18 Frugal Furniture Shopping Secrets

Wall and floor treatments set the scene, but furniture pieces play the supporting and star roles.

from Penny Pincher's Almanac

Refinished to Perfection
Another way to gussy up a piece of used furniture is to refinish it. If you haven’t done much refinishing, practice on an inconspicuous part of the piece. Your technique will improve as you work, so save the most visible parts until last.

Take apart a big piece of furniture before refinishing it. This will make working on any section a lot easier, and you’re more likely to get the results you want.

Take off the hardware and, for easier reassembling when you’re finished, mark each handle, hinge, caster, and screw with tape and a pencil, noting its original position. Keep all the hardware in a labeled self-sealing bag so that you don’t misplace anything.

To check whether a liquid refinisher will work on your piece of furniture, soak a cotton ball in nail polish remover and press it against the surface. If the ball sticks, refinisher will do the job; if the ball doesn’t stick, you will need to strip the piece with paint remover.

Unlike paint remover, refinishing liquids (sold in home centers, hardware stores, and paint stores) just remove the top layers of old finishes, so you don’t have to scrape or sand as much. You can’t use refinishers on all finishes, however, so check the label carefully.

Before you start applying stain, test the stain you want to use on a section that won’t be seen, such as the bottoms of chair seats and the undersides of tabletops.

Sofa, So Good
Buy the highest quality sofa you can afford; it will last much, much longer than a cheaply made sofa and will look good far longer. The best-made sofas have a hardwood frame, joints secured with dowels or screws, and fitted blocks at the inside corners for added strength. Spring coils, eight to twelve per seat, offer greater comfort than horizontal steel springs.

Take the fabric protection option. These guards are applied at the factory and come with a warranty. Do-it-yourself store-bought aerosols don’t bond as well. Later, when water stops beading on the fabric, it’s best to have new fabric guard professionally applied.

If possible, get extra fabric when you buy an upholstered sofa or have an older sofa reupholstered. If you need to recover a cushion later, you will have a perfect match.

Be sure to vacuum your sofa once a week and flip the cushions at the same time.

If your sofa is starting to feel a bit softer than you like, buy a 1/2 inch-thick piece of plywood to fit under the cushions. Your old sofa will feel like new. You can also do this with armchairs that have started to sag.

Bewitching Beds
Although solid bedsteads are quite attractive, they can also be a significant investment, especially if you want real wood. To create the appearance of a headboard, try one of these fool-the-eye ideas for a less-expensive option:

Hang a new or heirloom quilt at the head of your bed. Use an inexpensive wooden dowel and add decorative finials for extra interest.

An unusual Oriental or Native American rug can be hung at the head of a bed to eye-catching effect.

One option to consider for furnishing a child’s room or a guest room/office is a loft-style bed. To accommodate a loft, the ceiling should be at least 12 feet high. This height allows for a minimum of 6-1/2 feet of standing room below the loft and 4-1/2 feet above (enough to sit up in a bed or sit in a chair at a desk), plus 1 foot for the platform of the loft.

The loft options are pretty amazing: You can have a single or double bed above, and under it an office setup, bookcases, bureau drawers, even a little fort for children. The prices of lofts vary considerably, so check around. Price clubs offer lofts occasionally; check their websites for options year-round. Unfinished-furniture stores can offer real wood at a decent price, and you can stain or paint the pieces to match your decor.

You can also construct a loft yourself pretty easily, especially if you have some woodworking skills and the right tools. Plans are available in furniture-making books (check the library), or you may be able to download instructions off the Web.

Be sure to take into account the ventilation needs of someone sleeping near a ceiling. The loft area will be warmer in the winter (heat rises), but also warmer in the summer. If the room doesn’t have air conditioning, remember that fans can make a big difference in airflow.

Mattress Matters
Few things affect a good night’s sleep more than a mattress, so buying a well-made mattress can be a real investment in good health. Once you’ve found and purchased a good-quality mattress, take care of it, and it will last much longer, protecting you and your investment.

Count the number of coils. Full-size mattresses should have at least 300 coils inside; queen-size, at least 375; king-size, a minimum of 450 coils. In choosing between two mattresses that have the same coil count, check the thickness of the steel of the coils. The lower the number, the thicker the wire and the longer the mattress will keep its support firm.

Turn your mattress frequently to maintain even support. Switch the mattress end to end as well as turning it over. Some manufacturers recommend turning every two weeks for the first three months, then turning every two months for the life of the mattress. To keep track, put a bit of masking tape with the date last changed somewhere on the mattress.

If you have an older good-quality mattress that has become a bit softer than you like, don’t rush out to a store, unless it’s a lumber store! A sheet of plywood, 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick, can be slipped between the mattress and the box spring to make a fine bed support. You’ll get extra years from your mattress at a fraction of the cost of a new one.

Resources: Appraise Your Appraiser
www.appraisers.org or 800-272-8258
Whether you are in the market for an antique or you have been going through Great Aunt Sally’s attic and aren’t sure what you’ve found, you need to know you can trust your appraiser. Check with the American Society of Appraisers to find a licensed, reputable appraiser in your area who specializes in the field that you need. This organization maintains a directory of members, all certified specialists, who must meet high standards to join the society. Still, it pays to call any reference numbers and check on an appraiser’s past work.