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Wood furniture falls into three categories: Solid wood furniture is typically more expensive than other...

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Useful Tips

  • Know your wood types. Wood furniture falls into three categories: Solid wood furniture is typically more expensive than other types and looks great, but can be susceptible to scratches and water rings. Veneers have an inexpensive wood base covered by several thin layers of better-quality wood. Because of the cheaper core, veneers aren't as expensive as solid wood pieces.
    Particle board and composite wood pieces are made from a combination of wood pulp, plastics, and resin, basically the scraps of the furniture world. These are the cheapest type of wood furniture and can look decent, but won't hold up for decades.
  • Check drawers and cabinets. Open the drawers and cabinets. Make sure the drawer pulls all the way out, latches properly, and then shuts evenly. Make sure doors open, remain in an open position, and shut solidly. Check the handles and knobs. They should fit tightly and not jiggle or turn.
  • Avoid nails and glue. Look for wood joined at ends and corners, not glued or nailed in. Known in the manufacturing world as wood joinery, these pieces are studier and can take more weight. Check out "Basic woodworking joints" from Wood Magazine to see examples.
  • Consider your lifestyle. Let your lifestyle determine what colors and fabrics you choose. For example, I have a large, hyper dog constantly climbing on the furniture. If I brought home a white suede couch, it would be torn apart and stained in minutes. If you have kids or pets, stick with dark colors and stain-resistant tough fabrics like linen or tweed.
  • Be realistic about colors. I once bought an orange corduroy armchair at a furniture outlet store. At the time, my house was decorated in orange, blue and white, and I thought I'd love those colors forever. As it turned out, "forever" was about a year. I got so sick of the bright orange I sold the chair for a fraction of what I paid. Learn from my mistake: Stick to neutral colors for your bigger and more expensive pieces. Save bold colors for décor pieces.
  • Inspect the legs. The legs should be heavy, made of wood, and jointed to the frame of the sofa or chair, not nailed. Plastic, rubber or metal legs don't look as nice, can tear up your floors, and won't hold up as well. Same goes for nailed-in wood legs. If you're spending more than $1,000 on a sofa, look for one with a fifth leg in the middle. It provides extra support. You won't find them on many cheaper sofas.
  • Check the springs. If you like firm sofas, look for one with traditional coiled springs. If you want a softer feel, go with zigzag coils. Before you buy, take off the cushions and press down on the base of the sofa. The coils should push down and spring back into place immediately.
  • Test the cushions. Look for firm cushions with a removable cover matching on both sides. Firm cushions hold up better over time. Fully covered cushions cost a bit more than ones with the pattern on one side and a plain white or tan backing, but they'll last longer and wear evenly if you can flip them over every few months. Find removable covers that are easily washable.

Some general guidelines exist to help you narrow down the almost endless possibilities of arrangement. Before trying to decide how to arrange your room, keep in mind the following suggestions:

  • Arrange for traffic not to pass between people and the television if at all possible.
  • To create a greater sense of unity, place furniture so its lines are parallel to the wall. Furniture placed on the diagonal, sometimes called the dynamic diagonal, creates excitement and contrast.
  • Experiment by leaving a wall free of furniture (especially when the wall flanks a walkway).
  • Keep conversations going by grouping chairs a comfortable three to four feet apart. A foolproof and very comfortable seating arrangement is a sofa or love seat flanked by two comfortable, upholstered chairs.
  • Make the most of unusual space by building furniture (shelves, consoles, and so on) into the room. The only potentially negative aspect of built-ins is that you can’t take them with you if you move. (Then again, that’s not necessarily bad.)
  • Place a table near each chair for holding refreshments, reading glasses, a book, and so on.
  • Shield your living room for more privacy by placing a standing, folding screen at right angles to the wall if the front door to your house opens directly into your living room.
  • Large rooms can seem alienating. Cut a too-large room down to size. Treat it as though it were several small spaces by creating more than one intimate seating and activity area.

Decorating needs differ for informal (casual) dining and formal (dressy) dining. Informal dining can take place on almost any surface, from coffee tables to TV trays. The formal dining room, on the other hand, features a table (often a large one) and chairs that are especially for family rituals, formal meal service, and holidays.


Although you want family and friends to admire your beautifully set table, you also care that they’re comfortably seated when they gather around your table. If you’re not sure how much space you need for each place setting or how many guests your table can seat, take a look at the following guidelines:


  • Plan a minimum of 24 inches for each place setting. If you have the room, 30 inches is ideal and much more comfortable.
  • Make sure the table doesn’t have a low apron. A low apron (the wood panel below the tabletop) may prevent your guests from crossing their legs. If you have a low apron, find chairs that seat at a comfortable height.
  • If you use a sofa (or bench) for seating at a long table, choose one with a high enough seat. Add casters to sofa legs if you need to raise the seat height.
  • Be sure that the chairs arms are low enough to slide beneath, and not bump into, the table. Too-low tables can be raised with casters or devices that elevate (which are available at home stores).
  • Provide at least 24 inches of space behind each chair when someone is sitting in it. This is the minimum space needed for people to pass by when serving or leaving the table.