it: Ikea, Wal-Mart.


Eight-way hand-tied spring systems provide durability and seating support. Blends of natural and synthetic textiles look good and wear well; blends and microfiber stay cleaner than 100-percent natural fibers. Many retailers and manufacturers offer economical custom slipcovers.

Where to find it: Rowe Furniture at Sleep Sofa Distributor; Vanguard Furniture at IMI Furniture; Ethan Allen.


High-end construction doesn’t differ substantially from midlevel, but more detailing and fabric options allow for custom work. Luxurious down cushions feel good but require plumping to maintain shape; down-foam or down-blend cushions give more structure.

Where to find it: Ligne Roset; Mobili; Weiman Furniture at Townhouse Contemporary and Theodore’s.