How much to spend on furniture as percentage of home price?

dandylandyFebruary 20, 2012

Hi decorators,

Just wondering if anyone had seen guidelines on how much to spend to furnish a home in line with its value?

In other words, we read a lot about not "over improving" a home, but I am wondering about "over furnishing" - we spent a lot of money (for us) renovating and moved from a 1 bedroom apt to a 3 bedroom apt, and it is time to get rid of our old post-college furniture, which really looks terrible in our lovely new apt.

Not to mention, there are a lot of pieces we just don't own (e.g. old apt - no dining room; new apt. has a dining room.)

We've been discussing this as a couple, and wondering what a "reasonable" budget would be to furnish this place.

We have savings set aside for furniture, but also want to be realistic about use - e.g. we'll def. spend more on the DR set as it will be a keeper for the next 30 years, and less on the sofa as kids will beat it up.

So, has anyone ever seen a guideline? Like if you spent X on your home, to furnish it medium and medium-high end will cost you 10%, 20% or whatever of X.

By medium and medium-high, I mean companies like Bernhardt, Baker, Drexel, John Richard, etc. - not European antiques or bespoke craftsmen creating fine custom furniture.

Thanks in advance...

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It depends on how much the house costs--whether you are in an area with high real estate prices or relatively low real estate prices.

In a relatively low cost area, where you could spend $125,000 on a house, if you decorated the whole house, you could easily spend 50% of the price of the house on furniture, finishes, window treatments etc.

If you live in an area where you spend $500,000 on an apartment, it's not likely you would spend $250K on decorating, although you could.

I don't think there is any issue with spending money on the portable things: if you are afraid that for some reason you may have to relocate, you may not want to do elaborate drapery and expensive wallpaper, since that would have to stay with the house--but the furniture can go with you.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 11:01PM
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I don't think it has any thing to do with how much your house cost, but how much you earn/save and can allocate to furniture, etc. I'm in CA, but if I moved to a cheaper part of the country I would not spend less on furniture ... I would probably have to spend more because the cheaper house would probably be larger!.

Don't assume your DR table/set will be a keeper for 30 years. Search on this forum and you will read about plenty of homeowners who no longer love the set they bought 10 years ago. Your tastes and likes will change and evolve. Make sure you buy something you really love and don't rush to buy something just to fill a space. It took me 2 years to find my DR table and 13 years later I still love it.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 12:08AM
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Hi Palimpsest,

Thanks for the reply...

We live in Manhattan, and have a 3 bed/3 bath apt, in a nice neighborhood (i.e. an established one, not on the fringes...) We gut renovated our apt, and need a lot of pieces to pull the place together, considering we moved from a small apt. (600 sq ft) into this one (1800 sq ft).

This is our dream apartment, and we do want it to be beautiful, but don't want to be silly and wasteful. Some furniture I see is so very expensive, for basically what looks quite plain, and neither of us know enough to understand why...

I was thinking we should spend about 10% of the purchase price on furniture, given that with small children, we'll certainly need to refurnish some pieces in 5-7 years.

This will get us some very nice quality casegoods, and some "ok" upholstered pieces, and average window treatments.

Like everything else in Manhattan, the labor costs for things like the window treatments and upholstery has been eye-opening.

My sister who has a house 3 times this size in the midwest, that cost 1/5 of our apartment, just got quotes for new drapes for her LR/DR and it was 1/2 what we were quoted here, for about the same size windows.

That's part of what made me think about this issue, and of course, we plan to stay here for many years, but who can really say?

Ultimately, to furnish her house has cost her much more as percentage of the purchase price, as she had much more space to contend with.

I guess I just wondered if our budget is too puny, too big, or just right.

We have a few consultations/interviews set up with interior decorators, and I want to be prepared for the "What's your budget" question.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 12:15AM
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Hi Chispa,

Thanks for the input, I must have been typing my reply to Palimpsest when you posted and I didn't see it...

Yes, I understand, but for example, there has got to be some guidelines... e.g. if you live in a $1 million condo in CA looking out to the ocean, you probably have the $$ to spend on a nice DR table, whereas the same exact condo, spacewise, that might cost $200k in say, Toledo, would maybe mean your income is less and therefore you have less to spend to furnish it with.

So in the first, you might have a $15K table and chairs (1.5% of your home price), and in the second a $5k table and chairs (2,5% of your home price). Both are very nice, but still in a different range...

Would the $5k table look out of place in the pricier Santa Monica condo? Perhaps yes, but perhaps no, esp. if it is a modern classic...

We have always saved and been very conservative with our money while building our careers, and now that we have kids and a new home, want it to be lovely but livable, and one thing we don't want to worry about is yelling at them to be careful every second b/c the sofa was ridiculously expensive..

BTW, where did you find your table in the end? I am on the lookout for suggestions!

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 1:05AM
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Living in Manhattan can give you some great opportunities on Craig's list. Check it out daily, you'd be surprised at what good items you find.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 1:31AM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

I think you have to look at your entire budget and decide how much you can afford for furniture. It's not about what is the "correct" amount but what the budget allows. If it's five thousand, than so be it. The same as if it's a hundred thousand or two hundred. You can make anything work and look good. But a proper budget that is based on all of life's expectancies is where to start.

Quality case goods, kids can ruin those too, btw.

You also need to decide what's important in your life: experiences or things. Most people find a happy balance, however, usually, I would rather spend money on our house than vacation and my husband, vice versa.

I have a good friend who has traveled all over the world but lives in a not very nice place. She's happy.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 1:36AM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

Style doesn't have much to do with money either and often, less money inspires creativity and uniqueness.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 1:56AM
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It also depends on what you find important. I found a rug that is amazing.I contacted the company and it turns out it is an antique, circa 1800's and worth about $40K (I knew I had good taste, lol). Can I afford a $40K rug? I can, but I won't spend it on one rug. I would rather buy 4 rugs at $10k each and fill more rooms. I don't care that it is a one of a kind antique. I would be happy with a reproduction.

You really can't go by the cost of the home. We might have the same apartment in NYC, but one family might have paid cash and the other borrowed as much as they could at the top of their budget. Their furniture budgets will be very different for the exact same apartment.

You can't assume anything based on the value of a house. There is no formula for furniture budgets.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 2:13AM
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Forgot - the table I bought is from Englishmans Furniture. Link below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Englishmans Furniture

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 2:18AM
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I would never have thought of framing this topic around a percentage of home price. As if others were going to be judging you??? I honestly don't get it.

Put into your 4 walls what makes you happy. Collect as you travel and grow. Buy quality, what you love...that's what makes a house a home.

We are just a hair short of our 60's. We've lived frugally but have invested well and have always bought high end and have never regretted our purchases. But we never had it all at once LOL.

And - don't ignore art. We've bought pottery, sculpture and paintings since we were in our 30's. Such a treat to find an image you love and living with that beauty has given us years of joy and pleasure.

So I guess what I'm saying is: be patient, do the search, drop the big bucks when you love what you find. It will all work out in the end and eventually you will have a very lovely collection of home goods and objects of beauty to enhance the rest of your life.


    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 5:46AM
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As a midwesterner, on the other side of the little kids side of it all, I think that a practical answer is to buy the best quality you can afford in things that matter to you. When you can see feel touch the difference between the price levels. I think that the art of mixing high and low, and adding vintage pieces to new makes it easier to stretch your budget, and gives the comfortable feeling that this was done over time, and that it wasn't all picked out a catalog and shipped in at once. (which can be hard to avoid the Embassy Suites look, IMHO)

In things that don't really matter, or won't be part of your Permanent items, get the fun trendy things to add some bling and zip to the space.

Try to find a "feeling/style/viewpoint/color scheme" that you like, and run that from room to room. This lets you swap out things between rooms very easily.
For example, I know that I like calming colors, and dark wood furniture. This makes it easy to decide to skip on the shiny white side table, even though I like it. It doesn't work.
It's like clothing. You can appreciate something in the style section, but may not want to actually wear it.

Never buy something so precious that if a living breathing person through carelessness or accident damaged it you would be upset. (think Annette Benning's character in American Beauty....Lester, you're going to spill beer on the couch...Thats a $4000 couch upholstered in Italian Silk. Lester: It's Just A Couch!)

