28 March, 2021

Fast Furniture vs. Quality Furniture: Why Should You Care

The Impact of Fast Furniture

In recent years you may have read quite a bit about fast fashion and its impact on the world’s landfills, our wallets and the health and welfare of the workers who produce it. What is less read about is the impact of “fast furniture” on our world. According to the EPA 12 million tons of furniture end up in landfills each year in the US.
This hasn’t always been true. In the 1960’s Americans only put 2 million tons of furniture in landfills each year. The growth in waste has far outpaced the growth in population.
Many factors have gone into creating this waste including the difficulty of recycling complex pieces of upholstered furniture and mattress. But downward pressure on prices and the subsequent production of poor-quality furniture is a major factor.
Not only does poor quality furniture end up in landfills, but it's also frequently made of materials that have formaldehyde and other toxins in them impacting the indoor air quality of our homes and the health of our families.
In addition, it has a negative impact on our wallets. If you buy a sofa for $1000 that lasts 3 years and you need to replace it every three years for 30 years you may end up spending (considering inflation) $16,000 on one piece of seating. If you buy a quality sofa today with long-wearing, stain-resistant fabric for $6000 you may need to reupholster or replace the inserts but it is likely that will add up to $10,000 over 30 years. Which is the smarter long-term investment? Your own budget is one reason you should care about fast furniture vs. quality furniture
Quality tables, dressers, and other wood pieces have even more longevity and are easily refinished. When I was growing up, I can remember my parents saving to buy the dining table or living room furniture while we lived with hand-me-downs. I still have that dining table. After all the use of two growing families, it now needs refinishing, but we are talking about one refinishing between 1968 and 2021. Not bad. And all because they strove to buy the best quality that they could afford.

Where to find Quality Furniture

I often say to people that you are likely to know the quality differences in a car or a washing machine due to advertising and review organizations like Consumer Reports, but it can be hard to know where to go to get the best quality furniture for your budget.
Of course, working with a designer is one way to understand where to find quality furniture. Since sourcing quality pieces is something, we do day in and day out, we can help our clients navigate the ins and outs of quality, price, and budget.
If you are not working with a designer, I’ll let you in on a not-so-secret, secret! Most designers love to share their knowledge in their blogs so if you google “How to spot quality wood furniture” you will find a plethora of knowledge.
I will be writing some follow-up blogs here on quality upholstery, wood furniture, and rugs. If you don’t want to miss out on those posts be sure to subscribe to our blog from the sidebar to the right.
You can also take a browsing tour of a to-the-trade showroom or design center to look at furniture, sit in pieces and educate yourself on the look and feel of better-quality furniture. A visit to these places will help you understand the concept of fast furniture vs. quality furniture better.  Many showrooms welcome browsers or have a designer on call to guide you around.

Consider Alternate Resources for Quality Furniture

If you have budget restrictions or want to mix old and new furnishings to be even more sustainable in your choices,you must consider sources other than a furniture retailer.
One option is to shop vintage and consignment stores or estate sales.
Buying a good quality sofa, table, or dresser and refinishing or reupholstering it is a great option. Most furniture that was built decades ago in the US is going to be of better quality than an inexpensive “fast furniture piece” and you can change the look to make it yours.
Shop your relative’s homes and attics! If you have relatives who are downsizing and or have made changes to their homes over the years you might be surprised at the gems they have tucked away! I am in and out of attics and garages all the time that are loaded with great quality furniture my clients haven’t quite been able to part with and have no current use for. These pieces can be made yours with some restyling and repurposing. This is an example of choosing a strategy that helps you avoid getting caught in the fast furniture vs. quality furniture false dichotomy.
If you doubt my word, take a look at our blog on reupholstery.
Or see a before and after of some reupholstery projects to see how you can transform a piece of furniture.
We often work vintage or family pieces into the design of a home. This before and after is a great example of taking some slightly out-of-date pieces and giving them a new life. See the entire story of this living room here.

Remember “Fashion fades, style is eternal”

If you start your home with classic pieces that are good quality it is easy to update with reupholstery, refinishing and repurposing. The added bonus is that stylish and good quality furniture will that you no longer have a use for will easily find a home with someone else who will love it.
This recent update of a great room is a wonderful example. We reupholstered everything, except the two large sofas which were still in great shape and found new homes with family members.
Because of the substantial change to the color scheme the rugs also found new homes where they will give someone else joy. Because when you invest in quality the pieces that have great style you no longer need will stay out of the landfill and live on in another home.
And in the dining room of the same home, we recently updated but the same thing is true. The stylish table and chairs that have a timeless appeal went to live with someone else. We completely updated the room keeping the quality and still loved rug.

Comments on Fast Furniture vs. Quality Furniture: Why Should You Care
  1. Melissa says:

    Great post! Can’t tell you how many couches we’ve been through. We even tried once to rope the springs underneath the cushions when the spring wore out after 2 years. Wish we would have bought quality the first time.

  2. Sheri Bruneau says:

    This is such a great post, Lisa. The amount of furniture we have seen go to the landfill is actually sickening.

  3. Crystal Hackl says:

    Such great information on the reasons to choose quality… but my favorite part is the part where you show how beautifully a quality piece can be repurposed and upcycled to transform and update a room.

  4. Christie says:

    The before and after photos are amazing!! Always best to invest in quality pieces the first time around!

  5. Janet R Lorusso says:

    YES! This is SUCH an important message. And what great examples of refurbished pieces you have redone and reused!

    1. Deborah Main says:

      This is such an excellent post Lisa! I particularly like how you take the time to really explain the difference, the landfill issues, and the long-term consequences. Plus you have excellent examples. When I married in Austin, I shipped all the family antiques we had from the east coast. It was worth the expense cause all the furniture is solid heavy wood with incredible construction. To this day, I think we’ve only bought 2 sofas sets and a king bed. Even in our Airbnb the two dressers were my Grandmothers. We recently reupholstered my mother’s chair and ottoman with a timeless Kravet fabric for our new Living Room Salon. I love how you reupholster and breath new life into your clients pieces. Brava!!

  6. Mary Ann Benoit says:

    Such a great post on why it is important to buy quality. The landfill picture is very sad. What a waste.

  7. Amie Druehl says:

    Such a knowledgeable post. It’s so so true. Thank you for the reminder to keep looking for those vintage pieces! I loved looking at all the before and after reupholstery pieces.

  8. Amy Wax says:

    I love this post, I used to work in a design store advising people on upholstering furniture, and you are so right; a quality old piece reupholstered can be just a beautiful (or even better) than a new piece purchased at a store! Well done.

  9. Carla Bast says:

    Such a plethora of good information here! It pains me when people buy a piece that will be thrown away in 5 years.

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