Because we're aging in place and emptying our nest, my wife and I need new furniture, cabinets, and floors. This is what it's like to buy it now. 

Shopping Seriously for Wood Products - Now It's PersonalFirst I had to convince my wife to look at the new generations of highly accessorized cabinetry. Frequent efforts to get her to visit our local Hafele show room, for example, were met with the retort that "kitchen cabinet storage accessories result in a net loss of space."

We headed to Home Depot, a non-threatening place to take a broad look at the cabinet landscape, and there we examined the state of frameless versus framed, saw Elkay's IKEA-like high gloss Eurostyle cabinets, and the offerings of several other national name brands.

Then I managed to get her into a factory showroom at cabinetmaker Builders' Supply in Chicago, where she was finally wowed by collapsing blind corner cabinet doors that released tiered pull-out shelves, touch-to-open flap doors, and double-decker cutlery insets. After an hour, Shaker-style solid wood doors were the preferred design direction - to be determined whether they would be painted or stained.

Shopping Seriously for Wood Products - Now It's Personal  We stopped at a Lumber Liquidators showroom as an easy snapshot of the range of solid wood flooring. Wide, medium or narrow board? Which species? Hand scraped? What kind of finish? We got samples of hickory and maple with the intent to compare that to various furniture we would shop for next. (A brief interlude for a visit to KBIS and the International Builders' Show last week led me to Lumber Liquidators' Steve Stocki, and a display of the very hickory floor I was leaning toward; seeing it in person clinched that decision and I have ordered a formal estimate.)

We started out visiting the "lifestyle home furnishings" stores: West Elm, Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware. These stores sell furniture shaped decorative objects - not real furniture. Made in Indonesia, Viet Nam, the Philippines, China, from strange woods like mango, fit and trim is not so good. Hardware on these pieces generally seems to be knock-offs of familiar name brands. The finishes are really coatings to mask the underlying wood.

We moved up a notch with a visit to Crate & Barrel and another smaller chain called Arhaus. These two are crossover "lifestyle" home furnishings stores, with appearance of dovetail joinery, familiar wood species, better design, and name brand hardware like Blum. Still the fit and finish was weak - drawers clashing with the carcass and doors that didn't fit.

Crate & Barrel finishes were generally good. But on Arhaus Malaysia-made pieces the finish hid the wood rather than revealed it. It was clear that placing a piece of furniture with a finish like that on a real hickory floor would look weird.

Arhaus did carry wood and upholstered chairs and beds made in North Carolina, and these were so clearly superior - actual furniture with a finish options - that we very nearly ordered on the spot. But we still wanted to make sure what we were ordering would match the hickory floor.

After more ours of shopping around we did finally order two chairs, and are getting two estimates on a hardwood floor. I'll write about that in the next installment.

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