Choosing, purchasing and placing loose furniture is most difficult for those of us who are spatially challenged.

Looking at a sofa in a magazine, or even in a furniture showroom just doesn’t give you a realistic idea of how it will fit and function in your house. Dining tables are especially deceptive.

Why is it that a rectangular table seats more people than a round one, but requires less floor space?

My number one rule when it comes to loose furniture is “people first”.

Before you start picking out and placing furniture, ask yourself how many and what kind of people you want it to serve. How it looks is not nearly as important as how it will be used.

Nothing is more of a waste than a chair nobody sits in.

Furniture does not relate to the house, it relates to people.

Most living rooms are centered on an entertainment center of some description. Decide whether you want all seats facing the entertainment. Additionally, a room that is heavily used for group conversation can be derailed by seating that excludes someone by distance.

A seat to be occupied by someone who cannot see the TV and is too far away to get in the conversation will most likely remain empty. Leaving a space empty rather than filling it with an unusable seat is not a sin. Envision realistically how a room will be used before making any furniture decisions; and that goes for every room.

Once you’ve got a good idea of what kind of furniture you want, take some measurements. If you are averse to breaking out a tape measure, calculate the space with floor tiles.

For example, if you have 60cm floor tiles and the space you want the furniture to occupy is five tiles wide (300cm), then you will know for sure the 240cm sofa you found will fit. Even if you just pace off the measurement by foot, make sure you have a realistic idea of the space before you set out shopping.

Now for my number two rule … never buy anything on the first visit to a furniture shop.

Get the measurements, come home and satisfy yourself that it will fit. My personal crutch for doing this is a roll of masking tape. Tape off the shape of the furniture on the floor. Walk around as if the furniture is placed and see if your selection is ergonomically feasible.

Living room furniture usually consists of sofas and lounge chairs. Before selecting particular styles or sizes, you’ll need to decide on materials.

The big question of course is leather or fabric?

It is important to note, all leather is not created equal. The top two grades to concern yourself with are FA (Full aniline) and SSA (cowhide corrected). FA is unblemished top grade cowhide. SSA is also top grade leather but may have had the grain sampled and duplicated in spots to correct for blemishes.

There are lower grades including buffalo hide and split leather, but I do not recommend any of them due to their tendency to fade and rapidly show wear.

Most good furniture shops label their leather furniture with the grade, if not your sales person should have that information. If they do not … you are shopping in the wrong place.

Non-leather fabrics for covering sofas and lounge chairs come in a myriad of colors, styles and textures. I recommend using a well-known fabric manufacturer like Pasaya or those that VC Fabrics represent. And always make sure that the material is treated with Scotchguard or a similar process to prevent damage from liquid spills and stains.

If at all possible, find out about the inner construction of sofas and lounge chairs.

What you are looking for is solid wood frame construction. f a piece of furniture feels lightweight for its size, chances are some inferior product … sometimes even cardboard … has been used to support it. Stick to solid wood frames, and find out about the cushions and spring support systems.

If the sales people don’t know, ask for the owner.

If they don’t know … again you are shopping in the wrong place.

One problem you may encounter here in Thailand is the myth of import.

Many furniture shops will try to sell you a slick looking L-shaped sofa that appears to be high quality covered in leather.

The salesman will tell you it is “import” … and that’s why it’s so expensive. They will tell you it is from Italy, or Spain or anywhere but where it really is “imported” from which is most likely China. They’ll also tell you the leather is full aniline, when in fact the back of the sofa may be PVC plastic and the front some type of low grade leather.

I’ve even seen Chinese imports with Italian flag logos on the side. Sorry to say, sales ethics in Thailand can be sporadic and consumer laws unenforceable. “Buyer Beware” is the axiom to live by.

The fact is, there are perfectly good, and quite high quality furniture, leather and otherwise, built right here in Thailand. Asalon from Bangkok offers their high-end full aniline leather sofas and chairs in a dazzling array of styles at very reasonable prices. Della Robbia is an American company operating in Thailand that also builds very high quality and reasonable priced furniture.

Imported doesn’t always mean better.

Dining sets are definitely an area where function should weigh heavily in your decision.

Glass tops look nice but can be a cleaning chore if used heavily, not to mention a safety factor with children. Make sure the glass is tempered and the edges properly finished. Similarly, wood veneers and high gloss finishes need to be covered and properly protected from damage.

Granite tops are a good choice for industrial strength usage. It is important to ask yourself just how much use a dining set will be asked to endure.

The dining set is probably one of the most underused pieces of furniture in a house. If you just want a show piece, then by all means, buy a gorgeous high gloss and glass top table with silk covered chairs.

If you’ve got a houseful of rambunctious kids, go with stainless steel, granite and washable leather.

The two big issues with dining tables are shape and chairs. Don’t fight the shape of your dining room. If the room is square; us a square or round table. If the room is oblong, use an oval or rectangle. And make sure the chairs you choose match the table; not only in style and color, but in quality.

The sticky wicket of buying a dining set is the table you want seems a reasonable price, but the chairs more than double the overall ticket. The reason is simple; chairs are expensive to make and take a lot more time than a dining table.

If you’re paying attention you’ll see many examples of a nice table with substantially lower quality chairs. This almost never works out; especially if the set is used a lot.

Chairs also set the tone for a dining set. Chairs with arms add a feeling of opulence. High back chairs create a sense of intimacy even in a wide open room. So when you’re shopping for dining room furniture, don’t get cheap on the chairs.

Bedrooms are where the most personal furniture we own resides. I’ll say this once, but repeat it to yourself like a mantra; it’s all about the mattress.

You don’t sleep on a bed, you sleep on a mattress. When you buy an audio system, buy the speakers first. When you a bed, select the mattress first. Get the one that suits your physical needs and is made of a long lasting stain, moisture and pest resistant material like latex.

Bed frames are a very personal decision. Again, consider the function.

Do you really need a king size?

Switching from a king to queen size is almost imperceptible in terms of sleeping space but can make a smallish bedroom seem quite a bit larger.

Do you like a frame that protrudes beyond the mattress or would you bruise your shins on a daily basis?

Do you want a bed that is a box extending to the floor or is your maid well versed at cleaning under one with legs?

Dwell on those questions a few moments and then go back to your mantra … “it’s all about the mattress”.

Resist the urge to furnish your home all at once as this usually leads to “over furnishing”.

Resist the urge to fill in an empty space with a piece just because it seems to need something. It is far better to buy one quality piece of furniture than clutter your home with disposable crap.

Don’t get in a hurry to “finish” your place. Allow your furniture collection to grow out of necessity and you’ll be a lot happier.


By Bart Walters