So I had functional end tables that I got at estate sales that were $50-75 each. Some were solid cherry, but they were not new, and not expensive. I never freaked if the kids or their friends put soda cans, got a bit of marker on them, puppies chewed on them, etc.

So what would I spend the most money for? In order of importance.
1 good mattresses
2 couch and chairs that is comfortable (...I did not say anything on looks...comfort trumps looks. Do not buy a chair you didn't sit in)
3 dining space for the number of guests that I may want to entertain. Dinners, holidays, etc.
4 proper storage-books, clothes, and entertaining items
5 dishes, cutlery, glassware to entertain
6 adequate lighting
7 window treatments
8 rugs-note that kids and dogs are very hard on rugs. Would not spend a lot of money here at this point
9 art-again frame up your kids pictures here, and buy Real art as you can afford. Don't spend a lot on "merchandise art" to fill the walls.
10 Start a mad money fund to let you grab something that you see that you want when the mood strikes.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 7:42AM
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i've never heard of an expected budget based on a house's worth before either...

i absolutely wouldn't worry about the interior decorators' expectations to the 'what's your budget' question if that's your concern!!! i am sure, esp if you're in manhattan that little would surprise them one way or another!!! and, as chispa pointed out, price of a house has little to do with available budget--- many, many people are house poor-whether they live in an expensive place or not so pricey house.

i have found that my tastes have changed abit thru the years... ~ 20 yrs ago we bought a henkle harris dining room set that we liked very much---it was quite pricey, but not outrageously so as can be with HH- the quality and the wood is beautiful and i still like it very much, but if i were buying today, i'd probably choose a bit of a different style. no way i'm getting rid of it, but i have occasionally thought about the 'buy nice bedroom and dining room-you'll have them the rest of your life' is somewhat limiting if your tastes change---

bottom line- budget what you can comfortably afford!

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 7:53AM
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I have never heard of buying furniture based on what a house/apt. cost.

You guys correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't an Interior Decorator (not designer) make a profit off furniture pieces? So they can shoot for the high end stuff and make more money than something substantially lower?

I wouldn't let a designer pick out my furniture though, but I'd be open for ideas.

Buy what you like and can afford, but at the same time make sure the pieces are well built, especially sofas.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 8:01AM
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dandylandy, my guess is you're equating a furnishing/decorating budget with home price as is often done with landscaping/hardscaping when building new or doing a major renovation. Those are very different animals and as everyone is saying, there really isn't a predictable link between home cost and interior decorating.

Now if you were talking about permanent (or semi permanent) finishes, like cabinets, counters, type of trim, etc in relation to home cost and similar structures in your area, that's different and you could probably squeak out an equation to support that.

The interior elements of decorating are a very individual choice and can be purchased in many ways and price points from extremely high end, custom everything, rare antiques, vintage that is not yet costly, used that can be reworked or fill a gap temporarily, new, pieces that allow for fabric or finish choices with prices from $$$$ to $........ and more.

Location can certainly drive some costs as you've found with your custom window treatments. If you have a specific budget (which is a great idea), a good designer can work with you and help you achieve a beautiful comfortable home. If you have your heart set on something very high end which will strain your budget, they should be pointing that out and helping you get something more in line with your $$.

If you have a specific budget and a designer gives you grief about it, that's the wrong designer. If your wishes are not realistic for your current budget and they encourage you to go slowly in order to achieve the specifics you want and continue saving for more, that's a different story. Or they should steer you towards more affordable ways to achieve what you want.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 8:55AM
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Hi, Since this is your "Dream Apartment" and it's in Manhattan, I know it cost quite a bit more than 100,000. Regardless of the price of the apartment, I think it all depends on how you want to furnish, I don't think there is a percentage you can say your suppose to spend. I do think items that stay with the apartment when you sell such as window treatments, floors, and appliances should be in line with the purchase price. In your apartment if may be more expected to see custom window treatments vs out of the bag curtains. Do you plan on moving soon? If you do these things may be of interest to you, but if you plan on staying, I would decorate the way you want to live. Choosing a dining room table that you plan on using for 30 years is wonderful, it's going to be something you love, and that is the best furniture to purchase, if your taste changes there is always Craig's list. Enjoy decorating, purchase items you will enjoy, and that you and your family will enjoy.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 9:33AM
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Hi, thanks to everyone who replied non-judgmentally.

I really didn't mean to open a can of worms...

We have a very few nice pieces of furniture already (3 to be precise), and some art that we love, some bought and some given to us by artist friends for our wedding (and one of the artists later has become somewhat well-known, a very similar piece to what he gave us now hangs in a NY museum...!!!) He is still a friend who can come over and watch the baby spit up on us - we don't have pretentious friends nor do we need to impress anyone.

We both also have a lot of lovely "objets" from our travels -some valuable, some not at all but we enjoy seeing them as they bring back wonderful memories.

Over the past 10 years we lived well below our means and held on to furniture that both of us had bought when we were making very little $ right out of college, despite our incomes rising dramatically, we stayed put in our small one bedroom and saved until there was a huge market setback in NYC in 2009... grabbed this apartment when we saw it and went through a huge amount of work to get permission from the building and the city to do the renovations we wanted.

Now that we bought, gut renovated, and moved, there are only a few items of furniture we want to keep, and since we are looking at furnishing the entire apartment, we thought it would be helpful to have a budget and be prepared to discuss it.

As for what one can vs. cannot spend - we both work in finance and don't believe in carrying debt unless absolutely necessary. We would never go into debt to buy furniture.

We don't have a mortgage, and we live under our means, and will likely redecorate in 7-10 years, but not as completely as now.

We also "could" spend $40k on a rug, but will not. It isn't who we are, and I don't want to worry about it with children and pets and friends and frequent entertaining.

I did think, like dlm2000 said, that there would be a guideline, as for landscaping, which I read about previously.

I have been in apartments in Manhattan that cost upwards of $2 million and the furniture and rugs looked "cheap" - whether or not they were, I can't say. I've also been in former tenement buildings to small apartments that were eclectically decorated by friends with tight budgets and were gorgeous!

As for us, we want to buy things we like, and we want them to look nice and reflect our taste. A decorator/designer can get us into "to the trade" showrooms, and of the 3-4 I am planning to interview, they all charge differently. Some by the hour, some cost-plus, some a mix of the two. Neither of us have time to shop much other than online and to rip pages out of shelter mags of stuff we like. Our weekends are spent with family and friends, and we like that. We don't want to start obsessively searching for the perfect table and not find it for years...

As for the advice to "take your time and collect things slowly" - that's what we've been doing with art and decorative items for years.

However, we'd like to have furniture sooner rather than later so we can entertain more comfortably (we've had about 8 brunches or dinners with between 4 and 14 friends within 10 months of moving, and our friends managed to hold their plates on their laps or spread between the kitchen table and coffee table, but really, wouldn't it be lovely to have a bigger sofa, more chairs, a dining room table....)

It isn't hard for us to find stuff we like, but for example, at ABC Carpet and Home we saw 3 sofas we liked - $8k, $4k, and a little over $2k, and we guessed the price range before looking at the tickets and were close to spot on. Meaning, quality shows. However, again, with kids, I don't want to spend 8K on a sofa (we also saw some $20k sectionals, gasp!)

Thanks for the responses...

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 10:01AM
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I think it is completely reasonable to think of the furniture budget as a substantial percentage of what the house costs (with High Geographic Variation, of course).

I think it is a great question actually, and I think that if more people thought about how they were going to furnish a house rather than getting the maximum amount of empty house for their money, they would be better off.

My parents budget for furniture and interiors equalled the cost of the house itself. They live in an area where prices for empty lots was negligible and labor was cheap and got a great house inexpensively. But they furnished it right and they furnished it once, (and did a bit of redecoration over the period of 40 years).

I walk into an awful lot of houses in my area that are big, expensive, and pretty much empty or filled with crappy leftover furniture. IF they bought a smaller house,(which they certainly could), or a Cheaper house (which is an issue in my area)--maybe they could actually afford to furnish it properly. Conversely, some if the smallest houses in less expensive neighborhoods are very elaborately decorated at a much higher percentage of house value.

I am thinking that in 1800 of coop you probably have 5 rooms that need to be decorated: LR, DR, and 3 bedrooms, with kitchen and baths being essentially "done".

