Style at Home: A guide to sourcing quality wood furniture

By Katie Laughridge
Tribune News Service
Welcoming new pieces into the home feels a bit like dating and marriage, says Katie Laughridge. (Bob Greenspan)


Investing in quality wood furniture can sometimes seem like a daunting task. I often find welcoming new pieces into my home feels a bit like dating and marriage. There’s the initial excitement of finding the perfect piece that ties a room together, the comfortable years where it seems to almost blend into the background, and finally the love and appreciation that only comes with time — along with a few dings and scratches.

In this season of life, designing the home in which we will raise our son, it’s more important than ever to invest in quality pieces that can stand the test of time — and more importantly, the test of toddler! So, I’ve included a roundup of my favorite tips for investing in wood furniture.

1. Talk the talk. It’s important to understand the lingo so you can be sure you know exactly what you are getting. Wood furniture falls into three categories: solid wood, wood veneer and particle board. Solid wood is typically the most expensive out of the three, but you are paying for quality. Veneers have a piece of quality wood on the outside with a less expensive composite material on the inside (to save cost). Particle board is the least expensive of the three and often won’t stand the test of time. That said, there is certainly a time and place for each option, so know your space and you budget and buy accordingly.

Katie Laughridge is the owner of Nell Hill’s. (Katie Laughridge)


2. Joint construction. This is one of the most visible determinants of an investment piece. Check the furniture at its joints. Does it show signs of glue, nails, dowels or screws? If you’re looking for a piece that will last a long time, stray away from furniture with visible glue or nails at the joints — they aren’t as effective in the long term. Dowels and screws will stand the test of time, but if you are looking for the best in terms of joint quality, look for dovetail (they look like interlocking teeth) or mortise-and-tendon joints (a narrow section of one side fitted into a hole in the other).

3. Be realistic with yourself. I once purchased a fantastic, extra-large table that would have fallen firmly in the overlap between industrial and midcentury modern. A lovely piece in its own right, but squarely out of my comfort zone. I promised myself I would build a room around it and love it forever, but it turns out forever only lasted a year. There’s nothing wrong with incorporating unique wood pieces into your room design. I think it’s brilliant! But be realistic with yourself and your design goals for your home (I certainly wasn’t once upon a time and still have to reel myself in once in a while). I tend to push myself out of my comfort zone in upholstered pieces and accessories and invest in wood pieces I know will stand up to my more whimsical decisions.

Wood furniture can tie a room together. (Bob Greenspan)

4. Buy at the right time. It’s important to know when to source your pieces so you can ensure you are getting the most for your dollar. After Tax Day is a great time to check around locally for furniture sales. Many stores discount larger items at that time.

5. Don’t be afraid to REALLY check it out — fluff the cushions, test the knobs, wiggle the table legs, knock on the tabletop, look under the piece, open the doors. If you’re investing in a large quality piece, it can mean you are spending upwards of several hundred (or thousands of) dollars. It’s perfectly fine for you to want to be absolutely sure that it meets your standards.

6. Trust your designer. If you’re working with a designer, don’t be afraid to ask their opinion on the quality of a piece. Designers work with a variety of brands every day, and if they’ve been in the business for a while, they’ve seen lots of furniture. They’ll be able to tell you which line carries quality and which just aren’t up to snuff. I’ll bet they even have a few of their own tricks to help you find the perfect piece.


Adapted from Katie Laughridge is the new owner of Kansas City interior design destination Nell Hill's. For more information, contact Katie at