Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Designer Tips Nos 1 & 2

Albert Hadley

The first thing I learned in Design School is, if you are on a budget, Paint is cheap. Furniture isn't. The second thing I learned is really just an extension of Lesson Number One, choose your expensive items, furniture, floors, etc. in neutrals. Finally, use your expensive fabrics as condiments, on small chairs, on pillows, etc., to use less of it, thus keeping costs lower. One yard of $200 dollar a yard fabric is a far cry from twenty yards!

This is a reverse of what realtors suggest, which is to paint in neutrals. I have nothing against painting in neutrals, in fact, my family accuses me of contemplating beige with too much frequency. Realize that your paint choice is dictated by your sofa choice. If you choose a highly patterned, brightly colored sofa, you are pretty much stuck with painting neutrals. If your sofa is a mid-toned neutral and your paint is the same mid-toned neutral, you have a very blah design. If you choose the wrong neutral to go with your neutral sofa, then your sofa and your walls are in constant conflict. A truly adept hand is needed to effectively complete a design using predominantly neutrals. I recommend choosing your flooring first, then your sofa, then choose the paint. Always have your samples with you when you plan and shop, ask for samples before you buy or remnants when your carpet or wood floor is installed. Put them all together in a zip lock bag or other clear slim container for future shopping.
Light neutrals can be a bit of a problem in a household with pets and children. A busy pattern makes it less of a problem to hide the things-children-and-pets-do-to-furniture. Another solution is to make use of slipcovers. Hence one reason for their recent popularity. One difficulty with slip covers, especially those not made for the sofa, is that they, well slip. It can take you two out of three falls to put one on and it tends to sag over time. Better to get a slip cover made for the sofa in a prewashed fabric.

Pottery Barn Slipcover straight out of the package

What sofa is best? The best sofa is eight-way hand tied. This system of tying coils makes the sofa durable and comfortable. As this process takes time, it is also more expensive.
As a young couple starting out, we were fortunate to have done our shopping just as Haitian Cotton became a trend. So we had the neutral down pat with this one. We were not knowledgeable enough to know that the springs in the sofa we purchased were, well, missing. Apparently, as a cost cutting move, a sling of fabric was used to hold the cushions. This is what happens when you just sit on the sofa and don't examine it. Good thing we were young and thin. Miraculously, this sofa lasted about seven years. Moral to the story is, pull up the cushions and feel the springs, you should be able to feel the round spring. Then count each knot on each spring, verify that you can feel eight knots. If you don't see springs at all, or if you feel springs which resemble a sine wave, then it doesn't have eight way hand tied. Our second sofa had trendy arms and sinous coil springs, these are flat and won't last long. The sofa lasted about eight years, because we couldn't afford to replace it, it stayed in the house and limped along for two more years after that.

The frame should be solid wood. There are various hedge words which are used to suggest that what you are buying is solid wood, such as, all wood, meaning that wood products were used but not solid pieces of wood, solid wood and select veneers, meaning the legs or other parts which are round are solid wood and the rest is wood products with veneers applied.
All of this quality and labor increases the price of the furniture. One solution is to troll consignment stores, estate sales and charity shops for sofas. Check for what type of springs are in the sofa. If the dust cover is missing or slightly loose, look underneath. But, be respectful and don't remove the dust cover! Reupholstery may still be required, so watch the price. Especially as, in certain high cost areas, some of these shops set the price way too high to start.
Another way to find a sofa is to watch the ads for sales. Make sure you read all the words in the ad, don't be distracted by the pictures. Luckily as consumers have learned more, more and more retailers are carrying eight-way-hand-tied upholstery.

Lastly, consider the cost per year. Our third sofa purchase was an eight-way hand tied sofa made by a division of Century Furniture on sale from an area retailer for around a thousand dollars. It was purchased fifteen years ago. The arms are a Lawson style which has been in style for, umm I think forever. Dividing the cost by the fifteen years it has lasted, it has cost me about $67 dollars per year. After fifteen years, the sofa needs reupholstery and new foam, but otherwise it is still in excellent condition. As you can see, my previous two sofas lasted half that long. Using the inflation calculator, I calculated the inflation adjusted dollars spent on each sofa to the year that sofa number three was purchased. In inflation adjusted dollars, sofa number one cost us $1076, sofa number two cost us $1015. As you can see, both of these were about the same cost as sofa number three! This surprised me, though it really shouldn't have. Being uneducated, we paid far too much for these two sofas.
Of course, there are times when one has to purchase an inexpensive sofa, meant to get by for a few years. Ikea has an Ektorp sofa with enough style to fill the bill. It is reasonable to buy such a sofa and start a savings plan for the long-term sofa.

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