I think 10% would be good if you have a $1M apartment, to do a good LR DR and MBR and get some decent, if more basic furniture in the kids rooms and had it look complete. If its a $500K coop, maybe it's not enough.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 10:52AM
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Dandy I think some of your answer is actually in your post. I am going through a similar situation. I hired a decorator and they look at your job and look at the house and sort of form their own perspective of where your budget is or should be. Human I think. That said I want good quality furniture and I expect to pay for it but I also have an internal sensor that helps guide me. Yes I can afford that 40k rug but that isn't who I am. What price should it be - no idea but I usually know it when I see it. I know it prob won't be 4k because I know that the quality I want doesn't
come at that price range. I also know I am not going in debt over furniture.
A big part of it depends on how much I love or like something and whether it feels right and that I can truly afford it. I will wait for quality. I don't have to buy everything all at once. Designers have their place but I want value for money - i do not want to be seen as an open checkbook because I am too busy to do it myself. What I did that was helpful was to
become familiar with the brands I considered quality and had a sense of their price ranges. I then met with the designer and told her what I was look for for the different rooms. That gave her a sense of where I was going with budget. She then looked at other designers in that price range. If she thought there was something in a higher price range that would work she would tell me that it would be more. I would decide if i wanted to spend more money and cut back in another area or not. So I never
actually said to her my budget is "x". I have a hard time nailing down a firm budget and they like for you to have a budget. In my brain I always know the max I am going to spend. I can walk away from things I like. There are very few things that I "must" have.

So I wouldn't think in terms of percentage value. I think that is too arbitrary. Who determines that that percentage is "right"? Sort of like a diamond engagement ring should be 6 months salary. Great for the diamond industry but a lot of pressure for ordinary folk who try to do that. It's great that you are thinking of furniture to reflect the stature of your home. I've seen McMansions with ikea furniture. It does look odd. That said, find your comfort zone in terms of what you like and what you feel is reasonable. So glad to hear you don't go in debt over stuff, I love it. Good luck!

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 12:03PM
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I can remember when 10% of house value was a general number thrown around when furnishing a home.
A decorator we used 20+ years ago mentioned 10% when we moved into a large home and we needed to buy all new furnishings for it. In the end, we did end up spending nearly 10% since many pieces were high end, but fortunately the decorator picked out brands and items that I still love and use today. My DR tables have changed over the years, as have the sofas, but most of my casegoods and rugs are still the same.

1 Like    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 12:44PM
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Circus Peanut

I do a lot of reupholstering, and people often confuse the upholstery cover with the actual sofa itself (frame and innards). But they are actually two different things, and it helps to mentally separate them in terms of where you want your long-term investment to go. It actually makes more sense to buy an expensive sofa in the least expensive upholstery offered, than to buy a mid-range sofa in a nicer fabric.

Get a classic style in something maximally kid-proof like microsuede, and redo it in fuschia mohair velvet down the road, post-drool.

A cheaper sofa will have a frame and innards that won't last to reupholstering time in 10 years anyways, so you're not really saving yourself any money by buying cheaper upholstered items. I see an awful lot of folks make that mistake. So my advice would be to spend the money on the best-quality upholstered pieces you can afford right now -- done in cheaper and durable fabrics -- and you truly won't regret it.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 12:55PM
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The 10% figure is bandied about simply because that is the insurance industry standard for contents insurance--- 10% of the home's worth is the automatic coverage for home contents. That includes not only furnishings and artwork, but clothing, electronics, jewelry, etc. I should think that 10% would not be adequate coverage for most people.

Once you decide what you want to spend, be it a percentage of your home value or not, the lion's share will be spent in the public rooms and MBR, with less on the children's bedrooms as they are likely to change more often. I would estimate that for a "classic six," 50% of the budget would be spent on the public areas (LR, DR, foyer, hallways), 30% on the MBR (or 40% on the MBR / study combination) and about 10% on the children's rooms. I would keep about 10% of your actual budget in reserve for that wow table or wonderful accessories you didn't expect to find or just for cost overruns.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 9:52PM
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One of the things that my parents did that was smart was with the kid's rooms: I just starting school, I got a twin bed, and my furniture was the old Ethan Allen Room Plan. Sturdy and essentially modular in design. My sisters were teenagers and one got twin beds paired together and and one got a full bed (this was before everybody went queen). Their furniture was decent but nothing too expensive. We all got Good mattresses.

Each room could then be used as a guest room, for various guest/s or a married couple. My sisters were only there a couple years so one room has pristine 40 year old furniture.(Now kind of retro in a Hollywood Regency way)

So I agree that you will spend less in the kids rooms, but since they may need to "flex" you may not want them to be too specifically juvenile. My actual furniture was very "grown up" for a 6 year old, but it was a good idea.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 10:18PM
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Hi, thanks again for more info. I didn't even know that 10% was an insurance industry guidelines.

Palimpsest, my parents did the same thing! We each had our own rooms and a bed and a daybed against the window surrounded by bookcases. It was a cozy nook for each of us to study or read in, but was great for accommodating family. Also, when I was 10, our house was damaged in a big storm and we rebuilt, and each of us kids got "adult" furniture - I chose a Queen Anne style bedroom set in cherry from Ethan Allen! So different from my taste now, however, it is lovely and I still love to sleep in that room!

Anyway, our kid's have nice, modern furniture now but since they are still in cribs and toddler beds, we get to change that in a few years, and I think it is nice to let them pick. So we'll see.

Circuspeanut, thank you for posting that info on upholstery!
That will definitely inform our search for a sofa and chairs for the LR. I like the idea of getting good bones and a kid-friendly upholstery, and doing a "fuschia mohair velvet" wow! in several years. Well, maybe not fuschia, but love the idea.

We now have met with 2 of the decorators for interviews and that's been interesting. One of them charges by the hour and splits the discount. She brought several ideas to the table based on links I'd sent her from online (like houzz, shelter mag websites, furniture companies) and it was an eye-opener to see the net price of the furniture.

The other one works cost-plus, and didn't come so prepared...

We have yet to make our final decision.

We did make a list of all the furniture and other things we need to buy and assigned prices we thought were fair based on the retail prices of things we saw online, and it made us feel better to have an idea ahead of time approximately what we thought was reasonable.

FYI, for anyone who is still reading, some friends of ours saw this listing and are going to the open house on Sunday, and when my friend sent me the link, I laughed b/c while there are a few cool pieces of furniture and art, the photos do demonstrate what I mean about the decor not being in line with the apt:;

In case the link doesn't work, it is a 2 bed, 2 bath apt with a separate dining alcove on E 67th btwn Madison and Park - asking $1,595,000. Go to and type web id 2257326...

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 12:18PM
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Ouch-- doesn't look like much, does it?

I know that building, we lived on the corner of 70th and York Ave for seven years and passed it many times. Unfortunately it is one of the preWar buildings with windows just like those white brick monstrosities in the East 60s.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 12:30PM
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dandylandy- good luck furnishing your home! You are so lucky- you are in ny and have alot of furniture shops right at your door step. We moved into a home that doubled out aquare footage about 18 months ago. My only advice is don't rush! I rushed to buy our dining chairs and kitchen counter stools as we were hosting thanksgiving, and I do still like them, but I don't love them.

As far as price, I agree, it's what you can afford and what has value for you. There are some things I can afford but don't want to spend that much on a single item.

From my experience, if you use an interior designer, you will spend more. They will show you nice things and cost money and you will want them :) And remember not all pieces have to be from the same price point. In my family room, I have a pair of end table that cost $100 and a custom wing chair that was $2400.

I also spent a little more on my dining table as I knew I would love it forever and it was a one of a kind piece. The sofa, I figured if I can get 10 years out of it, I will be happy as we abuse that thing!

Purchasing items from antique shops, craigslsit, ebay and etsy saved me alot of money.

