My 48th year on planet Earth hit me mildly hard this week. Not with a “quick- call the plastic surgeon” sense of urgency, but as a gentle voice tugging at my sleeve, “take better care of yourself.” So it’s now a glass of green juice at 5 AM and off to the gym I go!
On the elliptical, I always turn on something brainless, like the local news. And on every commercial break this week, there’s someone shouting about their Memorial Day Furniture Sale. It’s a familiar refrain in America, the excitement of a sale. I’m not immune!
As an interior designer, I do a lot of ton of specifying and shopping for furniture in the normal course of projects. And truth be told, many years ago I got my design start as a “designer” in a furniture store picking out people’s furniture. So with my experience comes my advice on making sense out of the frenzies that are holiday sales.
Here’s a little key to decoding all those too-good-to be true sales, from lowest discount to most substantial.
Special Order Furniture:
You see something, you like it and want it. Hold on, they need to special order it- it’s not stocked. All furniture stores (and designers) order this class of furniture the same way: one piece at a time. It’s a bit more specific to what you want, so the store has to arrange for the manufacturer at least to simply send it to a warehouse, and if it’s a customized piece, they’ll have to specify how to make it. It’s the least discounted type of furniture, because it takes the longest amount of time to order. If you need a financing deal though, buying special order furniture makes sense because there’s often an accompanying offer. If you don’t need that, there’s usually no rush. Most all furniture is discounted from retail every day of the week, so don’t succumb to the screams of “this week only!”
In Stock Furniture and “Special Buys”:
What you see is what you get here, no modifying. Usually it’s a generic piece or pieces (bedroom or dining set), and in all likelihood, the pieces are built overseas. These pieces are usually non-polarizing and appeal to the broadest section of people possible. Back in the early 2000’s it was this classic beige microfiber puffy couch
The overseas factories can churn out these puppies out by the thousands, and usually the manufacturing cost doesn’t dictate the retail price as much, oddly, as the shipping cost. The proverbial “slow boat from China. (for an interesting look at how inexpensive stuff can look really luxurious, read my friend Laurel’s awesome post “The Shocking Truth About Restoration Hardware”) If a store can buy a whole ship container of anything, (and as is the trend nowadays, a grey linen-looking Chesterfield like this):
this thing’s like $399 this week.
, they get a huge price break and can pass the savings on. That’s usually the type of merchandise that they shout about on the commercial breaks in the morning. If you’re just starting out, or you have a whole empty house and just need stuff fast, some people go this way (hey no judgments here). The landfills will curse you, but really, no judgement…
The best deals you can get at a furniture store are hands down on floor samples; the holy grail of deals. And the longer it sits there, the cheaper it gets. They’re one of a kind finds, and I have a bunch in my own house.
Awesome deal here because this chartreuse fabric is not everyone’s cup of tea.
You can’t change anything, it comes as is, and it might be there because:
- the store wants to rotate its floor pieces
- someone at the store ordered it incorrectly for someone else in the first place, or,
- no one wanted it in the first place
Hunting floor samples takes cunning and patience. You can save tremendous amounts here and there, but it’s virtually impossible to get a beautiful coordinated room from entirely floor samples. I’ve tried. There’s just too many variables. Trust me on this or you’ll end up with a half-finished space for years. But here and there, yeah, they’re great, and you can be that slightly annoying person at parties who brags to everyone how much money you’ve saved. I’ve been that guy but am now in remission.
A word of warning about floor samples: We have a storage area filled with them in hopes that someday, one of our clients will be a perfect match for something we got a great deal on. But I have to reign in my “hunter-gatherer” instinct and realize the thrill of the hunt is more thrilling then the actual prize.
Which is why I have:
a “Tibetan Swamp Log” for 7 years
An orange carved mirror
An electrified mirror with sconces
and dozens of other pieces admittedly, I didn’t need, but I got whipped up in the sale frenzy. At this point, they might be part of my permanent collection!
The best advice I can give you on these sales is to have a firm plan in mind before you walk in. Don’t buy just to buy. That’s very 1996. Realize the long term goal is a beautiful home, not the bargain here and there. And it’s Memorial Day weekend- go to a barbecue instead!
Dean Malambri is President and Principal Interior Designer for Dean Alan Design Inc, a residential interior design firm primarily serving Chicago and the Chicago suburbs.
Ah, the circle of life. My mom is officially done with all of the maintenance and care needed to keep a big house going. So, we’ve put the home I grew up in on the market and Mom now aspires to the downsized life. The heat went out this winter and we’ll always remember that event as being the straw that broke the camel’s back. But how do you efficiently sift through 46 years of family memories? Let’s start with the big stuff- the furniture.
