A Painful Lesson on How NOT to Buy Furniture

In my early days of marriage, I would go to the library and check out books called “How to Decorate Your Home on a Shoestring” and “Design on a Dime.” Even though the titles sounded promising to my newlywed, living-on-love budget, I quickly realized that I couldn’t even afford a shoestring! We had no extra money. Period. A date night for us was to go to the McDonald’s drive-thru, dig around in the car’s ashtray for coins and share a 69 cent ice cream cone!

I had to get creative, and I wasn’t above picking up abandoned furniture from the side of the road and hauling it home to refinish or slipcover. I would pull up to the house and Sam’s jaw would drop, wondering how on earth I had managed to fit all of it into my car. It was like one of those clown cars, but with pieces of furniture that kept coming out!

After about a year of marriage, we received our Christmas bonus check from Sam’s job and he told me we could use it to buy some living room furniture. I was elated! It was only $1500, and, as you know, when it comes to buying furniture there’s not a whole lot you can do with that, even back then. But, I was determined to get as big of a bang for my buck as possible. And, boy, did I!

I decided that what our tiny living room needed was a focal point. That is a design phrase for the most fundamental element of the room. The thing that the rest of the room revolves around and compliments. It is the first place the viewer’s eye lands when they enter the room. It is the star of the show. Every room needs one, but we didn’t have one. We didn’t have any big pieces of furniture or art. No remarkable architectural elements. Nothing that anchored the room or caught your eye. Just a lot of small, little things that looked cluttered.

So, off I went to the furniture store and bought a huge couch with massive rolled arms and a chair-and-a-half to go with it. (You remember those chair-and-a-halfs, don’t you? It was like the furniture designer bred an armchair with a loveseat, and Voila!) But I didn’t stop there! Nope. I got to pick out the fabric for those bad boys, too! I spent a lot of time on that. I couldn’t afford to get this wrong. I finally settled on a green floral for the sofa and a green and burgundy plaid for the chair-and-a-half. And when I say floral, I don’t mean some sweet little calico print. I mean florALL! Each flower was the size of a platter. And the plaid was a close runner-up. But, remember, I needed a focal point, and I sure got one!

Oh man. I still cringe. I was so happy, 15 years later, when those gigantic arms finally fell off that couch from the kids riding on them, pretending they were racing horses, and we could haul it away!

What I learned from that experience, and now adopt, not only for my home decorating, but in my wardrobe as well, is the staying power of NEUTRALS. If you keep the majority of your big investment pieces and paint colors neutral and then add the color or pattern through less expensive things like pillows, accessories, even some rugs, you will find that things don’t go out of style nearly as fast, and you have unlimited options, because you can move pieces to a different room or even a new house, and they still work! It is also a piece of cake to give your room a new look, because it is a lot easier and cheaper to change some throw pillows than it is a green floral couch!