To Buy, or Not to Buy, Knock-Off Furniture
Not everyone can afford to buy a house full of designer furniture. So, do you turn to knock-off pieces instead? (No. Or, not 100% no.) Here’s our philosophy for stretching your furniture budget, planning for longterm, and, all the while, still having somewhere to sit down at the end of the day.
July 16, 2019
How to manage your furniture budget so you don’t have to buy knock-off pieces (or all originals).
This post might get me in trouble.
When I pick topics to write about, I either go through my list of ideas and pick something I’m passionate about at the moment, or if it is something we’ve been thinking about as a firm, all the better. This is a topic that has numerous blog posts written about it by designers across the world.
So, let me start with a controversial statement and work my way back. I promise it’ll be more than this: I think it is sometimes okay to buy knock-off furniture.
I’ll wait for the sound of screams from my designer friends (and the sighs of relief of people out there reading this) to die down.
Wait, aren’t I a designer that gets paid for my unique designs, and shouldn’t I be fully supporting the idea that other creative designers should be compensated for their work? Yes, and yes. Let me take you on a little journey. The journey starts with a simple premise.
From the numerous blog posts I’ve read about this, it seems there’s a consensus that there should be no exception to the rule of never buying knock-offs. But, most of us don’t have the budget to outfit our whole damn home with unique and original pieces. So, in the meantime, what the hell will you sit on? Where will you eat or sleep? Let’s forget that little problem for a moment and just keep repeating the mantra to “buy original” again and again. Have anywhere to sit now? …That mantra just doesn’t work.
So, what the heck do I think you should do?
Here’s my philosophy: just as the materials of a house should be high-quality, good furniture should be high-quality, too. Ideally, it should last you a lifetime. Buying a chair every three years because the old one falls apart is horribly unsustainable. In the end, you’ll spend more money over your lifetime buying twenty chairs, rather than one good one. So people will say, just do that, buy that life-long chair. Except, well, maybe you can’t afford that brilliant chair right now.
So, I advocate for buying as many items at the highest quality you can, and accepting that the companion items won’t be nearly the same quality. Recognize and be okay with the fact that some stuff will have to be replaced at some point. Ever hear of the philosophy of buying one amazing kitchen knife and supplanting it with junk knives until you can fill out a good set? It is sort of like that.
While you build out your collection of high quality, beautiful, and special furniture (supporting awesomely talented designers) here are some good options for filling out the rest of your collection.
Buy some used furniture. Or heck, maybe your family has an old dresser they don’t need. Re-use and let the funky collection of items be part of your vibe. Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, eBay, your crazy old uncle, there are plenty of options. If a finish isn’t right, then get your hands dirty and paint it or staple on some new fabric. For many years, half of my furniture for was brightly painted or a mix of hand me downs.
Buy furniture in components. Find some creative pieces on Etsy and make your own furniture through combinations of items. There are a lot of awesome craftspeople on Etsy who sell elements of furniture. Metal table legs, wood legs for chairs, frames for art. These can help personalize your furniture, support someone making a living off of their work, and still not break your bank.
The usual retail suspects can’t be avoided. Some of these lines are designed and not knock-offs, and some are blatant knock-offs that should be avoided. Do your research and focus on the cheaper items that may go out of fashion, or that you have a special piece lined up for in the future. Dining chairs, side-tables, bed frames, and nightstands are easy purchases that can be purchased fairly inexpensively and allow you to dedicate more of your budget on higher-quality items.
Watch the sales. Typing this feels so incredibly obvious, but the reality is that when you have a budget to outfit your place, you’re going to spread it further by watching sales. I took six months to furnish my own house as I watched for sales. It allowed me to spend more money on signature pieces.
If you must buy a knock-off, don’t buy a recently-designed one. Most controversially, if you’re going to purchase a knock-off because dammit you just want that particular look, here’s what I recommend. If it’s a newer piece, that artist is still recouping the cost of the item. Even if you intend to buy an original one of the same item down the road, they may not be able to keep producing it if people keep buying cheaper and poorly made copies of the original. So focus your efforts on the classics that have been around awhile, copied a zillion times over. I have a copy of a classic chair in my house that I bought because I couldn’t afford the original and dammit I wanted it. I made sure it had been around for ages and was able to buy it used. I know it is fake and dammit if I don’t feel it every time I sit in it. It is on my list to buy a real replacement in a few years, but until then it sits in my house and brings me a little joy and makes me want the real one just that much more. Of course, don’t do what I do, just do what I say… but really, I won’t judge you either way.
In the end, we all need to balance budgets with aesthetic desires. Just like being on a diet benefits from a cheat meal time and time again, I believe that setting up a furniture budget and plan requires a little cheating here and there. You’ve got to sit somewhere and as long as you do your research and make the best-informed decisions you can, you’ll be okay. Every single house doesn’t have the absolute top grade material and things are okay. Your interior can be the same.