Good luck, have fun.

p.s. I'm orginally from ny and visit once a year. I always hit up the furniture shoips so I can see things in person before buying. I didn't make it to ABC Carpet and home last time, but my designer recommended it and I will definately go there next time.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 1:39PM
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kswl, I can't picture that building despite living in that 'hood for almost 8 years (77th & Lex, right near Lenox Hill Hospital) but they are going to the open house tomorrow so can't wait to hear what the rest of the place looks like. Guessing it needs work - no bathroom photos, no kitchen photos. But the location is nice... I just posted it b/c some people took my original question the wrong way. It is fairly common to go into a $1 million plus apt in the city and find it looking inside like nary a thought was put into trying to make it comfortable and inviting. That's our ultimate goal for our apt - a place we can relax and feel cozy at the end of the day, and where our friends feel welcome (and have a place to sit and eat, b/c food is important to us!)

pps7, Yes, ABC is fun - have toured it top to bottom more than I care to admit (mostly back when I renovated the apartment I owned before getting married) and always see new stuff that is eye-catching (ouch! just talking about it makes my wallet cry out in pain, though!)

Next visit, if you have time or are near Bloomies or the D&D building, walk down E 58th towards the East River and it is really fun to look in all the windows of the furniture/antique/home places. Many are "to the trade" only, but some let you in to just look if they aren't busy.

I am a HUGE fan of etsy for handmade kids things, but honestly, never considered it for furniture. Will have to take a look. Bet at least they have some gorgeous table linens and accent pillows and throws, so thanks for mentioning it.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2012 at 2:54PM
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Hi dandylandy

It's perfectly okay to say to your decorator that you don't know what your budget is when you start the conversation. Good design plans start with a very detailed space plan including location of outlets, height of walls, etc. If this isn't something you want to create your self, then you could definitely have a designer do it for you. Next comes the style that you want to invoke. Do you want to do contemporary, cottagey, etc. Then, a color palette for your home. Once you've got those things nailed down you can go shopping or your interior designer can and you can start dealing with budget for buying pieces. Until that time, you might pay the interior designer for their design work by the hour. A plan will allow you to prioritize your money. Say you need to remodel the kitchen, you need new sofas, end tables. Well...maybe you remodel the kitchen the first year and you set aside X for that. then the next year you move to soft furnishings and so on.

Maybe that helps frame it in another way for you. I'd put off the "what can you afford" discussion as long as you can until you have a better idea of how you want your home to flow, function, and feel.

Last but not least, we don't get too many folks from downtown NY on the board. I'm sure many of us, including me, would love to see some pics of your home! There are some very helpful and talented people on this board and they can surely help as you make a plan or need help deciding on a purchase.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2012 at 7:18PM
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We were across the street from New York Hospital, in a building called Payson House, dandylandy. It's primarily for physicians in the Cornell residency programs at the hospital.

The exterior of a building is often no clue to the interiors. We had friends who bought in those white brick buildings built in the Sixties and renovated beautifully. We weren't allowed to do much to our apartment, and didn't want to as we were just renting it, but it had those very same parquet floors that were so typical when we were there. Its best feature was the underground tunnel to the hospital :)

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 1:05AM
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I have heard of this metric, but it does not make any sense to me as guideline. For example, an apartment with a view will cost far more, but should that impact the decorating budget? And when prices fell by half in some markets, did that mean people should spend half on a sofa?

I think that relating the two became especially popular when home prices were booming. It became one more way to justify extravagances (as well as to finance them).

Based on my experience, I would not start with a budget, only to say to your designer that you expect that part of their job is not just aesthetics but good value. Too often designers just pick the best and most expensive things for their clients. Sometimes those things are worth it to you, sometimes not. They should think for you the way they think for themselves. (PS good luck finding that). Also make sure to strike a balance between benefitting from their design expertise and staying true to what you want --- don't let them talk you into anything. If I sound down on designers, I am, but by the same token I would not want to decorate without "to the trade" access.

Apart from the use of a designer, the broader question of what is a reasonable expenditure remains. I have conflicting advice. On one hand, I have often regretted buying something that was a bargain if it is inferior quality. Especially with case goods, every time you use it, you can feel the quality. On the other hand, I have now decorated 2 apartments, 2 primary homes and a vacation home. And i really see how trendy decor is (even if you think you are being "timeless"). Your tastes vary more than you might think they will, and your situation and needs may change. When I bought my first home, I moved from a 1br on the UES to a 8400 sq foot home. I believed in "investing" in furniture, so I bought Stickley, Baker, Kindel, etc.

Most of what I bought then I would not buy today, I have to admit. And it can only be sold at a fraction of its cost. It has really made me think more about decor as fashion. I still would not buy inexpensively made case goods, in particular. But neither would i want to buy full retail brand new high end case goods. I prefer to buy antiques or vintage. More costly then lower range furniture brands, but less then the Stickley showroom. Otherwise, you will feel that every item you buy must be used in your home forever. I think that's why, to me, so many people's homes look over furnished. It's tough to turn the babies out once you've got them.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 9:25AM
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This doesn't matter so much in a place with typical housing costs. Where it should be considered is in areas with higher housing costs. I say this because it is not cheap to furnish a house, and in my high cost area it is not unusual to walk into a house where they obviously didn't consider that they would have to budget for furniture at all. It all goes to mortgage.

There are two real extremes that I know of. One couple who bought a house for a few million dollars and embarked on an interior period restoration and furnishing project in excess of $10M that they did for themselves and will never recoup. The other was a Manhattanite that wore exquisite designer clothing and had a mattress on the floor and a TV set in her studio coop. Period.

All are ways of life I suppose, but I would rather live in a house that I could afford to furnish.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 10:01AM
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It's irrelevant ... buy what you like that is what you can afford.

If my tastes ran to genuine Spanish Colonial antiques and hand-crafted reproductions, I could easily spend 200% of the purchase price of this house on them.

However, I'm on a limited income, so I'll get the same feeling for a lot less with one or two genuine pieces and some feel-alikes and imports.

With a decorator or interior designer, tell them you want to nail down the "look and feel" and the color palette first.

From that, you can go low-end to ultra-high end as your budget allows.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2012 at 5:37PM
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dandylandy and (palimpest, you always have something interesting to say)

This is a very interesting topic. It's not the money.... I have ran out of energy and stamina to furnish my house after "multiple" renovations. I spent more than a year finding a piano I wanted after I finished the renovation. I spent many many hours on finding the piano. I ended up spending 2x the budget that I started out with.

Now that I have the biggest furniture in the house, i know that i have to get a designer. i don't have the energy or the drive. If my decision making skill is so poor that it takes me a year to find a piano, I can't imagine how long it would take me to furnish the entire house!

I can't imagine spending hours and hours looking at furniture. I don't enjoy it THAT much. I wish someone would just come and do it. Alas, I can't give up that much control. My husband keeps on pressuring me to get the furnishing done. My DH is color blind. I can't leave the task to him...

Mtnrdredux is right in that decors come and decors go. I am old enough to have bought things before and that they are not what I would buy now. I know that I will not want many of the items that I buy in 10 years. Piano was a different decision for me. I would have it til I die. I don't feel that way about furniture....

That is why I am having an aversion to buying things that will cost a huge amount! I figured that the decor will last about 10 to 15 years and probably will need to be done again. Ugh! So transient yet so expensive.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2012 at 10:56PM
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This is not necessarily specific to this situation, but I have never understood keeping the budget a secret when meeting with designers/decorators. How can you expect to be given a well thought out and executed plan when the professional is given no parameters? Do you have a budget $5000 or $50,000? It does matter. Most design pros have sources they use on a regular basis. They have a basic bottom line budget for a room. If you expect them to work outside that, they have a right to know. Honestly, you gain nothing (except free design advice). Why waste your time test driving a Porsche with a Honda budget?

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 8:23AM
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Most designers will not work without a budget, and it is unfair to expect them to. If one doesnt give them some idea of the total cost of the project they won't be able to allocate funds for various parts of the job. ... It's like asking them to guess how much I'll spend on a sofa--- they might waste eferyone's time proposing things that are way out of budget.

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 8:34AM
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Dandylandy -
I saw that you have a collection of things you like already ... find a decorator who works hourly, book a couple of hours as a consult, show them your stuff and ask for a plan that makes it work. Tell them that you will do major shopping through them.

I've never understood the practice of getting a percentage of the sale as the fee. It automatically shoves the decision bias towards gold-plated loos and Scalamandre silk sofas.

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 5:03PM
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"I've never understood keeping a budget secret..."

