This week I’m going to be talking about accent chairs. If you are at all familiar with my “How Much Should I Spend…” series you know that it’s really about getting the best bang for your buck. If you regularly read my blog, you also know that I am ALL about quality. I am big believer in buying the absolute best quality pieces that you can afford and using for many years. When it come to upholstery that means re-upholstering them from time to time. Today, I’m going to be talking about the cost and quality of low-, mid-, and high budget items and the pros and cons of each.
In this installment I am going to share some videos created by my friend, Richelle Plett, who is the owner of RLP Interiors, an upholstery focused design business in Kansas City, MO, and the administrator of the Facebook group Haus and Home, which has over 4,000 followers! Richelle is an upholstery expert and has created a video series called, “Upholstery Uncovered” that reveals what lies beneath the surface of various upholstered items. I highly recommend watching them if you are at all interested in upholstery because Richelle is very engaging and makes a good time of what most might find dry as toast!
“Budget Friendly” Budget
I always hesitate to call this category “low budget” because it can seem insulting. While I am all for getting high quality pieces, there are times that you need to purchase a “budget friendly” piece and sometimes, you just see something that is cute and inexpensive and it meets your short-term needs. I own a few to this day, but the key word here is “short-term”. These are not pieces that you will be able to recover and use for many years.
I’m going to say the cost this is category is <$750. Some of you, dear readers, may be fainting at the though of a $750 chair falling into the “budget friendly” category, but from a quality standpoint items in this category will be lower quality. This is where you’ll find seating from places like Ashley Home Furnishing, Rooms to Go, Badcock, Target, Ikea, etc. There even some stores you really want to believe sell “higher” quality furniture, like West Elm.
I will be honest, I almost never specify goods from this category. One reason is that I cannot buy this type of furniture at wholesale. Almost all of the furniture I specify these days is from a wholesale vendors. There are several reasons I do this, but primarily it is because I have more control over pricing and how the goods are delivered from the vendor to my client. I have on occasion specified something from West Elm or other “online” vendors, but only when these conditions are met:
- I can’t find a better quality option within the client’s budget, AND
- The piece with not be used on a daily basis, AND
- It is mostly a fashion piece, AND
- The client understands that the piece is not going to last more than a few years
Below is the first video. It’s about 30 minutes and Richelle shows us what’s beneath the slipcovered Ikea chair.
As you can see in the video, there are almost no indicators of high quality in this chair. In this category, you just won’t find them. You can expect a piece from this category to look good for about 6 months to a year and should last you about 2-3 years. That is because of the inferior quality materials used to make the springs, foam, batting, and wood used to make the frame. In the next video, Richelle will talk a little bit more about sinuous springs, or s-springs for short, and how the gauge of the springs will make a difference in the lifespan of the chair.
The quality of the foam also makes a difference because cheaper foams typically breakdown faster than higher quality foams. This will make a difference in the loft, or height and softness, of your chair. The wood used to make the frame can also be problematic when particle board and plywood are used. Because these are not natural woods and the various pieces are bound together with adhesives, the particles and layers will begin to breakdown over time.
Mid-High Budget Range and Mid-Quality
This budget goes from about $750-$2000, in some cases and includes vendors like Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Crate and Barrel, etc. In this category you will probably find s-springs in lower gauges (in this case lower is better) and better quality foams. You might also find some that have luxury materials like down. You will definitely find better quality fabrics and the option to upgrade to performance fabrics, like Sunbrella or Crypton. Chairs in this group will probably have plywood construction, but it will be of higher quality than the composite type woods used in the “budget-budget” group.
What does this mean? This means you will probably have a chair that looks good for 2-3 years and that will “last” 5-7. It also means that you might be able to re-upholster it once. I have actually had an s-spring loveseat re-upholstered for a client, but only after I did a thorough assessment of the piece.
However, the chairs in this category are not meant to last for a long time, which is shocking! At $1500 or more, the average consumer would expect a chair to last a very long time!! That is a lot of money to pay for something that only seats one person! This is what makes the market so confusing and why so many people believe that no matter how much you pay for a chair, they’re only going to last a few years, but the truth is that the quality difference between a $330 Ikea Ektorp armchair and a $1300 Pottery Barn Comfort Roll Arm slipcovered chair, which look nearly identical, is not that great. You will get 2-3 years out of the first and 5-7 out of the second… The choice there is really a no-brainer.
The real difference here is that some of the goods in this category can have huge differences in quality and a piece may be so unique and fashionable that it’s worth it to you to pay more than $1000 for a shorter-term investment. So, I do specify goods in this category. Especially for slipper chairs and side chairs. I work with several companies with which I have wholesale accounts that sell “fashion” furniture in this quality bracket. The same conditions above must still be met. I really like for my clients to understand the level of quality they can expect from their furniture.
The chair Richelle takes apart below is 7 years old and looks pretty rough. I highly recommend watching it so that you can see what lies beneath a $1000 chair!
Mid-High Budget and High Quality
So, here comes the even more confusing part about quality and cost. There is overlap between the groups. You might be able to get a higher quality piece for less money depending on the circumstances.
You read that correct. There are some very high-fashion pieces that are made by “designer” brands that are not very good quality. And vice versa. You might be able purchase a custom, high-quality piece that will last you forever for a lower price tag than the high fashion, “brand name” piece.
For example, the Magna chair, by Four Hands is a very unique looking piece. I haven’t seen many other vendors producing anything that looks like it. It retails for $3000. I would consider Four Hands upholstery to be a mid-grade quality. I wouldn’t expect this chair to look great for more than a few years and it would probably be well beyond its prime in 7-10 years… but it’s unique and it comes with a designer brand name, making it “worth it” for some of my clients.
What do I mean by high-quality?
The markers of a high-quality piece of upholstery are as follows:
- Eight-way hand tied spring system
- Kiln dried solid hardwood frame (NOT engineered hardwood)
- Tight back is preferred
- Glued and screwed joints or dowels
- Inner spring cushions
- High quality, designer fabric
Now, back to our little experiment…
We’ve compared the Ektorp and the PB Comfort Roll Arm. We’ve decided that there isn’t a huge difference in quality, but about a $1000 difference in the price tag. Now, let’s compare them to a similar model in the high-quality category.
The chair below is a rolled arm chair with a from a custom company that I work with. To create a similar look, but with a performance fabric, I would use a woven Crypton fabric. The total cost of the chair to my client with fabric included would be around $3400.
Now, I know that compared to the Ikea chair that is 10x the cost, compared to the Pottery Barn chair it is nearly 3x the cost, but this chair will last that much longer. You can expect the frame on a chair like this to last a lifetime. The Crypton fabric will resist stains, can be easily cleaned with soap and water, and will look great for many years. After the Crypton no longer looks good, you can have the chair recovered several times because the frame is built to last.
In the video, Richelle tears apart an armchair that is at least 50 years old. A chair that is made using all the high quality techniques as the the chair pictured.
Fine furnishings are not for every budget, but before you purchase consider what type of investment you want to make. Do you want to keep replacing your furniture every 5-10 years? Or would you rather re-upholster a classic, high-quality piece?
In this article I have featured a few chairs from Ballard Designs custom line. Ballard Designs custom line is a great option for reasonably priced, fashionable, and decent. As always, if you like any of them you can click the link and shop!