4 Qualities to Look for When Purchasing Used Furniture

By Heather R. Johnson

When furniture shopping, most people have to stick to some type of budget, and that budget is sometimes tight. To find quality furniture at a fraction of new retail prices, smart shoppers often explore a range of options, such as browsing consignment shops, clearance centers, and thrift stores.

If you decide to buy second hand furniture, it’s important to understand that you will be responsible for at least some of the quality control. “When it comes to used furniture, it is best to see and even test-sit the items before buying,” says Helena Tiainen, an interior designer and professional organizer based in Berkeley, California. “It’s even better if the store states that they guarantee their furniture and they have positive customer reviews that back this up.”

Consider these four factors when shopping for quality, long-lasting used furniture:

1. Solid Wood or Wood Veneer

Solid wood furniture is the strongest option and will last for decades with the proper care, but it also tends to be expensive. Wood veneer consists of thin slices of real wood adhered to a low-density core. When made well, wood veneer offers the look and durability of solid wood furniture but is a much more affordable alternative. However, if you fall in love with a wood veneer piece, it’s important to carefully inspect the components before you buy.

“I would opt for veneers that are as natural as possible,” says Tiainen. “This means their substrate options have low formaldehyde emissions and are as environmentally sound as possible. Use your senses. Many chemicals have a distinctive odor when they are off-gassing. Do your homework and use your good olfactory.”

2. Type of Wood Construction

If nails, staples or visible glue are holding that mahogany dining table together, move on to the next piece. Quality furniture joints are constructed with dowels, which are wooden pegs slotted into opposing holes, or screws. If you aren’t familiar with different types of wood joints, do some research before shopping so you can recognize the differences. In general, mortise-and-tenon and dovetail joints offer the best construction. For premium durability, corners should have a reinforcing block attached at an angle.

3. Comfort and Durability

When buying used furniture, you need to know if it’s comfortable as well as durable. “Sit in a chair to see if it wobbles, try a sofa to see how soft it is, and open and close drawers to see how well the hardware keeps up with constant use,” says Kassin Adelman, founder and CEO of IDF Studio, an interior design firm in San Francisco.

Once you determine you can comfortably sink into that beautiful sofa on movie night, unzip a seat cover and peek inside. Look for foam wrapped with Dacron, cotton or down, ideally with a protective inner cover. Do a sniff test to smell for mold, mildew, smoke and pet odors. Unless you want to invest in a thorough cleaning that might not be effective, it’s best to pass on furniture with strange odors.

Before you commit to any purchase, understand the terms. “Make price comparisons, and check to see that the store’s return policy is friendly toward you,” says Tiainen. “A sofa is usually not a small nor inexpensive purchase.”

4. Flexibility

When you’re shopping at used furniture stores and consignment shops, what you find today may not be there tomorrow. Because inventory varies and changes frequently, keep your wish list flexible. “Go with an open mind, and don’t look for anything too specific,” Bhavin Taylor of London’s Bhavin Taylor Design said in an article for Houzz. “What you think you’re after and what you find may be worlds apart.”

You may not always find everything you need from a single source. When you select items separately, it increases the risk of choosing items that don’t work well together. To avoid this problem, stick to design themes and furniture styles with a lot of built-in flexibility. A very unique piece may capture your imagination, but consider how it would work with existing décor or how difficult it would be to find other pieces to go with it.

Used Furniture Buying Options

Used furniture stores, clearance centers, thrift stores, and online sellers offer used furniture at discounted prices, but quality control isn’t always what it should be at all sellers. To buy used furniture with confidence, you need to know the seller has quality checks in place to ensure the high quality of the furniture.

CORT Furniture Clearance Centers employ trained professionals capable of answering questions on the sales floor and assessing the quality of furniture in the receiving department. These quality control professionals inspect all CORT furniture for cleanliness and structural integrity, and the result is quality, gently used furniture available at up to 70 percent off new retail prices.