Value City

Seek out quality, service and local ties for best furniture options

You get what you pay for. No one knows that better than the owner of a couch with upholstery that started to fray or cushions that lost their shape after a year. That is why smart furniture shoppers seek value and not just low prices.

The lowest price, after all, doesn’t always save in the long run. You also need to factor in quality or you could end up wasting money now and later.

“When you buy cheap furniture, you’ll end up buying it three or four times in your lifetime,” says Tina Dopf, designer with furniture retailer Stevens Design, which carries many heirloom lines such as Stickley and Harden. “Or you can buy it once and own it for a lifetime.”

Value-conscious consumers will also learn that many furniture stores offer free design services to ensure that the selections you make will work in your space and for your lifestyle and budget. The designers at Woodworks make house calls, do space planning with clients and advise on room arrangement. They even consult on paint colors and window treatments.

“People appreciate the help,” says Woodworks manager Kelly Hofmeister. “They don’t want to get to the point in a couple months when they say to themselves, ‘What did I do?’”

Denise Quade, owner of Denise Quade Design, encourages furniture shoppers to enlist the free design services offered at furniture retailers if they are not already working with an independent designer. Furniture options can be overwhelming with the seemingly limitless options for style, color, fabric and finish. A designer can help narrow choices so that customers can more easily create a custom look that works in the size and style of their home. Other times they can present ideas that shoppers never considered or even knew existed.

Quade points out that making furniture decisions without assistance can be overwhelming, and some shoppers don’t even know where to begin.

“My goal is to give people a beautiful way to live,” Quade says. “That includes some things they want and other things they don’t even know that they need.”

Of course, some customers come in the door more prepared than others. Many have been working on furnishing their homes for some time and know exactly what they need. Others are starting out but have a good idea about preferred styles. Some are drawn to specific manufacturers or product lines.

Stevens Design, for example, is a retailer for the well-known Stickley furniture that is popular in Arts and Crafts homes, although the manufacturer offers different styles that work in all kinds of interiors. Many clients seek out Stevens Design because of its Stickley expertise. The retailer even hosts annual standing-room-only talks by Stickley historian Mike Daniels. Yet shoppers who come for Stickley often then discover the other high-quality product lines, such as Harden, in the showroom.

Woodworks also recently added the Candice Olson line from Norwalk Furniture. Olson, host of HGTV’s Divine Design, is one of many new celebrity designers to lend her name to a furniture brand. Her collection offers name recognition to fans that want to capture some of the style she features on her show. Branded collections also offer some ease to furniture customers who want to be sure that the pieces and colors they are selecting will look good together. The edited collections ensure some harmony for shoppers who don’t stray from the branded line.

Stevens Design also offers full design service as well as original art sales, furniture repair and refinishing. “Here the shopper can get everything done under one roof by talking to one person,” Dopf says. “It’s very rare that someone comes in needing only to buy something.”

Usually, Dopf adds, they have other pieces at home that need to coordinate. Sometimes some of those are antique or heirloom pieces that need to be repaired or refinished. Other customers are going through full-scale renovations and want to ensure their new pieces work with new kitchen finish selections for hardware, cabinetry, trim and more. Stevens Design can work with customers on everything all at once to ensure that the end result is a cohesive and attractive living space.

Century House manager Jacob Harlow says the key is to keep at it until you find exactly what you want. In other words, don’t settle. “The biggest mistake someone could make when making furniture decisions is not buying what they like,” Harlow says.

“It sounds simple enough, but sometimes, a customer will come in with specifications on what they need based on what they had, and they are just thinking of the new piece as a replacement. Eventually the other things in the room will change as well, so if something fits the criteria, but they don’t love it, then is that the ideal purchase? We hope that our customers are delighted with each piece of furniture they find here.”

Sometimes Century House staff will even help you look beyond the showroom. “These days we carry accessories and furnishings to suit nearly any need,” Harlow says, “and if you don’t see it in store, we are happy to search for a solution.”

Other times the easiest way to get exactly what you want is to stop shopping. While custom-made furniture often sounds prohibitively expensive, it doesn’t have to be. Jeff Hensen, president of Hensen Fine Cabinetry, says working directly with a manufacturer cuts out the middleman markup that drives up the prices of some custom pieces. He also says shoppers shouldn’t be discouraged by the turn-around time. While his clients might have to wait six weeks for a set of coffee and end tables, that timeframe is often comparable to custom-ordered furniture with personalized finishes and hardware.

Custom furniture also makes it easy to add pieces over time. You don’t need to worry that a certain style or stain will be discontinued. You don’t have to struggle to find pieces that coordinate with your built-ins or wet bar. Hensen can design and build it all right now or piece-by-piece over the next several years. “We keep good, accurate records of our work,” Hensen says.

Another benefit, he notes, is that custom orders with nearby manufacturers like Hensen keep your money in this marketplace. At Hensen, none of what you pay goes back to a furniture company in another state or country. “With us, you’re working directly with the source. We’re local and you’re putting your money to work locally.”

For many Madison-area locavores, that is the biggest value of all.

– Jennifer Garrett


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