This blog is a way for me to pass along some of the stuff I learn on the journey and the past year has taught me a lot about furniture, furniture buying, and what constitutes quality furniture. Tying that into our usual discussion of economics and finance, I think it provides a lot of valuable lessons; things I wish I had known when I was younger.
Imagine you buy a $199.99 oval back chair from Target. Let’s round up and call it $200 to keep it simple.
You paid $200. You now have a chair. But ask yourself two questions:
- “How much, on average, will this chair cost per day?“
- “Will I be able to pass this chair on to my children and grandchildren, having it look as good as the day I bought it?”
Those two questions are important. In the first case, imagine that an inexpensive chair lasts for roughly five years before beginning to wobble or come apart at the joints. In that case, your cost was roughly 11¢ per day to own the item. It wasn’t particularly nice. You didn’t get to customize the fabric or trim. You certainly won’t be able to pass it on to future generations. It probably won’t even be held together in another 20 years, let alone a century!
Compare that to a really well made chair a better brand like Henredon, Century, Henkel Harris, or Baker. If you choose wisely and take care of your investment, your furniture should last for 50 years or longer. If a problem ever arises, you should always be able to get it repaid. If you change your home, you can reupholster or refinish the chair to completely change its appearance because it is real wood, constructed by a real craftsman who had real tools.
Take this Henredon arm chair, which retails for $1,950 in a Class C fabric.
If you were to go to one of the factory outlets in North Carolina, you could probably get it for $1,170 or less, saving significantly off retail prices. In the first 50 years, your cost per day would be 6.4¢. That is nearly half the price you pay per day for the cheap Target chair. Add in occasional repair, reupholster, and refinishing, to keep it in pristine shape and changing with your home’s decor over the years, and you might approach somewhere around the same cost-per-day as your cheap Target chair if you have a penchant for more expensive fabrics.
[mainbodyad]Think about the math. The chair with the $1,950 retail price, or $1,170 factory outlet price, is less expensive than the $200 chair from Target, it is nicer, it can be passed down to your children, it can be refinished and reupholstered to change your home’s appearance, and it probably has some value in the event you ever needed to sell it, whereas your Target chair will probably get you a few bucks on Craigslist.
The lesson: Stop looking at the sticker price and calculate amortized per use or per day cost. Even if the two were identical, the luxury chairs are a better bargain because, for the same price, you get a vastly superior product.
Plus, on a purely personal note, picking out the fabrics you want is a lot of fun. It reminds me of customizing a character on a video game or buying furniture in the Fable II & III franchise. Seriously, it is a blast. I actually listened to the Bowerstone Market theme from the Fable II soundtrack as I looked at the fabric choices since it made me feel like I did when I furnished my townhouse before, you know, winning the game and getting crowned King, moving into Fairfax, and being generally awesome.
The Mathematics of Investing in Nice Furniture Was Discussed By Millionaire Next Door Author Dr. Thomas J. Stanley
In one of his bestselling books, The Millionaire Mind, Dr. Thomas J. Stanley observed:
By definition, millionaires tend to be accumulators, a trait they inherited from their parents who were collectors. Their parents and grandparents held on to things that had value. So the majority of millionaires have a family legacy of collecting, saving, and preserving. Waste not, want not is a theme acted out by first-generation millionaires today. – Page 294
Later, he goes on to apply this to quality furniture:
They deliberately purchase furniture today they can pass on to the younger generation tomorrow. This, in essence, is their definition of quality furniture. It will outlive a person’s normal adult life span, will never lose its appeal, and will probably appreciate in value. – Page 294
One of the biggest mistakes a young married couple can make is to try and fill their home with furniture instead of taking a few years to quietly assemble a collection of legacy pieces that will survive long past their lifespan. If, at 22 years old, you bought only a few good pieces a year, and continued doing this until you were in your early thirties, you would be set for life.
How to Tell Quality Furniture
The best place to start is to educate yourself on the things that constitute quality construction (dove tail joints, wood-on-wood sliders, 8-way hand tie on upholstered goods, etc.) and then start looking at brands such as Maitland Smith, Henkel Harris, Hancock & Moore, Century, Karges, Marge Carson, Stickley, EJ Victor, etc.
To those of you who have written me, met with me in real life, and shared your knowledge about furniture and quality furniture construction, I’m incredibly grateful.