Sunday, December 21, 2014

You're Doing Everything Wrong: Furniture Shopping Edition

I'm not a big shopper. A person looking at my closet and listening to me talk about Target might think differently but I've never been big on malls and shopping. I like to think of myself as a stealth shopper - I know exactly what I want/need, go into the mall at the closest entrance, buy, and leave. I don't stop for free samples of pretzels and I rarely wander beyond a three store radius if possible. I'm the type of shopper that online shopping was designed for. I think that this stems from two reoccurring shopping experiences from my childhood: car shopping and furniture shopping.

Shopping for cars and furniture are the height of adult consumer responsibility. You do research, you test drive, you test sit, you haggle, you shop around. All of these steps are designed to make you a better informed consumer and to make sure you purchase the car/sofa/bedroom set of your dreams. And to annoy salespeople. I can only imagine the thoughts going through a car salesperson's head when someone comes in with all this "research" they did on the interwebs before buying a Kia Soul. In this situation, the research probably amounted to watching the hamster commercial and deciding you had a new desire to drive a box. To each his own.

Both car and furniture shopping are boring activities when you're a kid. The two most important aspects of car shopping for me were the quality of candy the dealership made available and the amount of real estate that would be between me and my brother in the back seat. Our two-tone blue Ford Aerostar was the best for real estate; we both had our own row. At furniture stores, it's even more mind-numbing. You're not supposed to put your feet on things or jump on the beds but there is an entire room devoted to new mattresses. It's right there! And you don't want a 10 year old to jump on them? Furniture stores always had bad candy (peppermints and butterscotch - amateurs) and it always took years for my parents to pick something and buy it. Of course, by "years" I mean an hour or two. It wasted valuable kid time.  

My dad is a car guy. He was the type (and still is to some extent) of car buyer who traded in his car regularly, waited for the latest release information from Ford (we're a Ford family), and will occasionally opine about the color options for interiors and how the body colors have been crap since 1978. He has very strong opinions on weird paint colors (please don't ever bring up orange Mustangs). In all the times I experienced car shopping with my dad, I could always tell that the salesperson enjoyed working with him. He knows his stuff and is a decent enough negotiator. When I bought my first car I felt like a feral child who had just been brought back to civilization. I'm not entirely sure I formed a coherent sentence during the entire process. I felt overwhelmed by the experience and like the Ford dealership was judging me despite the fact that they were super nice and patient with me. Apparently, I did not learn anything about car shopping from my father.

As for furniture shopping, I never really had to do any actual furniture shopping until I was in my early twenties and settling into my first apartment without roommates. Up until that I time, I was in college furniture mode which is comprised of "inheriting" furniture from older friends who graduate or from parents who decide to redecorate after their children leave home. My roommates and I were excellent at what I'll call "Wal-Mart chic" (Target didn't come to Louisiana until after I graduated around the time of my need for solo expression in decor). We could make those crappy particle board bookcases and dressers look fancy and expensive. We were theatre design majors so our entire world was thrift stores and making something out of whatever was around. Our apartment was cozy and comfortable. It resembled the nicer furniture section at a thrift store. Most importantly, it was ours. That was what was significant. We were forging identity and responsibility one coffee table at a time.

When I moved to northern Virginia in the summer of 2006, I made a decision to buy a real couch (no more futon for me) and invest in some actual furniture. I went to where every person in their early to mid-20s goes to buy furniture...Ikea. I bought a nice loveseat from the Ektorp line. Ektorp has survived several moves and was all I needed for this stage in my life. However, Ektorp and I are at a point in our relationship where I need to move on and he needs to find a new home. I often fall asleep on my couch at say 9:30 and Ektorp is no longer that comfortable.

And this brings us to why I'm doing everything wrong when it comes to furniture shopping. Like Corky in Waiting for Guffman, I have a vision when it comes to my new living room. I want classic and modern and comfortable. When I watch television, I see all these apartments of characters my age (or younger) who don't have jobs and yet have fabulously decorated apartments. That's what I want in my life. What's difficult is realizing this vision since I don't have thousands of dollars to spend on my living room. I have to work within a budget and that is cramping my vision's style. Did everyone else know how expensive coffee tables are? For real, I've only found a handful that will A. fit in my small apartment and B. don't cost $400. It's insane. Then there's the couch. You could buy a car for what some of these couches go for. It's astounding. One site, that will remain nameless, had a price meter that went from $80 to $3500. I quickly closed the window and returned to my less expensive options.

Another thing that I was troubled by was the number of sites that listed no prices at all. This made me uncomfortable on many levels. Was the price for the couch so astronomical that simply listing it would cause my eyes to burn and the Internet to explode? What I learned from the helpful salesman at Ashley Furniture was that the no price policy existed for one of two reasons (typically): 1. the item could be customized so the price might depend on fabric choice or some other option or 2. each store location is independently owned so pricing while suggested is often controlled by the franchise owner rather than the chain itself. This is actually the case with Ashley; not listing prices allowed the location to offer additional discounts and special offers. I appreciated this as I continued the search to complete my vision.

I went to several places and sat on many couches. I dragged my brother along for several of these research trips. He put up with my questions ranging from the bizarre to the practical: "Do you think Pumpkin will like it?" and "Do you think it will fit through the door?" I didn't purchase anything that first weekend. I went back home and remeasured everything (including the front door). I went back online and read reviews and looked at countless ways in which people had arranged the two finalists (pictured here). 

As much as I would have loved a couch with a chaise lounge for my living room, the reality of my apartment is that I need a normal sized couch with no wild and crazy accoutrements. I opted for bold color instead. A red couch is statement of a different kind. It'll make my mildly drab apartment more vibrant and fun. I can have fun with rearranging my photos and pictures and whatever else makes sense. I'll finally hang curtains. My apartment will become more of a home and I will fall asleep at 9:30 on my new couch like a real adult.

What I've been doing wrong when it comes to furniture shopping is neglecting to take into consideration that I do not have a set dresser and unlimited funds. You can still have a nice place to come home to without breaking the bank. I can still have a vision; I just have to have the vision that fits into my apartment.

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