How and when to buy quality furniture

I saw a mention of this oldie but goodie this week on recognizing good quality furniture. It applies to more than just furniture; the same rules apply to kitchen cabinets and anything else made of wood.

I bought a house a few weeks ago; the previous owner had replaced his kitchen very recently. It looks good for now, but I discovered something when I had one cabinet removed to make way for a dishwasher. The cabinets are cheap pressboard with a thin veneer (who knows if the veneer is real oak or a laminate-like digital image) and held together with staples.

I know from experience renting out the house across the street that the perceived value of new cabinets is always higher than old, but the 40-year-old cabinets in the old house will look no better or worse in 40 years than they do today. The new cabinets in the new house will look terrible in 10.

The drawers from an earlier set of cabinets survive; the previous owner used them as boxes in the under-sink cabinets to hold cleaning supplies. They were of much higher quality. The hardware was dated and the dark finish (somewhere in the neighborhood of red mahogany) is out of vogue, but those cabinets were most likely original to the house and would have been more durable.

What I did at the other house was to apply a fresh coat of paint and replace the drawer pulls. They don’t look new, but if I keep them painted and fill in any dings and replace the hardware as it wears out, they’ll never look bad.

The kitchen in this new house shows well, for now. But I’m pretty sure I’ll be replacing the cabinets in a decade. It won’t be cheap to replace them with something that will stand the test of time, but replacing them twice will cost more than that.

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