Anyone who’s an American knows we are an abundant country. Full of stuff. Whether you are a pack rat or you’ve simply lived a full life, it doesn’t matter- we’re all drowning in excess stuff. And there’s so much new stuff, who wants the old stuff?
It all comes down to:
- the quality of the piece,
- how much time you’re willing to invest, and/or
- the personal memories your family’s items have for you,
When materials were more plentiful, and there was less than 7 billion people on the planet, less expensive items were just made better. Mom’s wrought iron patio set was built in 1968 and you can’t even lift the chairs, they’re so heavy:
This set has survived tornadoes, blizzards, and just needs to be spray painted again every once in awhile
Before I “saw the light,” the patio sets I’ve owned have survived 3-4 years, at which point they just fall apart. So a few coats of spray paint, some new cushions, and a new umbrella, and this item will last another 40 years. Nice to keep it in the family.
It gets trickier with upholstered items, like this chaise.
A not so great quality piece. If you don’t like the fabric, you’re best off donating it.
In this case, the investment to get it into good shape is too high if you don’t like the fabric it’s covered in. Don’t get me wrong, we love reupholstering family heirlooms and furniture from America’s Golden Age of Furniture (and do a lot of it for our projects), but reupholstering is not something you can pick up easily from a You Tube DIY video. We use experienced re-upholsterers who know all the ins and outs of this specialized craft. The frame is not particularly well made, the cushioning needs to be replaced, and, admittedly, my Mom got it “to fill the space.” Here’s a rough idea of costs, if we were to bring it back to life
- Reupholstery Labor: $800
- New fabric: 12 yards plain fabric @ roughly $35 a yard= $420
- Replace cushions and Stuffing= $200
- New bullion fringe trim on bottom roughly 7 yards @ $25= $175
- Pick up and re delivery= $200
= $1800 (and she probably paid half that amount!)
How Much Time Do You Have?
On the other end of the spectrum, this guest bedroom set was bought back in the early 80’s, (around the time the Golden Girls were flourishing), and everyone loved blonde wood:
That green carpet color is starting to become popular again, believe it or not
The set is not veneered particle board, like today (you can tell by the edges), so you could get a power belt sander, strip it down and repaint it white over a few weekends. Also, a great choice for college kids in the fall.
if you’re feeling crafty and don’t want to buy something new for a guest room, a good candidate for a garage project.
Maybe it could turn out like this:
But my brothers and sister and I don’t have time for such a project. So my brother Joe (who’s a master at selling things online), listed it on www.letgo.com. A young couple, expecting a new baby and in the process of buying their first house, called for it quickly. We sold it for a very fair price, and they got some furniture that was made much better than the ready to assemble furniture in the same price range. A good deal for all.
Downsizing & Personal Home Memories
One of the most interesting parts of going through the house were going through the stories that accompanied the smaller pieces (stay tuned for that blog, I can’t wait to tell you what I learned in the process). But I had some strong associations with a few of Mom’s bigger pieces because of my own memories. My parents always threw lavish dinner parties, and this buffet was the place for treats during family events.
Oh the parties this buffet has seen!
It opens for larger buffets spreads
excuse the shoe.
And I promptly filled the insides it with wine and glassware that I don’t have space for.
I can’t wait to have Mom over for a dinner party and keep the family dinner party tradition alive using the Chinoiserie-like buffet. And I love the kitsch of it too. Not terribly expensive, but terrific memories!
Probably the strongest memories I have, though, is of music circulating around the house at all hours of the day. Both Mom and Dad were musicians and music teachers, and so this unassuming piece, believe it or not, holds especially fond memories for me.
my mom saved up for two of these solid wood music cabinets way back in the 60s!
As a kid, I used to rifle through them all the time: the pieces she taught, the music she herself studied. I remember the sound the drawers made opening and closing. They’re totally beat up from a life of use. Cats have scratched the fronts. But wonderfully made out of solid cherry. At some point, I will restore them using the best refinsher I know. They are my prized possessions and I have now started putting all of my music in them
My own music now lives in these cabinets
And they now live happily next to a bookcase reclaimed from a Indian door frame, and a piece of art my aunt did that I love. The custom chair is where I love to read.
Transitions, and moving, it goes without saying, are stressful times for everyone. And I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t go through this process at some point! But it’s nice to honor the passage of time and to pass on family memories through the items you cherish. But in this era of overabundance, choose wisely!
I’ll leave you with a pic of my Mom, Joan Malambri, who still likes to party!
Mom and Alan still partying and having fun!
I’d love to learn about your experiences with your own family home!
Stay tuned for Part 2: what to do with all the small stuff, and why did everyone collect so much?