16 March 2018
In a world of flat-packed and mass-produced, how do you know if your new furniture is made from the real deal?
Before navigating a market flooded with fake wood and faux fabrics, consider the following expert tips and buy with confidence.
How to recognise real timber
“As makers we have the opportunity to use a variety of beautiful hardwoods,” says designer Nathan Day. “Australian timbers like jarrah and blackwood, and North American species like oak and walnut are classics. People love them because they machine beautifully, are stable, and age gracefully.”
“As makers we have the opportunity to use a variety of beautiful hardwoods,” says designer Nathan Day. Photo: Nathan Day Design
Designer Karl Young from Saltwood Designs uses solid timbers that are sustainably sourced and recycled. “There is demand for furniture made from existing pieces of the house. I’ve made vanities and tables from old roof timbers!”
While 100 per cent timbers are readily available in various guises, Day has noted an increase in man-made versions. “Reconstituted timber products, plastics and other materials are creeping into the market. They are processed to look like wood with stains, which is meant to make them look expensive.”
Despite the inferiority of laminates and particle boards, Young maintains that they do serve a purpose. “The substrate may not be a sustainable one, but in using veneers you are cutting down less trees, and if done right they will still last and look beautiful.”
Walnut and oak bedside tables. Photo: Saltwood Designs
Check the material’s origin and buy from someone who represents trusted design brands. “Ask them to point out differences in quality in material, construction and finish,” says Day, “and avoid replicas. They are nothing more than a cheap imitations.”
Designer Karl Young from Saltwood Designs uses solid timbers that are sustainably sourced and recycled. Photo: Saltwood Designs
Meet the maker
“Find out their values,” says Young. “They should understand your needs and as the client, be involved from the very beginning – from design through to finished product.”
Weight and firmness
Consider the product’s weight and press your nail into its surface to gauge denseness, before comparing your findings with authentic wood species.
If the colour of the wood isn’t natural or stained, it may not be 100 per cent genuine.
“You get what you pay for,” says Day. “Quality generally costs more.”
Check for surface colour. Most woods turn a shade of gray, darken, become redder or lose colour, if exposed to the elements.
Grain lines should run consistently over the edge of the table. If they don’t, it could be veneer imitating timber.
Check for growth rings formed by the yearly growth of a tree. They are difficult to properly replicate.
How to recognise natural fabrics
When it comes to soft furnishings, plant-based fabrics like cotton and linen, and animal fibres like silk and wool are the most coveted. They look expensive, offer breathability, natural temperature regulation and superior durability.
“Fabric choice comes down to its end purpose – colour, pattern, texture and budget,” says Sarah Elshaug from Maitland Interiors. “By starting with the end-in-mind we ensure the fabric is fit for purpose and durable.”
Polyester blends masquerading as linen are the most common misrepresented fabric says Elshaug. “Using a synthetic means you are sacrificing on comfort and that luxurious feel of a natural fabric.”
Elshaug says while inferior, cheaper blends do have their place. “They offer stain resistance and colour fastness, so in a family home, opting for a sofa covered in polyester blend fabric will ensure longevity. To the untrained eye it can be hard to tell which fabric is what when looking at it,” says Elshaug.
Need-to-knows when purchasing natural fabrics:
The burn test
“Find a safe spot outside or in your laundry trough where you can burn a section of fabric,” she says. “When you burn a fabric and it turns to powder, it’s natural. If it melts and beads up like plastic with a sweet odour, then it’s synthetic.”
Feel and weight
“Gauge weight, quality and content,” she says. “I pay attention to how a fabric feels in my hand or moves when I give it a shake. Not only does it help determine its authenticity, it also tells me how it will behave.”
“Fabrics sourced from a reputable show room will have a data sheet specifying its composition and testing that has been done to meet Australian standards,” she says. “Sight this documentation and if you’re not satisfied, move on. With a global economy, we are spoilt for choice and can source beautifully made fabrics from around the world.”
20 April 2017
So you’ve bought your first house. And now you’ve got to furnish it. Money’s tight all over, especially for young adults and first-home buyers, but odds are the cheap-and-nasty stuff you had when you were share housing has done its dash.
When to comes to big furniture purchases, look at getting classic pieces that are built to last, says Triana Odone of King Living. “If you’re on a budget, don’t purchase based on trends that won’t be chic in a year’s time. Stick to buying a quality-made piece that’s built to last.”
“Take the time to do some research and really think about what style of decor you prefer,” says Odone. “Do you like quite simple, contemporary designs without big cushions? Do you like sofas and chairs that you can really curl up in?” Once you’ve got an understanding of your style, think about how you’re going to use your living room – where you’re better off spending a bit extra on quality construction, and where you can save money, too.
When you’re setting up your new home, invest in good quality “weight-bearing” pieces, like sofas and beds. Photo: Jane Ussher
“It’s pretty simple,” says Odone. “If it’s a weight-bearing piece of furniture, it will need to be well-made if you want it to last and to remain comfortable over time.”
When it comes to buying a sofa, make sure you get one that really suits the way you live – in other words, do you sit up straight, curl up in the corner with your feet tucked underneath you, or do you stretch right out on the sofa?
There’s no wrong answer to the question, but whatever you do in your living room, you should do in the showroom, Odone says. There’s no judgment.
When you’ve got a well-made piece of furniture, it can last for decades. Photo: Jane Ussher
If most evenings you’re horizontal with the remote in your hand, what’s the point of perching on the edge of the sofa, or just leaning back for 30 seconds? That’s not going to tell you what you really need to know.
Get your shoes off, stretch out – is it wide enough? Long enough? Are the armrests at the right height? Will you need a couple of toss cushions to really get yourself sorted for an evening of chilling out?
If you love to entertain, and your sofa can expect to have three good-sized blokes parked on it during most televised footy games, you’re going to want to get a sofa with steel frame construction.
In a small home or apartment, flexibility is important, too. Photo: King Living
Yes, it costs more than one that’s made with a lesser-quality frame, but it’s not going to collapse unexpectedly in the middle of the game, and you won’t need to buy a new one every two years.
On the other hand, you can save money on smaller decorative pieces such as coffee tables, side tables, cushions, lamps and rugs.
“Those are the non-weight bearing and decorative items that don’t need to be durable in the long-term. When you’re just starting out, a flat-pack end table will work just as well for you. Later on, when you’ve got more money, you may decide to upgrade,” says Odone.
Smaller pieces will give your room personality. Photo: Jane Ussher
When buying staple pieces, keep your style of living in mind. If you’ve bought a small apartment, you might want to consider furniture that doubles as storage. If you’ve bought a large family home, keep the flexibility and fabric of the furniture in mind. Many sofas, beds and ottomans do double-duty as storage solutions.
Once you’ve found a sofa that fits you in terms of structure, you’ll want to consider how hard-wearing you need the fabric to be.
Removable covers are a great idea, says Odone.
In a small home or apartment, consider furniture that does double-duty. Photo: King Living
“With high-quality construction, there’s no reason a sofa can’t last for decades. You may need to reupholster it after several years, and the foam or batting in the seat cushions may need to be restored or replaced, but that’s still less money than buying a new sofa,” she says.