Millennials Don’t Care About Furniture Quality… or Do They?

About once a week, I’m told that Millennials don’t give a crap about how their furniture is made. They buy particle board, mass-produced, self-assembly furniture at IKEA or West Elm and all they care about is the price. It needs to be cheap and disposable.

Millennials are now age 20 – 37 according to the Pew Research Poll. That is a big range, and I think you simply can’t put them all in the same box. I beg to differ. I’m going to share my personal experience because I deal with this “group” on the daily.

Let’s first talk quality before we talk more about these buyers. For simplicity, I’m going to describe three levels of construction quality that are used by the bulk of manufactures.
I also want to address the term Bench Made. “Bench made” is used many times to describe what people interpret to be the highest level of fabrication. Well, it is not. Every BS manufacture apparently now makes “bench made” furniture, so it now means nothing. IT MEANS NOTHING! Did you hear me?

To clear up some misconceptions, let’s start at the top-tier of the premium furniture scale.


Highest Construction Level

Price Range: $3500.00 and up (fabric will have an impact)

Frame Construction (Wood Species Matters):

Kiln Dried Maple Frames (or Oak). Any hardwood that has a Janka rating higher than 1000 is acceptable for top-tier furniture. For those who are unfamiliar with Janka rating, the graphic below is helpful.

Janka rating measures the strength of the wood. Many manufacturers use Alder and Poplar to cut down on material costs. However, Alder and Poplar are even softer than Pine and about half the hardness of even soft maple. Frames constructed using these species could break with one hard pounce of a rambunctious child or a less-than-delicate mover.

The term “Kiln-dried hardwood” means nothing if they don’t specify the species. If it is Poplar, we know that it is not furniture that is designed to withstand much wear and tear. That’s not to say that kiln drying is not important. The kiln-drying process prevents warping by leaching all moisture. Kiln-drying will ensure the upholstery frame does not rack or wobble.

Coils

8-way hand tied coils are used in the spring up portion of superior construction. Various size coils are packed into the frame deck to give the cushions excellent support, keep you from pitching forward, and aid in giving the frame additional strength and durability. Hand 8 Hand-tied spring suspension is not the same thing. It is a drop in unit.

Fabric and Cushions

Luxury sofas at this level feature spring down cushions that are flame retardant free give a sumptuous and healthy option. The spring coils inside the cushion base increase the longevity and keep butt imprints at bay. The soy-based foam and down wrap keep the cushion tailored and make the sit plush.


Middle Tier Furniture

Price Range: $2400 and up (If it is over $3500 it should have 5/4 plywood and 8-way hand tied coils with a high-end fabric or leather)

Furniture Frame Construction

At this level, frames are probably made of 5/4 plywood. The number 5/4 refers to the thickness in quarters of an inch. Thus 5/4 plywood is 1 ¼ inch thick. While we don’t use plywood in our furniture construction, 5/4 plywood provides a nice strong frame.

So, what’s the problem? Manufacturers use all kinds of marketing gimmicks and invented terms, like “engineered hardwoods,” to mask that they are using plywood. And that is no guarantee that they are using 5/4 plywood, in fact, many reduce material costs by using 3/4 plywood instead.

If they are using 5/4 ply, they should be shouting it from the rooftops. Sadly, this is rarely the case.

If they are using 8-way hand tied coils along with 5/4 plywood construction, it means the frame construction itself is actually very good for this furniture price range.

Coils

However, if they are using sinuous coils, that’s when we step down to a medium level. Sinuous coils are heated treated and have a shelf life of 5 plus yrs. They are subject to breakage.

Fabric and Cushions

The cushions used at this level are usually a foam cushion or a foam with a down wrap. They will break down rather quickly. They can sit nicely initially, which means when people test them out in showrooms, they might not consider the longevity. Without the coils, the life-span of the cushions is limited.


Bottom Tier Furniture

Price Range: $700-$1400 (If it is less than $700, please consider a second-hand option)

Frame Construction

Furniture at this level typically features particle board, 1-inch Plywood, or Poplar. Sometimes manufacturers will use terms like “furniture board” or avoid mentioning the frame material entirely to try to sell you easily broken furniture. A misconception at this level is the use of the word “hand-built” which does not imply quality of any sort.
These frames are also problematic in sitting level. They have a much higher level of racking. That’s annoying.

No Coils

Typically, in furniture at this level, the deck support many times used in this case, is a very quick webbing. An example of Pirelli webbing can be seen below:

Cushions and Fabric

Cushions are a low-quality foam and many times an import, making flame retardant chemicals likely. Cutting corners by using shredded foam, or lower density foam, means that in no time your sofa will look like this quickly discontinued West Elm sofa:


So, What Does Furniture Quality Have To Do With Millennials?

At KDC we construct at the highest level. To dispel even more myths about the millennial generation in this country, we’re going to be open about our demographics.
The largest portion of our buying group is 33-45 women. A considerable portion of our clients falls in the range of being Millennials. They are both designers and consumers. Is that quality driven or style? In our case, it is both. However, the style also factors in.

The popularity of Restoration Hardware is one of the best examples of this. Any given Saturday, if you visit, will notice the clear majority are in their late 20’s to 30’s. If they are shopping at RH, we know the style is a driving factor.

Nothing makes me want to pull out a bullhorn out more and start shouting run, run, RUN from here young shoppers! When buying furniture at those prices, matching the construction level and the style to the purchase price should be the ultimate goal.

I don’t mean to say that Millennials don’t care about quality. Much of the problem is retailers are very clever at using confusing terminology or being downright dishonest. I uncovered a retailer using a glossy picture of someone 8-way hand tying a sofa, but listed on the fabrication document was sinuous coils. Another little trick is listing 8-way hand tie on one frame, but then 90 percent of the other frames are sinuous coils. It can be very deceptive.

A sofa with an Alder frame and sinuous coils shouldn’t be $3500 or more. That price point just does not match the construction quality.

A plywood frame and sinuous coils should not cost $5000-7000. But there are brands out there that charge those prices. They think they can charge it because of the name of the brand and it isn’t Chanel. Just sayin’. That sort of sofa should retail in $2000 range.

If a sofa costs less than $700 retail price, I think you may be better off looking at second-hand options. The exception would be a deeply discounted deal of a lifetime sale item. If that is the everyday price point, it is junk, plain and simple. I can’t imagine what chemically infested pile you’d be bringing into your home.

Ok, that’s all. Happy upholstery shopping!

PS. Plenty of Millennials do care!

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