Hallmarks of High-Quality Furniture
Here are several clues that your furniture might outlast you
A good table never dies. As the economy began improving in the 1940s, just before the U.S. entered World War II, my great-grandparents bought a round table with drops leaves. They used this table as their family dining table for many years. The table was eventually passed to my grandmother when she married. Later, my uncle built model airplanes at that table. Glue globs occasionally dripped from the drying model onto the table. Years later, the glue was removed, and my siblings and I ate at that table until my mother purchased a rectangular table to fit our kitchen better. The dining table became a sewing table. When my sister moved into her new home, my mother sanded and refinished the table. The glue marks and water stains disappeared, and the table regained much of its original luster. My sister entertained guests at that table, and my nephews have spilled their applesauce over it as they learned to eat. Yet the table has remained beautiful and functional for nearly 80 years.
Well-crafted furniture, like that family table, can last for generations. But furniture’s quality can be hard to distinguish as price and name brands may not be a reliable indicator of quality. Here few easy tests to determine a furniture’s quality:
1. Consider materials. The most desirable material for non-upholstered items is wood. Solid wood furniture can be sanded, refinished, and repaired. The furniture should be mostly wood, but some well-made furniture may use veneer where appropriate. Veneer is a thinly cut sheet of wood attached to another substrate. It can help create intricate details that cannot be made with wood. Veneer may also be a good choice for a panel encased in wood as wood naturally shrinks and expands with humidity, but veneer does not. A veneer panel will allow the furniture to expand or contract without cracking the wood.
Avoid: Furniture made primarily from veneer over particleboard or medium density fiberboard (MDF). If damaged, the veneer will peel away from its substrate, and the furniture cannot be restored to its original condition. Veneer may be difficult to distinguish from solid wood. If the furniture has a repeating grain pattern or appears a little too perfect, then it is probably veneer-covered particleboard or MDF.
Thin sheets of veneer may be attached to a substrate and used in place of solid wood in furniture of lesser quality.
2. Look at the joints and drawers. Good construction will reduce wood’s natural fluctuations and ensure that the furniture’s final shape is still beautiful. If present, drawers can offer insight into the quality of a piece’s construction. The industry gold standard is asymmetrical English dovetail joints.
Avoid: Furniture with joints and drawers that are only glued together or feel less than solid.
An asymmetrical dovetail joint is the gold standard in drawer construction.
3. Consider the finish. Finish may accentuate its beauty or mask flaws. While there are several good finishes, a catalyzed lacquer finish provides the greatest durability and water resistance. Traditional finishes, such as oil and wax, allow the natural wood to shine through but are less durable than lacquers. Conventional lacquers are shiny, soft and offer some protection, but they are susceptible to water damage. Catalyzed lacquers feel and look much like the natural wood but offer protection from water and impact.
Avoid: Painted or faux antique finishes as these often mask poor quality materials.