How to Curate Your Home with Quality Pieces Over Time

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We live in a culture of immediate gratification.  We are addicted to social media sites that allow us to view events in the lives of others as soon as the happen (and in some cases, before). Many of us prefer fast-food over a home-cooked meal. So it’s only natural for the same attitude to translate to the way we decorate our homes.

We ogle over picture-perfect magazine covers and read dozens of design blogs, and we want our homes to be beautiful, and we want it right now. We watch TV design shows where hosts with big budgets walk into a store and pick whatever they want. So we go out and buy cheap furniture designed to be disposable and inexpensive textiles made of polyester or colored with toxic dyes just so we can “finish” a room. While it may accomplish the task of being “complete,” what happens in a few years when you have to do it all over again because your furniture is falling apart?

Instead, I think a better approach to decorating is to curate our homes over time. And trust me when I tell you that I can say this from experience.

Our Mistakes

When my husband and I first got married, we owned only a few pieces of hand-me-down furniture and a new (but cheap and uncomfortable) bed that family members had given us. A few years later when we could finally afford to buy new furniture, we bought as much as we could for as little money as possible. There was no IKEA in Atlanta at the time, so this involved stores like Walmart, Big Lots, Rooms to Go and no-name mattress and furniture stores in strip malls near where we lived.

While some of the furniture is solidly built and has held up (the dining table from RTG will likely last for years to come), in hindsight I really wish we had been more thoughtful in our approach. We wanted to furnish EVERY room all at once, so we did, with little thought about whether the furniture would be appropriate in the future, or even LAST to see a future.

Of all the things we purchased, we now only own the dining set and a huge sectional (somebody tell me why the heck we bought a RED sofa??!). The rest has been damaged beyond repair, given away or sold. Our home now consists of an eclectic mix of items we’ve collected over the years, much of it from thrift and consignments stores and yard sales. We’ve tripped a couple of times and fallen into the IKEA trap, but it’s definitely no longer the first place we consider when shopping for our home.

Now, when we make a purchase, we do our best to look at it thoughtfully. Here are some tips to help you curate your home and afford quality pieces that will last:

What You Can Do

Do it over time. It can be tempting to buy cheaply-made pieces to furnish your home in one fell swoop. A better approach is to buy pieces one at a time.

Carefully consider how each piece will work in your home. Will it still be useful in a few years? If not, can you repurpose it into something that will be useful? Can it serve more than one purpose? One of my favorite pieces we currently own is the console table in our living room (shown above) that also serves as a dresser for my stepsons when they are with us.

Avoid MDF like the plague. Make your best effort only to buy pieces made of solid wood, or at the very least, wood ply. While MDF is heavy (anyone who’s carried an IKEA dresser up a flight of stairs can attest to that), it’s also more likely to sag, crack and crumble. You can also refinish solid wood pieces several times, but MDF isn’t so forgiving.

Save for big purchases. If your hand-me-down sofa is working for you, at least for the moment, hang on to it. Then find a quality piece you really want, preferably handmade or crafted sustainably, and save up for it. It may take weeks, months, or even years, but the purchase will be much more satisfying when you make it. And if you’ve thought carefully about your choice, you won’t have to worry it will be “out of style” when you can finally afford it.

Be frugal, but not cheap. Just because you’re buying quality pieces, that doesn’t mean you can’t save some money at the same time. Find out if there are any unadvertised sales or discounts available. Maybe you could buy a floor sample with a few small imperfections for a reduced price. Search Craigslist to see if anyone is selling the same piece used, or a similar vintage piece that has already stood the test of time.

Buy less. Instead of buying a sofa, two chairs, two side tables, a coffee table, a console and an entertainment center, consider carefully what you really need and buy only those items. Will all of those items fit if you ever moved into a smaller space? (We’ve had this problem quite a few times) If not, consider buying only the necessities. Remember that quality is infinitely more important that quantity.

Think about where the pieces came from and how they were made. Would you feel as good about that beautiful new sleigh bed if you knew irreplaceable hundred-year-old trees were clear cut to build it? Are those curtains as pretty when you think about the children who made them for little or no pay in a sweatshop thousands of miles away? Would you want to work in a factory where you had to risk your health handling or breathing in the toxic chemicals used to make many low-cost products? Didn’t think so.

What are your thoughts?

Did you make the same mistakes I did when you furnished your first (or second, or third) place? What is your thought process now when you decorate? Can you share any more tips for furnishing your home over time?

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6 comments… add one

  • Kathleen September 24, 2010, 5:29 pm

    I completely agree. While we’ve gone the IKEA route now and then, we try to save up for quality pieces and buy things that are made well rather than trends. Often people like how our house is decorated, and I tell them that it’s filled with things that I truly love and that I’ve collected over the years.

    • jennae September 24, 2010, 6:21 pm

      Kathleen, that’s an important part of the equation. When we buy things that we truly love, we’re more likely to keep and grow with them rather than get rid of them when new trends emerge.

      Thanks for sharing!

  • MyBrownBaby September 24, 2010, 10:16 pm

    Jennae, as usual, your post is filled with sage wisdom and great advice. I’m a classic Libra—can’t decide on ANYTHING for my house. But once I do pin down a piece that I love, it’s on like popcorn—a quality piece that I know I’ll be able to hand down to my babies. Of course, the hubs doesn’t appreciate the cost, but he gets the taste once it’s in the house, looking all pretty and stuff. I agree: We need to curate pieces for our house like we would pieces of art.

    *sigh* I so heart this site!
    MyBrownBaby recently posted { Raven Symone on Disneys Tinkerbell- Sage Bill Cosby Advice- and Ducking TMZ }

    • jennae September 25, 2010, 7:01 pm

      @Denene Getting them to swallow the cost is always a challenge, but I think my husband “gets” it now. We still love a good deal, but not if its going to end up costing us more to replace it several times.

      And trust me when I tell you this site loves you back!

  • Monique September 25, 2010, 1:51 pm

    Jennae, you are right on. With the purchase of our first house, we’re in the position of looking for pieces for our home. Taking time to buy what you love and buying good quality classic pieces will last a lifetime. Trends come and go. I’ve also heard that one should live in a house for a few months before deciding how you want to decorate or before making interior design changes too. By the way, I would love a red couch! (smile)

    Thanks for your great posts, Jennae!

    • jennae September 25, 2010, 7:04 pm

      Monique, that sounds like wise advice to follow. I know that I itch to get the house “done” as soon as we move in, but if I can’t do that wish pieces we already own, then I know I’ll be better off resisting the temptation and making snap purchases that make no sense for the long term.

      And we thought we’d love a red couch too. Until a few years later when we realized that we have no choice but to decorate around it. I just wish it were a more neutral color that we could accent and change with the seasons, but we’ve made it work as best we can :)

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