While Cargo couches resembled packing crates with cushions in them, except less attractive, they stood up to pretty much anything. They were heavy, durable, and as long as you kept the wood oiled once a year, would last forever. We had raving fans up and down the east coast rental properties. One living room set survived hurricane Andrew even though the house they were in was gone. “It was the only thing left on the cement foundation,” the customer told me. “That and the bathtub. Holy shit!”
Sadly, the crate furniture business seems to have be reduced to things you try and find on Craig’s List. But surely, crate furniture can’t be the only furniture that is durable, can it?
I learned a lot from the furniture industry. Specifically, I learned what broke. It seems that a majority of galleries, even the “nice ones” like Ethan Allen, focus more on “accents” than structure. The fact they are called “galleries” is proof of this, IMHO. Many of them have rich deep wood veneer with sweeping lines, fluffy duvets, 20 assorted pillows, and fancy names like “The Huntington Line” that cover the fact they are usually made of plywood, particle board, and pressed sawdust with thin metal clasps, wood screws instead of bolts, no dovetailing, and even their store models creak and wobble like a drunken prom date. Discount places like “The Room Store,” “Marlo’s,” and “IKEA” are no better, but at least you figure you get what you pay for.
I have gone through 4 sofa sets in ten years. The first one, an Lane set, lasted the longest through 3 moves at ten years. The recliner part broke first, and the sofa bed was so uncomfortable, guests preferred to sleep on it as a couch. We got a new sofa, from Lay-z-Boy, because we had some recliners that lasted a long time from them (8+ years so far). The couch was structurally fine, but the upholstery just disintegrated on every stress point it had until it was a wooden frame with rags and stuffing coming out everywhere in less than 3 years. The Room Store set we got after that collapsed after 2 years shortly after all the piping on the edge of the cousins split and our cushions literally started to disintegrate as blocks of foam with cloth on top of it held on by duct tape... and then the frame started to break at the feet. We stupidly took advantage of sale at the Room Store again, and got a recliner sectional set, which fell apart within days of the warranty expiration (1 year). The backs all broke on this model, and now the non-recliner portion is breaking on the frame as well. We have another sofa set upstairs from the Room Store that has lasted 7 years, but only because when it started to fall apart, I realized while the frame was solid, the spring supports were held on by staples. I had to use two rolls of florist wire to shore it up and re-weave the suspension. I am never buying from the Room Store again, that’s for sure.
It wasn’t always this bad. I look at some antique stuff and WHY it has lasted this long. Real wooden beams, dovetailing, structural integrity, and so on. It just seems like furniture, for the most part, has gone the way of everything else: cheap and disposable.
There’s a “all wood” furniture store near my house we started to go to after we went though our 3rd dining room table in 2 years (our fault, IKEA). The dining room table set we got there was only slightly more expensive than an IKEA set, and its as sturdy as a rock. My grandchildren will have that table. Sadly, we need a king size bed, and they only sell frames up to queen. Our current bed frame is the metal frame that came with the mattress set, and one of our former IKEA table tops as a headboard.
Buying online is always a gamble. Very few sites tell you how they are built, and often the key structural points are covered with fluffy duvets and box spring aprons... but isn’t that a lovely canopy? The showrooms I go to are, as I mentioned earlier, less than impressive where even the demo models are halfway to the scrap pile and “DON’T LET YOUR KIDS ON THAT BED, IT’S DANGEROUS!” “No, that’s not sawdust on the floor, it’s... magical furniture elf fairy dust.” Most of them are also stocked with oily salespeople who made bad career choices and shore up sales with lies, knowing they’ll be working elsewhere by the time you complain, and it won’t be their problem. Or maybe it’s just a problem in cities where good employees are scarce.
When I am in Sweden, I find most of my relatives usually have two kinds of furniture: antiques they inherited or something they built themselves. While this makes their non-matching furnishings look a bit eclectic, it’s the “built themselves” that impresses me the most. I have a few relatives who say, “Yeah, why buy something I can make the way I want it to look? I couldn’t find any storage piece the height and width I wanted to fit under the stairs, so... I built it last weekend. It’s not fancy, but it works.” But the “not fancy” would rival things found in most showrooms around me in the US. I wish I could inherit those “non fancy” pieces.