Rant: why buy at a store if no chairs to try?

saydeMay 6, 2013

We keep hearing about how brick and mortar stores are being threatened or phased out because everyone is buying online, from catalogs, or direct from the manufacturer.

A comfortable reading chair is something I really do not want to buy this way. I had seen a photo of a chair I thought would be perfect -- and was nearly ready to buy -- but it just so happened that this particular chair was on the floor at the Stickley showroom (it was a Bradington Young chair). And it was so uncomfortable! Moreover, it didn't really look like its photo. This was a really eye opening experience and convinced me that I should not buy a club or lounge chair that I had not seen in real life and actually sat in.

I have bought so many pieces -- case goods -- at Stickley over the years. But tables and chests of drawers do not have to fit your body! Now, looking for a chair, I have been all over and am dismayed at how few chairs there are on the floor -- (and how large many of the nicest of them are but that is another rant . . .) I would like to buy a Stickley chair and have even found what I think is the perfect Stickley fabric to go on the chair. But there are almost no chairs in the showroom and the sales person has thus far been unable to find any that she can bring. There are several styles in the catalog that I like and think might work but I know now that you cannot tell from photos and measurements alone.

The sales person says that they are making fewer and fewer chairs for the floor -- they are all built to order and there is almost no inventory.

So -- what good is a brick and mortar store if, when you go to the store, you are shown pictures in a catalog and it is suggested you order from the photos? I have been talking to this sales person for weeks and so far -- nothing. She suggested I try sitting on the cutaway model that happens to be one of the styles I am interested in.

Is anyone else experience a similar frustration?

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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

We need 4 theater seat recliners for our media room in our new home, but we wanted to try them first.

I looked online, found a store that carried them about 3 hours from here, so we went down there and tried them out. They were double the price of the online version, didn't have the color we wanted, so we ordered them online.

This could very well be the reason brick and mortar stores are losing customers. They pay employees, utilities and rent.

I can see both sides here. Floor samples are sold cheaper because they are basically used. Company loses money. We were able to find the seating we wanted 3 hours away, and have a better comfort level about buying. The online reviews from customers were a big help in our decision also.

I just ordered a ceiling fan sight unseen at half the price of retail on Amazon, and I ordered a big chandelier from Lamps Plus online, called the local store, paid with a credit card and will be picking it up today.

I'd do an online search for the chair you want, read reviews, and that might be the best you can do unless you find it within driving distance.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 9:12AM
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Sayde, I had exactly the same problem. When we moved into our house 2 years ago I had exactly NO furniture that was right and needed to start from scratch. And I dealt mostly with the Stickley store, since it is really the only store in our immediate area that sells a variety of higher-end brands.

It was very frustrating to find that nothing I liked in the catalogs was available in the showroom. We live outside of NYC, so we did make the trek to the Stickley in the city because they had the couch I was considering for the family room on the floor. But that was about it. We bought a huge Stickley sectional for the living room, and Stickley had a few of their multiple cushion/back options on the floor. But not the options I wanted. For non-Stickley-brand items I was considering I would go on the manufacturer's web site and call every authorized retailer in the tri-state area to see if they had that particular item on the floor. I generally came up empty, but a few times I lucked out and was able to travel and actually see something. If it's that difficult when you live near NYC, I can only imagine what it's like in less shopping-rich areas of the country.

Yes, it's really frustrating, but with so many choices out there, and given the zillions of items in most manufacturers' catalogs, it's impossible for a store to carry everything, or even most things. It ends up coming down to a choice of picking from that which you can find available on the floor of some store or taking a chance sight unseen. Most of the time I ended up taking the chance, and I was really only disappointed once-- by an accent chair for our bedroom (which was a Stickley chair, by the way-- the 2 Stickley couches we bought were great). But maybe I was lucky. There are still good reasons to order from a brick and mortar store, though. One, you get to actually see the fabric. And you get some sales/design help. Plus, if you stop using brick and mortar stores, they'll go away, and then you'll never get to see anything.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 9:24AM
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Warning: Rant Ahead ...

The tail is wagging the dog in America.

We are completely overmatched by the marketing machine.

WalMart sets the prices it will pay for anything it contracts to sell. Manufacturers who have tooled up to supply the quantities required are forced either to slash cost and/or go offshore, or to go out of business.

Things that used to last 25 years last six.

