Why is furniture so expensive?

{a pro guide to why some things cost so much *and when it's worth paying more}

If you've searched for furniture lately you've noticed how widely varied the prices are. One sofa is $250 and another is $2,500 and really, if you're being honest, they look the same to you! I'm here to give you the insider interior designer guide to pricing - when it's worth forking over the extra dolla bills and when to save yourself some green. 

There are basically 3 things to consider when comparing furniture prices (and all other design selections): 

why does furniture cost so much - interior design.jpg

1. The quality of the materials + construction

You may have already heard that I like me some pretty shoes. And just like furniture, my price options will vary widely.  I can choose to buy shoes for a couple hundred dollars or for $40. The more expensive pair is going to be made from real leather, it will have better shaping, better padding and more solid construction than the less expensive pair. It will be there for you through thick and thin, sun and rain - and you can always go get them spruced up at the cobbler when they need a face lift. 

Forty dollars will get you shoes that last you the summer. They'll be made from 'vegan leather' (meaning plastic), they will probably have no padding to speak of (ladies, I know I'm not the only one who's danced all night in these and not been able to walk the next day). All the parts will be plastic, breakable and with few exceptions, not repairable. The joinery or construction will also be plastic and glued rather than using nails or other methods that hold up better over time.

Shoes are an easy example for me but think of anything that you value, maybe it's cars or tech gadgets. There is a difference in the quality, planning and construction of the different price levels of all of these. Furniture, rugs, art and other decorating purchases are the same. The question becomes: Do you want this sofa to dance you through a few years, be around long enough to dance with your grandchildren or somewhere in between? 

2. The more options you have, the more it will cost

Don't like that wood finish? Change it!
Want a different fabric color? No problem.
The world is your oyster when it comes to options - and the more custom your oyster, the more it will cost you.

It's always a fear for us ladies that we'll get to a party and be wearing, GASP, the same dress as someone else. How embarrassing! More options mean you get to customize your home so that it looks like you and you're not showing up to the next block party with the same rug or wallpaper as your neighbor. 

This originality comes at a price because, well, people cost more than machines. The nature of the production process means the more items they can make that are exactly the same, the less it costs per item (think IKEA). To make a chair in multiple colors, there's more material cost, more waste and more labor on the assembly line. They have to then outfit their sales tools to show you your color options and deal with the loss of overage when they sell out of gray and are left with 500 of the avocado green still sitting in their warehouse.

The best way to measure whether a unique option is worth it to you is to gauge how much you'll notice. Sometimes you'll find it worth the money to get just the right color or size to fit you and your personality. You know that every time you walk past the cheaper one, you'll be reminded of how much better it could've been. Then again, sometimes you like the basic option and are just glad for a place to park your tush. Sometimes it's worth it to you and sometimes it's not. 

3. How 'special' is it?

The best examples for this are art and antiques. Davinci only painted one Mona Lisa, there is only one Guernica by Picasso. These are so special that they are even more special than money. This is a basic supply and demand issue. The less of something that's available, the greater the demand, so the higher the cost. The quantity of antique or vintage anything is limited because, well, stuff doesn't last forever. In the same way, a piece associated with someone famous and/or extremely skilled is a lot harder to come by than a copy especially one that's mass produced (as in the last example).

Think of the new 'it' nightclub. There's a line out the door and they are only letting in 50 people at a time. There is cache (and cost) in being a part of the 'in crowd' that gets to partake in this rare, special thing. Just like the Velveteen rabbit or that hand-knit blanket from your grandma, some pieces are more special because they are distinct and exclusive. Sometimes the special is worth the extra cost to you - and sometimes you like the hamburger joint down the street more than the swanky club - just be sure you're making the choice with intention rather than by default.

Ultimately : The deciding factor

Yes, there is a reason some design pieces cost (a lot} more than others whether that is attributed to quality, personal attention or rarity. That being said, spending top dollar is not necessarily an indicator of design success. The main question to ask yourself is, "Is that benefit worth to me?"

How long do you want to own that sofa? How much value do you place on a human contribution to the creation of your piece and how exclusive do you want your ownership to be? I would guess the answers to these questions are different depending on where you are in your life and which piece you're considering. Maybe you value original artwork, but don't mind owning a sofa for 3-5 years before it needs to be replaced - maybe it's the opposite. The most successful way to navigate design purchases is to know what you're buying and why.

I'm a firm believer that there can be magic simply in a unique, personal combination of things that serve your lifestyle and make you happy to spend time in your home.