Because a budget isn't necessarily a static thing. I might be able to afford $100,00 on furnishings but what if I could spend $50,000 and be just as satisfied? I'll completely miss spending $50,000 though if I tell my designer that I can spend $100,000. Also, what if my budget is $20,000 but that means I'll be giving up quality in soft furnishings? You might want to wait a year until you can spend $30,000 and get quality. It's hard for the average person to know what a reasonable amount of money is to set aside to furnish a room, or house, and a decorator/designer isn't necessarily going to bring it in on the low side. Sometimes good enough is good enough.

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 6:58PM
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"I'll completely miss spending $50,000 though if I tell my designer that I can spend $100,000."

The secret budget approach may work for people who don't trust their designer as a professional--- if you can find someone who will work on that basis. I personally would not work with a designer I thought was trying to overcharge $50k or (more likely ) overcharged because of poor communication on my part. The design process includes time to talk about quality, to be given pictures and prices of good, better, best, and to go shopping to see in person what those levels mean to the designer.

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 7:37PM
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Let's you only afford or want to spend $10,000 but the designer thinks you can spend $50,000. How is it benefitting either of you? How can the designer even source products or contractors if they don't know your budget? You could get a vague idea (colors, basic furniture and fixture placement), but not a detailed plan of any kind. Let's say you love that vague plan and decided to move forward, then the pro presents you with specific products and all of a sudden you are presented with a figure 2-3x your budget or lower priced items of lesser quality. Then what? A designer who normally shops at ABC Home is not going to now shop at Ashley or Bassett Furniture to meet your budget. And the homeowner is most likely not going to be willing or able to stretch a $10,000 budget into a $50,000 one.
Conversely, let's say the homeowner has a 50k budget, but the designer thinks it's 10k. The homeowner is then presented with products that are not up to par with their expectations.
An informed homeowner can certainly get a basic idea of cost of furniture on the Internet. Same with rugs and accessories. I may not put all my cards on the table during the initial meet, maybe I would lowball 10%, but I would give them a ballpark figure.
OP, sorry to hijack the thread. You have gotten some good advice and good luck with your dream home!

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 8:05PM
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In what fantasy world would a designer have any interest in working with somebody who won't even say what the budget is? The only interior object you'll be shown is the door.

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 9:12PM
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It's always a challenge to specify a budget when you can afford much more than you probably really want to spend. I ran into that when house shopping. Realtors always ask your price range, and I'd say "I need 4 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths with at least 2000 square feet and such-and-such amenties. What will that cost me?" They don't think--or search the MLS--that way. So I browse around on, come up with the low end of the price range that looks like it'll get me the house I want, and we start looking. If I don't find what I want, we bump up the price range $30K and go another round. And so on.

For me, furniture is much the same. I'm a "I don't know what I want to spend, I just look for something I love and get the best bargain I can" kind of girl. So I want a sofa and chairs for my living room, a certain color, a certain kind of cushion. I look all over and none exactly fit the bill. I finally find a set at a discounty-type place for $500 for a sofa and 2 chairs. Bingo!

Then I shop for bedroom furniture. I'm wanting a certain look, and finally find it at Ethan Allen, and I spend $3500 on 2 nice pieces. I skip the nightstands because they're $500 each, which seems way too high, and pick up a couple at 6 months later for $100 each that match beautifully.

I probably would have paid $1000 for the living room set if that's what the "right" set cost. I would have loved to get the bedroom furniture for $2000, but couldn't find something I loved for that.

And I don't think I could ever pay $5000 for a couch. I don't think most furniture is timeless, and when I got tired of it I'd delay getting rid of it because it was so expensive. No $40,000 rugs for this kid. I don't even do $40,000 cars because they depreciate.

So I don't know if my rambling is actually leading to anything resembling useful advice. :-) I rambled because your brain seems to work a bit like mine on the issue. I guess if I were in your shoes, with no energy for design, I'd tell the designer what I was looking for in a room (feel, style, color, whatever), and ask them what I could get for $1000, $5000, and $10,000 (or whatever your price points are). Have them come up with plans and then you can see what you get for the money. You should have some built-in sense for "that's worth it (or not) to me" and settle on something. Once you've done that with a couple rooms, you might be able to extrapolate for the rest of the house.

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 9:17PM
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I am sorry, I disagree that you need to specify a budget. I have used decorators several times (NYC and environs) and I have never given them a budget. I am struggling with the nicest possible way to say this, but if it is clear that you are ready willing and able to spend a significant amount to furnish a room, I do not think that step one needs to be a budget. If you are starting out or have other reasons to keep costs down, then you do need to mention it up front as you may be specifying quite a challenge. (Like the ridiculous shows that make over 4br homes with 1000 and a weekend)

Especially if it is just furnishings, a budget makes sense to me only if you, the client, needs one or want one. Most of the time what I would say to a designer is, if i really like something I am pretty open to spending considerable money on it. But by the same token if I want to a slip covered headboard, I've no qualms about buying it at Pottery Barn, even if it sits on a $20,000 area rug. So my view is, show me what you thinks works and show me a few price points. If you are talented, I might spend a lot more than I expected. But if you are really talented, you will show me a room the way you would do it for yourself --- a room that offers good value and includes luxuries only when they have no substitute and really make a room.

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 9:42PM
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I also am one that would never tell my exact budget up front. To be honest, I never have an exact one. I like to tell people (just an example) I want to price out my dream kitchen and am very specific about what I want, and see what it all costs. Then I will decide on what elements to splurge and save. I also like to haggle - if I find something I love and am sure about, its easier then to say... Will you sell your X to me for x? IME a lot of businesses have wiggle room in their prices.

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 11:22PM
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Perhaps we're not all talking about the same thing :) if a person is moving and has a house that needs completing within a specific time frame, say six months or so, I think that person will have to be willing to be honest about the budget. One budget may be more open ended than another, but the homeowner will be giving the designer guidelines even in the absense of "a number" just by which furnishings are selected from the ones proposed. And, as the OP has noted, the quality, location and value of the home will help the designer predict (or assume) what one will want or need to spend. Mixing price points is really not the issue, as i see it. The budget can be large or small, but in most cases people do have something in mind when they embark upon a project. If they don't, they should-- from a purely financial point of view. I can understand not having a set budget if the rooms will be furnished over years. I'll wait for something just right, but in the meantime I will have to have an interim placeholder that can later be moved to another room, given to a child in a condo, or sold, and that placeholder has to be found and purchased....time and money, part of the budget.....we are numbers people.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 12:00AM
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I don't think you need to disclose an exact budget, but certainly a ballpark. One can send 700 or 2500 or 20,000 on a sofa. When I met with a designer, I said I wanted to send approx 2500 for a sofa. If I had found one we loved for 3500, then I would have done it. But I would have been irritated if she picked out 20k sofas. She directed me to furnitures lines in my price point: Mitchell gold, Lee industries, Oly, etc.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 12:16AM
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mtnrdredux, I seriously doubt any designer you've worked with has wondered about the adequacy of your budget.

But many people truly have no idea what furnishings of a certain quality cost. I always remember various news stories about the cost of curtains, such as that CEO (I forget which) with the $6K shower curtain. At the time I thought, well, if it's custom drapery panels with a valance over the liner, plus trim, that sounds about right. But of course all the news anchors feigned shock.

The point is not about having an "exact" budget: it really doesn't matter if you plan to spend $35K or $300K. But it certainly does matter if you expect to spend $3500. Because at that level most of the to-the-trade items a designer deals with will not be available.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 12:26AM
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Since I am not actively working in the field, and I only do design work for people I know already, I have an idea of what their budgets are (generally miniscule) before we begin. However, they may not consider it low, so having someone tell me they are willing to spend a small, medium or large amount of money in a vague sense is not particularly informative.

I had a client who had never bought a piece of furniture that hadn't fallen off the back of a truck or wasn't from a discount place, so she thought $1000 for a sofa was a lot. She thought it cost $100 to have something professionally other words she was clueless, so her valuation of a lot or a little made no sense in reality. She still thinks her $6000 near gut remodel of a bathroom was expensive. (Compared to the plastic tub liners and slap up some paint favored by the rest of her family)

I really don't understand the guardedness and secrecy of setting even a ballpark budget if you work with a designer. You don't walk into a Honda dealership looking to spend $90K and you don't walk into a Mercedes dealership and walk out with a car for $10K. You don't ask to see houses in a $1M neighborhood if that's not your budget.