Clothes shrink and fade because the cost of materials is slashed to the bone.

Houses have great big rooms, cheap finishes, and no useful spaces because it's cheaper to build them that way.

Because we demand it. We will not pay anything but the cheapest possible price.

We don't think about the need for jobs at a living wage, or a vibrant commercial center in our home towns, or whether or not the money we spend stays in our community or goes instead to the corporate headquarters somewhere else.

We expect people to let go of things of value for nothing because they are on Craigslist.

And we don't wait for anything because we fear falling behind our peers, and being judged for not having everything tickety boo.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 9:42AM
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I think we are also in a period where style and comfort are not overly compatible with each other.

The modernists actually took impressions and molds of peoples anatomy in different positions to work out what would be comfortable for different kinds of seating. The Womb Chair, for example is extremely comfortable as a lounge chair, and actually comes in different sizes for different-sized people.

But, a lot of people reject modernism, and that's okay.

Much first-period seating is extremely uncomfortable because they didn't have the upholstery thing down in the 17th and 18th century--but some of it is very comfortable --if sized for modern humans.

Traditional armchairs, channel back chairs, tub chairs, and such are often very comfortable but get dismissed as "dated" or "old lady-ish".

I think we are in a period that is similar to the Victorian period in design where form is more important than function and scale is related to suburban room sizes rather than the human form.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 11:14AM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

That's a good point, pal. generally speaking I have rejected modern furniture simply because it is uncomfortable. I.e. a rough hewn table with some "cool" metal chairs.
I will take a padded, hefty dining room chair anyday over those
stylish things although I deeply love the look. Maybe that's why rooms will be traditionally styled and have modern art. It doesn't hurt.
I love tub chairs.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 11:47AM
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I looked on-line for chairs and sofas I liked (form) and went from SE VA to DC to western NC looking for them. At every venue I was able to see a similar style or rule out what wasn't comfortable or available to sit in. I ended up buying a different manufacturer for the style sofa I wanted (clean lines, tight back, 3 cushions) and found a style chair completely different from what I saw on-line that completely fit the bill style- and comfort-wise. It only took about 2 years.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 11:53AM
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I think Pal's on to something.

A few years back, I was looking for a comfortable reading chair with an ottoman. I went to several large furniture stores that carried a variety of furniture lines. I sat in every single chair that looked as if it might possible work, looks-wise, in my living room.

Most of the chairs were adequate. But I wanted something more than adequate. It took me 6 months of searching. I compromised on the fabric on the chair, rather than on the chair's comfort.

But what surprised me, as I went from store to store "test sitting" all those chairs, was that I was the only person I saw sitting on the furniture. I sat, I leaned, I mimed holding a book to see if the height of the chair arm was comfortable. I sprawled out a bit.

Most people looked at the furniture and the finishes and the fabrics. But not a lot of people sat down. Which would indicate that looks meant more to them than sitting comfort.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 12:03PM
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Oh some modernist furniture is terribly uncomfortable. The Bertoia chair, as much as I like the way they look, is like sitting in a shopping cart, and they cut off my circulation behind the knees. I think there is good and bad in all periods.

I also think it depends upon how you use furniture. I sit most of the time in a hard wooden armchair when I am at home, so it has to have a shaped seat and allow my feet to be on the floor properly. I don't find my sofa all that comfortable for sitting because the back is too low, but it's great for lying on. But I find a lot of current transitional furniture rather uncomfortable in lots of positions.

The best furniture is sized for the occupant, not for the room, and I think the relative disconnect between current room proportions and the human scale is part of the problem.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 12:13PM
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I have to touch, feel, sit on, etc. anything I buy. It does extend the buying process a bit! I have also found that many of the mid priced stores and furniture lines have disappeared. Lots of cheap stuff, a decent selection of custom stuff, but not much in the middle.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 12:21PM
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Agreed bronwysmom! Don't get me started on companies that bring in items marked with a ridiculously high price and then immediately offer 50% off. Kohl's in particular come to mind.

Unless you are unusually big or tiny it may be a matter of just getting used to a new piece of (upholstered) furniture. Like when you buy a new car and the seat feels "different" for a while. A month later you don't give it a second thought.

