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  Work out the armchair economics

The article below appeared in the Scotland on Sunday on the 26th of June 2011.
The original article can be seen by clicking here

Click on the any of the thumbnail images to see larger versions of the published article. Some of the images are quite large so may take a while to appear.

Leave flatpack on the shelf and invest in quality furniture that's built to last, writes Heidi Soholt

THE lure of low cost, flat pack furniture has never been as strong. The recession has seen many opting for the cheap and cheerful when it comes to kitting out new homes. Why pay more for, say, a piece of bespoke furniture, when there are so many inexpensive imports on the market? The furniture churned out by many of the high street’s leading retailers is also tapping into today’s throw-away culture, but isn’t furniture meant to last?

Furniture is actually relatively cheaper to buy now than it was 30 years ago. The growth in the manufacture of mass-produced products in the Far East has enabled retailers to sell at rock bottom prices, and consumer demand has rocketed.

King of flat-pack IKEA has the largest share of the UK market, with a staggering three in 10 of us buying from them in the last three years. Supermarkets have jumped on the bandwagon too, with the likes of Tesco and Asda selling home wares online and through catalogues.

However, by buying cheap, customers are often dispensing with personal customer care while at the same time compromising their ethics- for much of what is inexpensive is plundered from national parks and rainforests, and made in Asian sweatshops.

Admittedly some large retailers have sharpened up their act, with B&Q making The Sunday Times Green List, and stores like Marks & Spencer adopting environmental policies.

Retailers at the quality end of the market argue that opting for the low cost is a false economy. By paying more you’re saving money in the long run by getting a piece that will last and have some resale value. Add to this guarantees that raw materials such as timber and textiles have been responsibly sourced.

Dunfermline-based business The Perfect Chair Company specialises in producing bespoke chairs, sofas and footstools. They also supply antique chairs and a full upholstery and re-upholstery service. Owner, Anna Stephenson, who also runs an outlet in the Scottish Antique and Arts Centre at Abernyte, says that during difficult times it makes perfect sense to repair and update. Through reupholstering you can completely revamp your furniture, perhaps to fit in with new décor.

“Customers can choose fabric, French polish, feet, dimensions and designs,” says Anna.

And young home owners, perhaps put off by the "fuddy-duddy" image of such businesses, can be reassured that designs can be as cutting-edge as desired. “Some of our footstools, for instance, are massive in size and we have a large range of modern fabrics. Far from being old-fashioned, footstools are actually perfect for putting your feet up on, storing your snacks or playing computer games.”

Anna insists that her prices are competitive, and customers can choose from two ranges – standard and select. The latter is more costly, but pieces from the ‘standard’ range can be adapted to look similar to look similar.

“Customers appreciate that we provide a huge range of fabric choices. Furniture can also be designed to fit in with their particular needs and budgets.”

By buying antiques from outlets such as Anna’s you’re also recycling. Antiques reduce landfill waste and help preserve historic craftsmanship. The fact that an object has lasted over 100 years means you’re buying a quality piece with character. And they needn’t been expensive, you can pick up pieces in markets, car boot sales or even stashed away in your granny’s attic. Surely something that’s played a part in your family history has more appeal than an anonymous piece of flat pack?

Edinburgh-based fraus : Furniture Restoration And Upholstery Services provide expert advice and assistance in undertaking repairs, restoration and conservation work. The company prides itself on working in environmentally-friendly ways. “We use reclaimed timber and materials and reduce our use of harmful chemicals,” explains qualified furniture restorer and owner, Mark Kinghorn. “We also check our suppliers and use as little power as possible. Most of our work is done in the traditional way with hand tools, using no power at all.”

By using a company such as fraus you can also rest assured that your furniture will be handled with the most utmost care. You’re also guaranteed a personal, informed approach.

“Before carrying out any work we’ll discuss the project with the customer in depth, formulating a plan of action to get their furniture back to the way they want it. There’s a large number of samples to choose from- fabrics, leathers, wood veneers, trimmings and finishes, or a customer can also supply their own materials.”

And costs are kept low. “We’re able to offer very reasonable estimates by tailoring each job to the specific needs of each customer. Cost implications of each part of the job can be discussed so you only pay for work you want.

“We’re a small company and so don’t charge any VAT on labour, and no profits are made from materials."

"We charge by the half hour and have fairly low overheads. We’re also able to save money by being green – avoiding waste, ordering larger deliveries of materials, by using reclaimed timber and reusing materials.”

Steven Burgess’s showroom located in Arnprior near Stirling offers a peaceful haven from hectic high street and retail park stores. His Fine Furniture business sells solid wood pieces that can be tailored to any size or design. A skilled cabinet maker himself, Steven and his manager, Peter Lyon, offer a high level of expertise.

“Many people seem to think that because we’re a small business based in a rural location we’ll be extortionately expensive but that isn’t the case,” says Steven. “Our prices compete with many of the high street retailers.”

While acknowledging that flat pack furniture does serve a purpose, he stresses that if it’s quality you’re after, then he offers the highest standard possible.

So, the next time you’re browsing for that perfect piece for your home, it’s probably worth bearing in mind the old adage- buy cheap, buy dear.

For more information see :

The original article can be seen by clicking here

Article written by Heidi Soholt
Published in Scotland on Sunday  on the 26th of June 2011.

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