I think it goes back to this old prejudice that someone should be able to design something completely for themselves, so using a designer is frivolous, or worse, that the designer is a rip off artist that would make you spend $100K if they knew that's how much money you have. There are certainly designers out there like that, but I think most of them work with people who have budgets, and may try to come in Under...because it may lead to return business.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 11:19AM
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It's so interesting to read different perspectives on this topic! I'm sure dandylandy didn't think she'd start such an active conversation with her innocent post:-)

This is one of the things I like about this forum; well educated and passiontate folks discussing home decorating! It's so fun.

I'm reminded that reasonable people can disagree. Too, I do think there is a huge difference between someone who wants to furnish their entire home in 6 months and is working with a designer. Yes, you absolutely must share your budget range in that scenario. Since I've never had and never will have the luxury of that situation my brain doesn't work like that. I just assume that folks furnish their homes over time and they check craigslist for that perfect mirror, or, chair.

Anyhoo...another great topic on the home dec forum

Pal- it's too bad you don't design professionally anymore. You are so good! I always read your posts with great interest.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 12:07PM
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You don't walk into a Honda dealership looking to spend $90K and you don't walk into a Mercedes dealership and walk out with a car for $10K.

That was the point of my comment to mtnrdredux. Everyone knew she could afford a Mercedes and wasn't completely wasting their time, regardless of whether she actually chose to purchase something.

As long as you're in a designer's ballpark, budgets can be set iteratively. You can shop over time, your designer can show you a few different etageres or sofas, and then your choice will affect the price of things your designer brings you in the future. If you buy two Baker pieces, you may see more stuff in that price range. If you don't, a decent designer won't keep pushing them. What's the point?

Going back before the budget secrecy discussion started, I think the question of how much to spend on furniture really is hard. That's because a lot of things have changed that affect our choices--mostly due to globalization.

First, furniture quality has collapsed. As I've said, I recovered two couches I had planned to replace because I bought them in the mid '90s and they were Frederick Edwards. A salesman in a trade showroom stopped me from looking at couches when he heard that--he told me straight out to recover them, because to get the exact same quality today would cost over $10K per piece plus fabric. So if you want furniture that's as sturdy as what your parents had, you have to spend much more than they did (inflation adjusted) to get the same thing. At the same time, if you choose more affordable pieces, you have to realize that they are, yes, junk and will not last you a lifetime.

Second, styles keep changing very rapidly because globalization creates a market of old crap that wears out and new trendy products that can quickly replace them on the cheap. The whole industry is now geared toward that model, so you're much more likely to tire of your purchases than your parents did.

So what do you do? Buy trendy garbage and throw it out, or buy higher quality and pay through your teeth? The answer just isn't simple.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 1:33PM
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I guess the issue is that what if your sofa budget is 20k, but there might be a 2500 one that you would like. Will the designer even show it to you?

I mean, there is a clear difference between a Mercedes and Honda, but sometimes the differences in furniture is not quite as obvious to me. And there are people who could spend 50K on a car but decide to buy a Hnda instead.

I do wish, that designers would just charge by the hour and not upcharge on furntiture bought. I would rather they charged a higher hourly rate. It clearly affects their judgement if they are getting 30% of the cost of the furniture.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 1:34PM
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The issue is the same with every commission-based business, including designers and real estate agents. People say they want to pay by the hour, but they don't.

It can take an enormous amount of time to wade through a vast design center looking for a couch at showroom after showroom--not just what's on the floor, but also what's in catalogues--then spend twice that amount of time looking at fabric swatches. Would most people really pay the bill for that at the end of the month without complaint, even if (as is likely) they haven't even found a couch yet?

There are some conflicts that come with the marked-up pricing model. Designers often aren't as strong advocates with manufacturers as a retail store might be, because they don't have the leverage and can't afford to just replace your couch if you don't like it.

However, I really think the notion of "hiding" cheaper alternatives is just speculation, and it isn't something that happens in real life. Designers don't make that much more taking you from a $10K to a $14K couch; and failing to show you a $7K couch isn't going to get them a bigger commission if you don't want to spend that much anyway. And if you want a $2500 couch, you're not getting it through a designer anyway.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 1:57PM
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Marcolo, I respectfully disagree. I did buy a couch from a designer for $2250 to be exact. I don't think designer services are only for those people that want to spend 10K on a sofa.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 2:53PM
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What line? I can't think of a single to-the-trade line off the top of my head offering a sofa at that price.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 3:01PM
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I think there are more designers that do work by the hour. That's how I do it. The problem with that is that it seems higher priced to people because it's an up front cost. After all people get "Free" design services at places like Ethan Allen or cabinet-affiliated kitchen design places.

And think it is free, because they are paying for services but the price is tacked on to the goods, and people understand paying for an object rather than for an idea.

My parents always said that working with designers Saved them money. But as I have said over and over, they like what they liked and will always like it, and don't need to totally redecorate. So the very expensive $1100 sofa they bought in 1969 they still have, and the $97 a yard trim (I) picked out for the LR drapes in 1987 is still there. It becomes a lot cheaper if it has a long life cycle, and people mostly don't believe in long life cycle anymore, for all the talk of sustainability. And that $1100 sofa they bought in 1969 started out at almost $2000( a car, then) but the designer watched it for them, bought it on sale and with an employee's discount and passed it on to them. I still have the various hangtags and receipts that tell the whole story of how that designer saved them money right at the beginning, and over time as well by urging them to buy quality where it counted, and cheaply where it made sense.(my sisters' bedroom furniture...they would only live in the house a few years)

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 3:10PM
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What line? I can't think of a single to-the-trade line off the top of my head offering a sofa at that price.

In my search for a designer I learned that not all designers deal solely in to-the-trade furniture. I spoke with one who seemed to source mostly from C&B, Williams-Sonoma Home, Mitchell Gold, etc. Which made no sense for me because one of the main reasons I wanted to use a designer was to access what I could not ordinarily access. Plus, the idea of paying a markup from retail for a Crate & Barrel sofa that I could just walk into a mall and buy strikes a bad note with me.

I wish that I could have found a designer that I could pay by the hour for a layout and a preliminary sense of direction. And maybe some help selecting a major piece or two for each room, after which I could collect the rest over time. I probably didn't look hard enough, but I was not too successful. For the two rooms I was working on I ended up going to Stickley and using one of their designers for that purpose. I only bought a few items from each of his room plans, but enough to "pay for" the design service. I do think using this service saved me for making a bunch of mistakes, as apparently my initial thoughts were way off as to scale.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 4:16PM
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"I wish that I could have found a designer that I could pay by the hour for a layout and a preliminary sense of direction. And maybe some help selecting a major piece or two for each room, after which I could collect the rest over time."

That is exactly how we worked with her. We needed help with the family room and she helped us purchase a sofa, loveseat, wing chair, Gave some advice on piant color, accent colors, layout, scale. None of the pieces were to the trade only. We did end up COM with a designer fabric that was to the trade only on one of the pieces. She did not upcharge on all of the pieces- just the COM chair. The rest she billed hourly. I was happy to pay her the $500 for her expertise. I ended up getting the smaller pieces on my own. I found a few vintage end tables, old apple picking ladder. I'm sure we will work with her again for window treatments and a few other fnishing touches. Those have been put on hold b/c DH decided to do a home theatre :)

I don't like to use "free" design services b/c then you are limited to that brand.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 4:59PM
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I agree about not wanting to be limited to the brand when you use "free" design services. That's why I went to a place that I knew I'd want to buy at least a few things from. The furniture store designers-- at least the one I worked with from Stickley-- didn't expect me to buy all the items he suggested. Though I'm sure he would have been happy if I did. I bought a couch, a sectional and a chair from him, and that's probably all he'll get from me. But I did end up with a layout that gave me some good ideas, and I'm tweaking as I go along.

It's nice you found someone that worked well for you, pps7. I may try again to find an independent designer when I get around to some of my other rooms.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 5:12PM
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"Free" design services are not necessarily provided by an actual designer. A lot of stores give their salespeople fancy titles.

One way to find design services on a limited, affordable basis is to contact your local design center. The Boston Design Center, for example, has a Designer On Call program where you can get somebody to do a room plan and limited shopping for you. There is markup on the to-the-trade goods, but they are at a steep discount off "list" (whatever that means) and hourly rates are an option on certain things.

