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Atkins for Furniture:
Protein vs. Carbohydrates
by Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan

I have found that when most people shop for furniture they look at price and try to buy the most furniture they can for the money they can spend. But not all furniture is created equal, and it is very important that you know this before you spend any money.

I recommend to clients that they approach shopping from various sources differently and think about what they are doing.

Most people:

  1. Spread their money out
  2. Have many inexpensive pieces and only a few nice pieces
  3. Have too much furniture
  4. End up having to throw out or replace furniture every five years
In light of this, it is preferable to:

  1. Concentrate your money and buy good furniture
  2. Have more quality pieces and fewer inexpensive ones
Most homes are filled with carbohydrate furniture. This is the relatively stylish, inexpensive furniture that is made of pressboard, plywood, and veneer with faux finishes to mimic solid wood.

While I love the Swedish giant IKEA dearly, this is primarily what the chain sells. There is nothing wrong with this furniture except that the quality of its manufacture and the simplicity of its style are indications that its life will be short.

Furniture like this looks best when it first comes in the door (or when it is photographed in the catalog), and the veneer finishes and staple-glued joints start to give way after a year or two, depending on how hard you press them.

Years ago I bought what I thought at the time was a beautiful bed frame from Pottery Barn, and when it arrived I was disappointed to find that it looked totally different from the way Id seen it styled in the catalog. Then, due to the dryness of our apartment, the wood separated on the frame, and for the past four years we have used a variety of wood blocks and the occasional screw to hold the whole thing together.

This was not a cheap bed -- I remember paying $800 at the time -- but by the time we finally replace it, it will be worth nothing, and we will have to throw it out. Not even the Salvation Army will take it away.

At an even later point in time, the value of an old bed frame like this will be negative. We might have to pay someone to take it away, as it wont go in the garbage. This bed is a carbohydrate. It provides only short-term sustenance to your home.

Protein furniture is finely crafted and well made, while carbohydrate furniture is cheaply mass made. As with any diet, both groups are valuable, but a better, more energetic home will cut down on the carbohydrate furniture over time and increase the amount of protein furniture.

When shopping at the bigger retail stores, it is good to know what they do well. Following is a ranking of the stores I use regularly, as well as their specialties:

Crate & Barrel -- While their style tends to be safe and not trendsetting, the furniture department is very good. Quality is high and service is excellent. The furniture division is separate from the assemble-it-yourself furniture that Crate & Barrel offers on the first floor.

Design Within Reach -- DWR has a great selection of quality mid-century modern and contemporary furniture. Since they are not a manufacturer, prices are higher and shipping has been reported to be very expensive on occasion.

IKEA -- IKEA is where you go for basics such as cabinets and shelving, bedding and curtains, tables and desks. These items are excellent for their low price point and will serve well. However, most of IKEAs other pieces wont stand up to heavy use or movement, lighting is unreliable, and glassware breaks easily. In general, at IKEA the more attractive it is, the more quickly it will lose its luster.

West Elm -- Started by Pottery Barn for urban dwellers with smaller spaces, West Elms design is attractive, but their quality is only fair. Beds have been reported extremely unreliable, while their tables are handsome but cheaply made.

Pottery Barn -- The biggest of the big, Pottery Barn always looks good, but watch out for quality! I wont go near their furniture, but I rely on their curtains, curtain rods, and rugs, which are all excellent at their lower price point.

Williams-Sonoma Home -- This newcomer from the Williams-Sonoma empire is a nice addition, with higher quality furniture at higher prices. Style is strong but subdued, and quality is excellent.

Be choosy when shopping these stores, and if you do need something beautiful, look at the next rung up. If you can spend a little more to buy something from someone who has actually made it, or something that has been carefully made in small batches from a unique design, this is usually worth it.


Excerpted from Apartment Therapy by Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan Copyright 2006 by Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan. (April 2006; $14.00US/$21.00CAN; 0-553-38312-4) Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


Author Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan is the founder of Apartment Therapy, a unique interior-design practice in the New York metropolitan area. In April 2004, Maxwell, with his brother Oliver, launched apartmenttherapy.com, one of the most popular design weblogs in the country, featured in the New York Times, New York Post, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Hartford Courant, New York magazine, Chicago Tribune, Newsweek, and Yoga Journal.

Maxwell is a regular guest on House & Garden Television's Mission: Organization and Small Space, Big Style. He lives in New York's West Village with his wife, Sara Kate, in a 250-square-foot apartment.

Apartment Therapy : The Eight-Step Home Cure



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