We shop for just about everything online these days. Books, groceries, clothes. If it doesn’t come from Amazon, odds are, we aren’t buying it. But what about furniture? Online shopping can be convenient and provides a wider variety of options for many people. On the other hand, it can be time consuming, confusing, and overwhelming. And what if you buy the wrong thing?
There are countless advantages to shopping locally, and if you can, I would definitely recommend it. There is nothing like sitting on a sofa to make sure it is just right. That said, many of us no longer have time to the search for the perfect piece. (Ahem. If this is your problem, I know where you can find someone to help you. Just saying.) One of the biggest benefits to online shopping is the ability to compare your options quickly. There are all sorts of online tools that are available to help you really think through all aspects of how your room will look. There are three major things to be aware of when shopping online: size, color, and quality. Let’s look at all three.
“On approval” used to be a big thing when I was a kid. Do you remember that? You could take something home (ok, so maybe it was your grandmother that took the thing home) to see how it really fit in your space. It isn’t so much a thing anymore as there are fewer and fewer independent furnishing stores. There are still showrooms in major cities, but typically, showrooms will not let you take pieces home. So how do you tell if something will fit in your house?
The first step to getting size right is to pay very close attention to the measurements provided online. Do they make sense? If a table lists its height as 24”, it won’t be for dining no matter what the label says because dining tables are typically about 30” high. You can google alternative pieces to get a sense of typical size and compare that to the piece you are shopping. This is especially important when shopping vintage or antique pieces online.
Will the piece actually fit through your door? Is the dresser going upstairs? Will it fit through the stair case? Most online furniture sellers show these dimensions so that you can plan accordingly.
Scale is a very important factor in furniture selection. Scale can also be very tricky. Is the coffee table you love 16” high? That may be perfect for your feet but too low for your guests to put their cocktail down. You may really want a sectional in your media room, but at 125”, it may not fit in the direction that you would like. Try a free floor planner (or draw the shapes out on graph paper) to see how the piece will fit in your space with your existing pieces. The best way to tell if a piece of furniture will fit in your space is a handy roll of blue painter's tape. Tape the floor where the piece will go and see how you feel with it there. You can also use boxes to estimate height.
We’ve been through this one before. Screens are very different. I once bought a rug online that was listed as “ivory”. It was definitely khaki. Always order a sample fabric or finish if it is available to you.
This is definitely the toughest piece. There are several things you can do to evaluate the quality of a piece if you are unable to visit a showroom or see it in person.
If the piece is new, is it from a reputable furniture maker? Are there reviews of the piece? Read them carefully just as you would before deciding what size dress to order. Sometimes people give horrible reviews because they didn’t read the dimensions. Sometimes people give good reviews before ever living with the piece. Read enough reviews to get a real feel for its quality and any issues you might expect.
Are there detailed photos of the piece? Can you tell what it is made of? Rug sellers often have close up photos of the fibers and bindings as well as identification of the rug material. Do your research on what type of fibers make sense for how you live (kids, pets, etc.) before purchasing a rug or upholstered piece of furniture. When looking at tables or dressers, can you tell how the piece is constructed? Is it made of plywood or hardwood? Do you have to assemble it or does it come already built? If the piece is used, vintage, or antique, are there close up photos of any wear? Does the seller have good reviews?
Price can be an indicator of quality but can also be misleading. I recently placed a $600 sofa in a home with a teen and a cat. The client was not convinced about this sofa. She was sure it was going to look cheap. But four months later, she is thrilled with the purchase because her cat hasn’t been able to scratch it. Will the sofa last forever? No. She also doesn’t need it to last forever. Know what void you are trying to fill with your furniture as you evaluate price and quality. Will the piece be temporary while your kids are sticky handed monsters or are you ready for something more permanent?
Perhaps the most important question to ask before shopping online for furniture is whether you can return the piece if it just doesn’t’ work. You may have done everything right - measured twice, lived with the fabric sample, read the reviews, compared similar products – but the piece just isn’t for you. That happens. If you can return the piece, you’ve lost nothing but shipping and your time. Not bad for the convenience of shopping in your pajamas.
Good luck with your search. If you are overwhelmed with the process or just stuck, I can help. Check out my e-design packages here.
P.S. Next week, we will be jumping into One Room Challenge, six weeks to transform one room. It is going to be a good time. Hope you will join me!