Of course that comfort will only be there if you buy decent quality furniture in the first place.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 12:22PM
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We just went through this trying to buy a Hancock and Moore leather sofa. We knew we wanted H&M and comfort was our #1 priority, but actually finding some to sit on was another whole story. I was working with a wonderful online website whose brick and mortar store was unfortunately 7 hours from us (he posted for years here on Garden Web and is a furniture expert, happy to share his knowledge) so I had all my ducks in a row info-wise and wanted to buy from him, but just try finding a few sofas to actually sit in! Even here in the Atlanta area it was almost impossible. In the whole Atlanta area we found 2 sofas to try out. They acted like we were crazy not wanting to buy sight unseen and were not friendly or helpful at all. Who wants to spend a fortune and order out of a catalog with no clue how a sofa will sit.

We finally travelled up to the Hickory NC Furniture Mart where they had 4 or 5 H&M floor models and luckily the minute my husband sat in one of them we knew it was perfect. If DH falls asleep on a showroom sofa you know it's the one. But we were lucky and only had to travel 10 hours round trip after weeks of looking locally. I just don't know how brick and mortars, who advertise as a manufacturer's dealer and then have nothing to show you, expect to sell furniture without stocking at least a minimal inventory. And it isn't just our area. Almost everyone else posting on that furniture website no matter where they live in the country says the same thing- have money and want to buy, but unless its cheap junk they can't find a store that has inventory to sell Yes, we did buy from the online website gentleman as he had given me more of his time and personal customer service than anyone in any brick and mortar we had gone to.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 3:05PM
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Holly- Kay

I have some Bradington Young arm chairs that I purchased about 12 years ago that are extremely comfy. We took a weekend jaunt to Furnitureland South. There is floor upon floor of furniture. We chose the fabric, and the chair style. I believe it only took eight weeks or so until they were delivered to our home. FLS customer service was exceptional and the opportunity to sit in the actual chair you will be purchasing made it a wonderful experience.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 4:57PM
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We had a furniture in our nearby city that recently went out of business. It was in business for many years and sold reasonable quality furniture for reasonable prices. It was in a very old delapidated building in a more depressed area of the city. People came from surrounding areas to buy there.

New owners decided to open other locations in more affluent suburbs. Well that was the beginning of the end. They could not keep their prices low and pay the high rent for fancy showrooms.

I ended up getting a great deal on a living room set at the bank liquidation sale. I would have rather paid more and have them stay in business in the rickety old building.

I love shopping at local businesses that keep their overhead low by not have the fancy showroom and the best address.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 5:03PM
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I am upstate NY, near the Stickley factory (though their upholstered pieces are made in NC). Would really like to buy at the local Stickley store even though prices are higher than online. But if there is nothing there to see and I am forced to buy from a photo I will probably buy a Hancock & Moore chair from that very nice gentleman that Patty referenced. He is indeed quite helpful and responsive. H&M is certainly as good as Stickely if not better and I will not pay a premium to a physical store if I have to order from a catalog. Thanks for all the responses here!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 5:16PM
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I'm glad you are familiar with Duane, SAYDE, and I presume you frequent his Furniture Forum. He is a gem, not only for sharing his knowledge with those who may never be customers, but going the extra mile if needed. I am in the middle of a serious health problem and never expected the consideration he has given me with our order.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 5:57PM
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i cannot tell you how FRUSTRATING it is to buy furniture today...

i have to buy a new sofa, chairs, and dining room chairs for my renovation and i am going insane trying to decide which, where, how, i am going to purchase...

i refuse to buy a sofa or chair without sitting on it...but i may have to....i personally do not want to buy high end for this renovation but i don't want anything that is unserviceable or otherwise 'cheap' either...

the last sofa i purchased a number of years ago was an ethan allen sofa which i could not sit on, and boy was i ever sorry...

it was the most uncomfortable sofa i have ever owned, even though from an aesthetics perspective it was 'ok and was 'well made' inasmuch as it held up ...but'...i lived with that sofa for nearly 10 years...ugh! i bought a floor model sofa from macy's years ago that i like and is still attractive after 15 years....but i was able to sit on that one and just happened to be a style and color that worked at the time....total LUCK OF THE DRAW!

i'll probably end up with crate and barrel, only because the Lee furniture seems to be rated well for sofas and chairs but who knows until it arrives!!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 7:13PM
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I spent forever trying to find chairs to see in person. Fortunately, I eventually found what I was looking for. I really just had to call many Hancock & Moore retailers in the area. But I would have never ordered the chair I bought (the Sumptuous Chair) without having first sat in it. I knew from trying others that I hated so many. At nearly $3K for a chair, combined with the fact that I use it daily, I just couldn't risk it.

