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Let’s Go Furniture Shopping!

Why it’s more than buying something pretty.

Presented by Chic on the Cheap March 12, 2019

A photo of Blu Home

Image: Blu Home

While I am an interior designer with more than a decade of experience, I openly admit that I don’t know it all.  What I do know is who and what to ask when I need help.  For me, it’s all about putting my resources to work—from using great tile installers and electricians and asking them to think outside the box, to saying please and thank you when someone goes out of their way to do a great job.  

In an attempt to use my resources and employ the “sharing is caring” motto I am trying to teach my four-year-old, I recently sat down with Chelsea Dunbar and Nicole Dolan, owners of the cutest furniture boutique, Blu Home.  They are furniture experts, so I thought why not ask them to please, pretty please, share their knowledge and help us all better understand the world of furniture.  Here’s what they had to say. 

What advice would you give people new to Sarasota regarding types and lines of furniture that fit the Sarasota lifestyle and how to shop for them? 
“’Coastal chic’ is a term we use a lot to define the local aesthetic,” says Chelsea.  “It means fabrics and finishes that are light, bright and airy, yet cozy and warm.  Vendors like Palecek really do a nice job of capturing this look, and their pieces fit nicely in a contemporary beach house. RC Furniture is another line that flies under the radar and fits the local look. They make nicely crafted pieces out of California.  Norwalk is a third manufacturer that has a quality product, especially their sofas.”  Chelsea has a Norwalk sofa in her own home, and her two small children have yet to succeed in destroying it.

“Whether you’re working with a designer or collaborating with a salesperson in a showroom, have a well thought-out plan and defined goals. That’s our No. 1 tip,” says Nicole.  This  can be as simple as collecting photos of things you like (from Pinterest, Instagram, magazines, etc.). Measuring your space and having photos of each room are very helpful when shopping in a store.  The salesperson doesn’t know your home or your style, and a picture is worth a thousand words.  However, you can ask Nicole, and other local salespeople and designers, to come to your home for a consultation.  Often times, the fee for this can be applied to purchases.  What this does is allows you to start a relationship with a salesperson.   When someone gets to know you, they can better help you make decisions and avoid costly mistakes.  So having an open dialogue and forming a relationship with your salesperson or designer will only make for a better end result. 

What are the benefits for someone purchasing furniture from a local store versus online?
By shopping locally, you are able to touch and feel pieces, have a personal experience, and most importantly, you get to take advantage of the industry knowledge and expertise the salesperson has accumulated over the years.  Scale is an important factor to consider when shopping for furniture and it’s tough to tell scale from an online photo.  Also, assembly is often required when purchasing online.  This is not the case if you purchase locally—and we all agree, putting together furniture is not our ideas of a fun Saturday night!

Crazy man putting together furniture

I see quality comes up a lot when you talk about furniture; tell me more. 
“Yes, you certainly get what you pay for,” says Nicole. “We value well-crafted pieces because we feel that furnishing a whole home is an investment.” Making decisions on large ticket items is something that needs careful consideration.  However, says Chelsea, these purchases can’t purely be driven by their features or craftsmanship.  She has a rule on her projects and at her own home—if it doesn’t bring you joy, it’s not allowed in the front door.  Every single time she’s broken this rule, she’s ended up replacing the piece.  Instead, she suggests, find something you like and set it aside for a bit; don’t impulse buy.  If you keep coming back to it and continue to smile when you see it, it’s the right decision. 

Vue living room

What is a common misconception about the furniture buying process?
A big misconception is that custom means expensive.  “In reality, custom means ‘made to order,’” Nicole explains. Two good examples of this are things Nicole and Chelsea helped me with on at a recent design project at the Vue, pictured above. 

The clients and I knew we wanted a large piece of art in the dining room but felt limited by the available sizes we were seeing.  Nicole suggested a great vendor, Wendover Art, because they will modify their standard sizes without an upcharge. We quickly found something we loved.  Also, we wanted a coordinating ottoman for their sofa that would double as a chaise.   The standard width for the ottoman from this company was three inches wider than the seat cushion.  Nicole was able to work with the vendor and provide a perfectly paired ottoman for my client’s needs. 

Additionally, Chelsea added that it’s good practice to make clients aware of lead times.  We live in an Amazon Prime kind of world, but a good quality piece of furniture will take some time.  It will be worth the wait, she says, and I agree!  What is a few weeks or months if you plan on having something for many years to come?! Patience, people, patience.  Chelsea and I have both personally waited months for things to arrive at our homes and were both happy with our decisions. 

Thank you to Nicole and Chelsea for sharing their expertise.  My big takeaways are have a plan, measure your space, foster a relationship with your salesperson or designer, and most importantly, have fun.  After all, if it’s in your home, it should bring you joy!

Registered Interior Designer Lic # 5736, LEED AP
Chic on the Cheap