As far as prices goes, on some categories--accent tables, for instance--you can actually find better deals through designers than at retail.

As far as quality goes, the retail brands have fallen down the hole. I have Mitchell Gold chairs in my kitchen from 1995 that I could easily reupholster and keep using forever, even though they weren't terribly expensive to begin with. Last time I was in a MG showroom, however, all the floor samples looked like they had done time in a crack house. Veneer was literally peeling straight off the cases pieces even though they had never been used. And C&B--I'm writing on a C&B desk now, in my office. It split, and the drawers racked, three weeks after I bought it.

The quality of to-the-trade merchandise has been much higher; however many of those products have also had problems I would not consider acceptable at those price points. Some issues were rectified, and some not. So while designer goods are better, they are not perfect either.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 6:15PM
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Poor Dandy probably thinks we are all nuts.

Back to the original question.

1. I do not think you need to give the interior designer a budget. Such professionals can and do handicap clients' wherewithal. A 3br 3ba in Manhattan lets her know you don't want Ikea and that she should want you as a client.

2. I'd describe what you need, mention a few things you like, and few things you really don't like, and ask her to give you a range of what you should expect to spend per room, with appropriate caveats.

3. I would not buy junk, but I would accept that decor is fashion and, when you purchase something, do not fool yourself that you will have it and love it forever. I bought a lot of needlessly expensive things because I believed that. Some I would still buy, some not. My 2cents.

4 Oh and have fun with it!

PS You will find yourself redefine "silly wasteful" after a day in the D and D building!

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 9:42PM
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Eh, I have seen some of the worst junk in expensive apartments and houses because people can't afford anything but the mortgage and/or the carrying costs. Owning a pricey apartment in a pricey location doesn't inform me much at all. It could be the definition of house poor.

I wouldn't work with someone who wouldn't ballpark me a budget. To me it would mean they didn't trust me, and so I wouldn't trust them.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 10:05PM
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About the budget thing, I think a lot of that goes without saying. Most people don't go to store x, designer x, car showroom x, without both parties knowing inuitively the ballpark budget estimate. And from my standpoint, yes I have been completely soured by (contractors especially) trying to give random astronomical quotes thinking they can get it out of you with no basis on what you know of what materials cost and what you approximate labor hours plus hourly wage to be ( and yes I always factor in that contractors should enjoy vacation and sick leave, medical insurance
etc). Maybe I feel I have a better grasp than most since we have done so many DIY projects. I think if a designer or contractor is truly not sure about someone's
budget (and I find that hard to believe) by asking some really simple questions like "what stores or brands have you found chairs etc that you
like and might buy" and how many of them do you need really sums up
the ballpark budget estimate in my eyes. I love when designers will be up front with their hourly rate, and say... If you want me to measure and pick out all the pieces for your LR, it will be approx this many hours of my time. Then you know if you should bother following up with them or not. If the client says I want a cream colored sofa with this look.. then a designer could tactfully show them three, high middle low price, and be up front about approximate price. Then most people I think "get" what features they really want and what they will have to give up to be at the price they need.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 10:41PM
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mtnrdredux, I think it would be helpful if you would spill the beans on whatever incident put you off telling designers your budget.

Asking a designer for help finding one or two pieces is one thing. This is different. The OP has a three BR apartment in Manhattan; it sounds like she wants to furnish the whole thing in a relatively short period of time. Without a budget, a designer would not even know where to start.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 11:23PM
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I can't tell if you are serious or teasing me? : )

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 11:40PM
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You keep humming that somebody done somebody wrong song. Sing it, sister!

    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 9:45AM
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Where I grew up there are no furniture stores except one "price point" furniture store, so you either had to travel to see any decent furniture, or travel And work with a designer. (Very small niche market for that there)

My parents' interior designer was 3 hours away, for example.

The interior designer in town, who was a friend of the family was approached by a (wealthy) woman in town who would only say about the budget "large enough to do what I want to do".

The interior designer came up with a comprehensive furniture plan for the entire house, and since the client "did not have the time to travel" the interior designer showed her lots of pictures and details of furniture, and the woman took notes "to keep track of the budget".

She then told the interior designer she was going to delay the project until the kids were back in school. She hopped on a plane with her notes, went to High Point and bought all the furniture herself. The interior designer made $0.00 on a 4000 square foot project.

The two people I worked with who were coy about budget did the same thing, in essence, used the basis of a conversation or two to get information and then do it themselves.

This is why I now charge by the hour, and won't work with someone who is vague about the project or won't tell me a budget.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 10:55AM
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Oh, that really is a stinky underhanded thing to do to somebody. Those are the kinds of stories that make me feel so horrible for designers, or for anyone who sells "ideas". That's not the kind of arrangement I was thinking of when I said I wouldn't necessarily specify a budget upfront.

Of course the designer in that situation could have been a little more savvy and said, under these circumstances I'll do one room at a time and limit her losses.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 11:56AM
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Alot of design services (kitchen, landscaping) offer free services if you buy the products through them. If not then you pay x dollars design fee. That seems fair. That poor designer!

    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 1:41PM
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On the topic of budget, I've worked with 4 designers over the years. I never recall specifying a budget. And I don't recall any pressure to do so. I understand all the well argued opposing views, but that was just my experience.

The reasons I didn't specify a budget included
1. Lack of experience and knowledge, especially about what to the trade and custom items would cost
2 Cost-consciousness ... I think all of us would rather spend as little as possible, so one fears that if you give a high number your designer will be sure to achieve it.
3 A willingness to splurge on high end and unique items that would normally be far above what Id expect to spend on an item
4 Like many posters, I did not have an actual budget constraint as a practical matter. For people at a time of their life with limited resources, competing demands, etc, there may be a very real concrete budget ( eg the amount you have in the bank or amount available on a credit line, etc). I didn't use a professional for my first apartment, so by the time I hired one I was able to allocate a fair amount toward furnishings. I do not recall any specific conversations about that with designers, except for the last one I used, to whom I said something like "It is important to me not to waste money, and I am not a snob about using things that are inexpensive, but I am also willing to splurge on things that I really think are special".

Money is as personal and shame-ridden and individual as sex. Like the poster who said they did not want to be "silly and wasteful" and your point about the faux horror of professional newscasters acting as if they were unaware how you can spend $6,000 on a shower curtain.

But my experience with designers is they have a bit of a skewed view of the world. I feel as though most of them instinctively go for the best and most expensive. When I was newer to the process, I would trust their judgment too much about what was appropriate and reasonable. But, truly, to whom can you delegate that judgment?

My favorite (and most humbling example) are the curtain rods in my old dining room. There were three of them. One was oversized, over a pair of French doors. They were carved wood, gold leaf I suppose. They cost $10,000. I hesitated, but I went ahead. I learned that my personal "silly and wasteful" definition is $10,000 on three curtain rods. I bet many would agree.

Ten years later, my latest "designer" is part of the GC team. I did not end up using her for selecting anything for the home, because the GC was so behind schedule I didn't want to take her time away from project mgmt. Anyway, my DH came with an idea for the vanity in the mudroom powder room of our rustic ct farmhouse. We already owned an antique crackled white vessel sink, He wanted to mount it in a potting bench. You can get those for about $500. The designer propped a (lovely) custom made version for ... $18,000.

That galled me. The whole idea of the creativity of the potting bench was how to make something nice and interesting and get good value. FFS anyone can make an interesting vanity for $18,000 with no creativity at all. She didn't get the idea of "value". Quality, yes, but at what price?

By the same token, in my family room, I fell in love with a unique piece on 1st dibs for $6800. Wildly overpriced, but when I first tried to buy it it was "sold", then a week later they called back and the person decided against because of shipping and other costs to Canada. Is it silly and wasteful? Probably. Is it what I would ever have "budgeted" for a TV console? No. I am happy with it? Yes.

So that is what I mean about budgets, and maybe also explains my fundamental wariness of designers.

Sorry for the hijack, guys!

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 11:17AM
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Yes, but if the designer knew there was no way in h377 you would spend $18,000 on a vanity, they never would have suggested it. Since it was open ended, they did--you essentially presented that "possibility" yourself, so in essence you and the designer fed into each other in this regard.