If the chair is made in the U.S. (actually made in the U.S. like Hancock & Moore and not some Chinese frame shipped over here by sea), you may also be able to call the factory to see if they have anything being made on the bench at that time you could sit in.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 10:02PM
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I don't shop Walmart and am willing to pay much more than that for things. However, I expect a whole lot more than cheap junk in return for good money. Not many can afford $3000 (noted above) for one chair (or anything near that, really), if buying high end is being suggested instead.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 10:35PM
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I'm not suggesting what people can afford or should pay. I just know from having a $700 chair that lasted only 4 years, that I'd rather spend a lot more for something that will last longer. Conversely, I would be happy spending less for something I knew I'd have to replace periodically so long as I knew I could find a style I wanted each time, etc. And comfort really transcends price anyhow, so I'd first base it off of that.

I had a $350 chair from American Signature that was the right color and style for a loft I lived in several years ago, but it was a piece of junk and was no longer comfortable after 1 year because of how crappy the foam was. But it was very comfortable on day one. I've had issues with my Thomasville sectional, too, but the customer service has been phenomenal, so I really cannot complain there (and that sectional was pretty much the same price as the H&M chair). I feel like buying furniture is such a PITA today.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 10:48PM
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This is why I tend to buy old furniture and reupholster it to suit. However, to do this you have to be a bit adventurous, have a lot of patience, and know a good upholsterer.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 10:55PM
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And the other reason to buy at a store is customer service. So long as you can find a reputable place, they should stand by the products if you have any issues.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 10:59PM
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I was just using the price you referenced for a good chair, Kevin, but wasn't referring to your post.

A $700 chair should last longer than four years and a $350 one longer than a year for that matter. I think things have gotten way out of line and proportion.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 11:01PM
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Not to mention all the shipping charges, which is a big waste of money, imo. But the stores have to charge a restock fee, just to look at something, if you don't like it when you see it.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 11:04PM
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KevinMP: Can you elaborate?
"If the chair is made in the U.S. (actually made in the U.S. like Hancock & Moore and not some Chinese frame shipped over here by sea)"

A little while back I was searching for a sofa. Purchased a Lee Industries that arrived so shoddily made and with such horrendous upholstery errors I had to return it. After that I shopped around (again) locally and came across a modern furniture store where the owner was saying that Lee Industries, and many others that claim Made in NC/USA, actually have the frames made in China then shipped here and upholstered in NC....Is that really true? I could not believe that they could claim Made in USA if that is the case but this guy, who really seemed to know furniture, said it was the case. And, also, often there is the claim of certified forests etc.....Do these manufacturers ship the lumber from here to China for frame construction then have the piece sent back????

Any info you have would certainly be quite interesting.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 11:24PM
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It's all so exhausting.

I made a big mistake last year, getting rid of a sofa that we'd bought from the long-gone Scandinavian Design, and that I had redesigned and had reupholstered almost 20 years ago. It was originally quite inexpensive, but well-built by today's standards.

I replaced it with a very nice simple one from Crate & Barrel that cost about $1200, a number that made me a little nervous. But I'd bought upholstered things from them years earlier with excellent results.

It was pretty awful. The fabric was rough, it started to wear immediately, it wasn't very comfortable (although we did sit in the floor model, and it seemed fine), and the color was not right.

Four weeks later I called them, and they sent a truck, picked it up, and credited the full price, no return shipping charge - fantastic customer service. They couldn't have been better.

But I still have no sofa in the library. I'm probably going to haunt Craigslist until I find a good old one in a nice house that I can have redone. For all the reasons above, and because everything worth investing in costs well over $3,000, which at the moment I can't bring myself to spare.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 11:10AM
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I purchased two upholstered armchairs by Lee Industries from a furniture store, but I chose them from a catalogue as they didn't have floor models.

They are the most uncomfortable chairs I have ever sat on! No one likes to sit in them and they are opposite the sofa in the living room, our busiest room in the house.

I have learned a lesson and will never buy furniture without sitting on it again.

I agree with Palimpsest: buy a very good quality older chair/sofa and have it reupholstered.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 6:37PM
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buffalotina, yes, that's apparently what happens. With taxes/fees, regulations, and labor costs what they are and competition from abroad, supposedly it's cheaper to send lumber (or use crappy lumber domestic to the foreign country) to a foreign country, have the frame or product made, then send the frame or product back to the U.S. for sale or upholstery. It's not an issue limited to lower-end brands either, you just have to get all of the information up front.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 7:03PM
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I just purchased a chair from Safavieh. Price $1491.43. Delivery should be in a another week. We first went to Ethan Allan but did not find what we were looking for. I have a sofa and two club chairs in my living room from EA that are fifteen years old and still going strong. The chairs each cost what the sofa did. But, as Kevin mentioned, when you buy quality it does last longer.
I wanted a small club chair for my bedroom. The one we bought was the only one in the store not only small enough but comfortable.
I almost purchased one at a independent store, but the store was busy and I could not get a sale rep to help us. I would consider going back there in the future as it did have a nice variety to try.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 7:29PM
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Rosy, if you wouldn't mind sharing for the discussion, how much did you pay for those uncomfortable chairs?

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 10:16PM
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I spent a whole weekend like camlan, sitting and lounging on chairs. I swear I sat in every single chair in the area looking for a reading chair. I even got myself stuck in a few recliners, which I decided would not be a good idea! I did find one, finally.

Like the rest of you, I definitely need to try something first. I'm short, and I like to be lazy on weekends so comfort is a must.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 10:32PM
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I feel your frustration. I am in the market for a new sofa, and was talking on the Furniture Forum with Duane. He is up front and honest, and said the sofa I am considering has a nice sit, but I still haven't been able to pull the triggering on something that I haven't tried. But like you, how do I get around this? Of course this means that I have an over 10 year old sofa that doesn't really match my decor that apparently I will die with unless I am willing to either go sight unseen or purchase throw away items. Oh well, at least it is reasonable comfortable (LA Z BOY and the first sofa I ever bought) even if kind of ugly.

This post was edited by kellienoelle on Tue, May 7, 13 at 22:51

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 10:46PM
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I don't mind sharing because it adds more weight to my cautionary tale! They were on sale for $1200 each. I think they were regularly $1800.

I could have purchased a quality, comfortable chair with pretty lines at a consignment store or Craigslist and had it reupholstered for $1200.

What makes it more painful is that the chairs look gorgeous. But, when you sit down in one, the back angles backward at a rakish angle and you wind up in an uncomfortable reclining position with your stomach sticking out. It's not good!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 12:04AM
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Wow, it is comforting to know others are having the same problem but dismaying to get all this confirmation that it really is terribly difficult to buy upholstered furniture. I had talked to both the designer-sales person at the Stickley store and a private designer. Both looked at me like I was at best eccentric, at worst a PITN for insisting on being able to see and sit in a chair before I bought. Even though it would never have occurred to me to require this if I had not sat in a chair I was ready to buy (from photo) and discovered how uncomfortable it was.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 9:33AM
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Well so many people posted on this thread that I thought I would post one last time to show you the chair I ultimately purchased, and how I came to the decision.

It became clear that I was not going to find my ideal chair on the floor of any store, so I decided that I would sit in as many as I could and take notes on the measurements to determine what seat height, seat depth, etc. would be best for me. I sat in a Hancock & Moore chair at Stickley that was very comfortable but found another H&M chair that had similar measurements but in a style I preferred. There were no H&M fabrics that I liked so shopped for fabrics and did the chair COM using a dark brown mohair velvet. I had seen a photo George Smith chair that I really liked and just decided to try to get as close to that as I could. The chair I wound up with is the Bradley chair but I chose a wider ottoman (the Foundation chair ottoman).

The chair arrived last week. I am really happy with it!

I decided to buy it through Stickley as they matched price and were local and great to deal with.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2013 at 8:38PM
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Beautiful chair and just the right size for you! I'm glad the search ended so well!

    Bookmark   October 5, 2013 at 9:58AM
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Your chair looks really comfortable. I went through the same problem looking for a chair 3 years ago. The stores just don't have very many in stock and most were too big for my small space. Ethan Allen usually has chairs on the floor to try out, but the upholstery and cushion you choose can make a difference in how it feels.
I finally found a chair that felt okay at JCPenney and the price was right. I did not want to spend a lot for a seldom used chair (just for putting on shoes)

    Bookmark   October 5, 2013 at 12:50PM
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