When I went house shopping, my budget was $400K, based upon a certain type of property. This is actually slim pickin's in my neck of the woods, especially for what I wanted. That said, for a year, I looked at properties all the way up to $650K with my Realtor, because that is where I could stretch, but my "budget" Target was in the $400s and my Realtor knew it. And the house that I eventually bought was not under $400, but it was within my target budget.

If I had give her my "up to", we really would have wasted a lot of time, because that's not really what I Wanted to spend, even though I Could.

If someone only knows what you Could spend, that sends quite a different message from what you Want to spend. Telling someone clearly what you Want to spend, sends a pretty clear message, especially when what you want to spend is Reasonable. This is a defining point. It means that you can entertain spending more because it is not your cut off point but to spend more there must be a good reason. --I would never spend $7000 on some random coffee table, for example, but IF i had the $7000 and IF the right Nakashima piece was available at this reasonable price, I would strongly consider it. But other than that I would Want to spend $1000 or less.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 12:14PM
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Going back to the OP's predicament: A designer needs to have some idea of what she wants to spend especially if she's furnishing the entire apartment at once. Otherwise no one has any idea what to look for. I can go to the Boston Design Center and find a coffee table for 7K and one for 700 on the same floor.

There is always a budget number in a designer's head. It's either the one you specified, or it's the one they imagine you want to spend, because you haven't specified.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 2:16PM
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Well, I will weigh in as a person who always, ALWAYS has a budget, not because of "limited resources" ---but because that is how we live our lives. And in truth, everyone has a budget, even if they don't choose to call it that. Mtnredux, I doubt you would have paid $68,000 for a tv cabinet, or if you would splash out to that extent, you wouldn't pay $168,000 for one, and both those would be price points for someone. So, in my view everyone has a budget, if not for the aggregate then at least for individual pieces, which amounts to the same thing in the end.

Of course, I have never been led down the garden path by a designer as some of you seem to have been. The story about the curtain rods is awful, and ironically, I also have a story about a designer and curtain rods with a very different outcome. Before we moved to our current house and were discussing window treatments, the designer told me to expect a cost of about $2500 for a fluted, gold leafed rod with nice finials for the MBR. I was amazed and very dismayed. Later, as i was exploring in the basement, i found a curtain rod that had obviously been taken down from that bedroom and propped up in a corner when the second owners took it down to put plantation shutters throughout the house. It was a bit more coppery than the gold the designer wanted, but he gladly used it. We couldn't find the brackets but he told me that he always has them painted the wall color anyway, so they just recede into the background and don't become a feature. So the brackets for this rod ended up costing about $20, and this is a designer whose job previous to mine was a master bathroom gut remodel with a $100,000 budget. The right person can use whatever budget and materials are appropriate to the jobs they take on.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2012 at 2:51PM
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I think, if the designer was listening to me when I said "It is important to me not to waste money, and I am not a snob about using things that are inexpensive, but I am also willing to splurge on things that I really think are special", she would never have suggested a $18,000 substitute for something I showed her that cost $500. I feel the undercurrent with a lot of designers (and many high end retailers) is to make clients feel like they should always go for the most expensive thing, and if they don't it's either because they are not discerning enough or cheap or plain old just couldn't pony up the cash. It's done very subtly, but I think it is an attitude with many designers (or maybe just NYC!)

I can comfortably say i would not have spent $68,000 for a TV console. But I would not rule out 10, or 20, maybe even 25. Would it be helpful to say I don't want to spend more than 25K, but I'd like to spend 3k? I don't think that would rule out much. To make matters worse, in a true budget I would have allocated zero; until I came across the piece I liked I planned to hang the TV on the wall!

Maybe my curtain rod story isn't really that awful. You were at 2500 for one, without decorative brackets. So compare 7500 plus pretty elaborate brackets to the 10k i spent. I guess we should all go into the curtain rod business!

If you were shopping for yourself in that showroom wouldnt you at least look at everything, from the $700 to the $7000? And haven't you once or twice ended up buying a piece that was a multiple of what you looked to spend?

Again, sorry for hijacking this piece but Marcolo asked me to sing! And I understand all of your points but my advice to this poster is to ask the designer to recommend a budget and then make it an iterative process.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 11:13AM
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I thought the same thing, that I should go into the curtain rod business! But people are funny and will splash out on different things. My husband, who thinks nothing of resurfacing our tennis court every year for the perfect bounce, was honestly appalled at the price of a rod that at least would have functioned for decades without needing maintenance :)

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 11:31AM
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I think NYC is a part of it. My friend at Chanel has clients who buy every basic Chanel quilted bag in each new color every year. He has a client who spends about $50K with him every year. But I still think that is awfully vague. "Willing to splurge" could mean $18K for a vanity, especially in NYC. Doesn't matter if you saw one for $500, because for some people that is how much elasticity they have.

And in NYC I have been treated, since I was about 21, that I could afford to buy whatever I was looking at, including $25K paintings in galleries, because they Just Never Know.
Compare that to Philadelphia, where you get completely ignored in certain stores unless you have a certain "look".

And, no, I wouldn't even Look at a $7000 sofa if that wasn't in my budget, except maybe out of the vaguest curiosity--and I don't think most people would either. If I had a client who suggested that they wanted to really look at it, sure, I would assume that that's maybe what they wanted, and the $700 one would never be good enough for them.

A local car dealer here carries Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, and Buick at the same location. I don't think most people comparison shop on that level just because they are in the same building.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2012 at 12:00PM
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Wow, this has turned out to be a fascinating read! I am the OP and thank everyone for posting about their experiences and ideas and philosophies of furniture acquisition. :-) Sorry I disappeared for several days but work gets a bit hectic at times, and I'm just now resurfacing.

So, using the amazing powers of the internet, plus speaking to some friends and family members who have decorated in a taste and style that I like, I came up with a preliminary budget.

After interviewing several people, we picked one, and so far we are very happy with her. She has been very communicative - looked at the photos of the things we said we liked, and the room photos (from magazines) that project the "feel" we want, and she has been suggesting appropriate lines and pieces.

And yes, I did want to discuss budget with her, so we would be on the same page. I do NOT want to even look at a $7000 coffee table - the one we currently have has a constant parade of tiny fingerprints on it and bits of goo, and I just can't imagine worrying about a piece like that, which is SOOO perfect in size for kids to put their coloring books and sippy cups on. It would be terrible to be a child in a house and not be able to use the coffee table because your parents spent a ridiculous amount on it and don't want it to be used!

She actually did say that she was appreciative of the budget guidelines during the interview. After we hired her, she suggested I look at the websites of a few companies (that I'd never heard of) and I've seen some pieces that look nice, so we will plan some shopping trips together to a design bldg (I think she said Lexington near 34th St, need to check my notes) when work slows down, and maybe the same day or another one, we'll go to the Decorator's bldg near Bloomies (on 3rd Ave) as well.

For you NYers or frequent visitors to NYC out there, you might already know these places and it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on "can't miss" showrooms... Even if a place is astronomically priced, I don't mind walking in and looking around as you can glean some inspiration from it. The one place I told her I'd been to several times already during our reno is the A&D bldg, b/c there were a lot of kitchen/tile/plumbing type stuff there, and just a few furniture places which I'm already familiar with, so no need to visit that one together.

She did not give me the impression that she will waste our time (yes, we are paying by the hour, with a small commission on the furniture) - she seems very organized and efficient. I do think this is fair, b/c her hourly rate is quite reasonable, and in total, the hours this will take are not huge. She also lives in NYC, and honestly, to make enough to live here, I do think the commission to the decorator is necessary, so we have no problems paying that.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2012 at 5:45PM
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Your approach sounds very sensible. It's been many years since we lived in NYC and our trips there now are to see friends and plays so I am way out of the loop and have no showroom suggestions. I did want to recommend to you though. You can set up an account that both you and the designer have access to by sharing the password, and save pictures you like to it . She can then access it to see what you've saved in your "chair" photo collection, for example. Houzz is a fabulous site and has a great iPad app... my friend and I call it house porn :)

    Bookmark   March 9, 2012 at 7:39PM
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There is a designer's area on Lex near Bloomingdales, I believe...

I think Room and Board (Soho, Broome I think) has some decent sturdy US made furniture, a lot of which is scaled to get into NY apts, but it's retail, she may be able to do better pricing overall.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2012 at 8:11PM
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