By Sue Doerfler for The Arizona RepublicThe-Arizona-Republic1

Next to our homes and cars, furniture likely is the most expensive purchase we’ll make.

And just like with home- and car-buying, it’s best to make informed decisions when purchasing sofas, chairs, chests and dining tables.

What should you look for? Comfort, style and function top the majority of most people’s wish lists, according to the American Home Furnishings Alliance, a trade association based in High Point, N.C.

Quality construction is equally as important, says Jennifer Litwin, a consumer advocate who writes furniture reviews for Consumers Digest. Litwin, whose Web site is, recently published Best Furniture Buying Tips Ever! (House of Collectibles, 2005, $14.95).

Also important:

  • Written warranties.
  • Free or reasonably priced furniture assembly.
  • Shipping that is free or minimal in cost.
  • Salespeople who know their merchandise.
  • Price. Buy the best quality piece that you can afford, advises Jackie Hirschhaut, the alliance’s vice president.


Corner blocks – Used to strengthen the corners of seat frames. Can be attached with glue or screws, or both.

Down – Soft, fluffy feathers. Used by itself, down creates a luxurious, soft seat cushion. Down-covered foam is less expensive and offers more support.

Eight-way, hand-tied springs – Each coil spring is placed in the seat by hand and tied into place with twine using a series of interlocking knots.

Flexible polyurethane foam – A synthetic foam used in almost all upholstered furniture. Generally, the higher the density FPF the more durable and more expensive the cushion.

Natural fiber – Cotton, linen, silk and wool are natural fibers used to create upholstery fabric.

Synthetic fiber – Acetate, acrylic, nylon, rayon and polypropylene are among synthetic fibers used to create upholstery fabric.

Source: American Home Furnishings Alliance, High Point, N.C.


All wood – All components in the piece are wood. May be a combination of solid wood and engineered wood.

Artificial laminate – A surface of plastic, foil or paper that is printed with a wood-grain pattern and bonded to a composite such as particleboard or medium-density fiberboard.

Bird’s eye – Markings of small spots that resemble bird’s eyes. Often found in sugar maple. Prized as a decorative feature.

Burl – A tree knot or protruding growth that shows up as a pattern in the grain when sliced. Used for inlays and veneers.

Dovetail – A wedge-shaped tenon that fits into a corresponding cut-out space to form an interlocking joint.

Dowel – A wooden peg that fits into a corresponding hole to reinforce a joint.

Dust panel – A horizontal panel that is placed between drawers to keep dust out of the drawers.

Engineered wood – Wood made from slices of lumber (plywood) or the chips and fibers that remain after a tree is milled into lumber (particleboard or fiberboard).

Hardwoods – Trees, including oak, ash, cherry, maple, walnut and poplar, that lose their leaves in winter.

Inlay – A design of contrasting wood.

KD – “Knocked down.” Furniture sold unassembled or partially assembled. More commonly called RTA.

Kiln-dried – Wood that has been dried to resist warping, splitting and cracking.

Medium density fiberboard – Made by breaking down wood chips into fibers, mixing the fibers with glue, and fusing the resulting mixture under heat and pressure to produce a board.

Particleboard – Chips of wood coated with glue and pressed into a board.

Plywood – Three to five thin slices of wood glued together like a sandwich under high pressure.

RTA – “Ready to assemble.” Furniture sold unassembled or partially assembled. Sometimes called KD furniture.

Softwoods – Trees, including pine, cedar, redwood and spruce, that remain green in winter.

Solid wood – Can mean one board or plank of wood or several wood boards or blocks glued together.

Tropical hardwood – Hardwood from a tropical forest, the most common of which is mahogany.

Veneer – Thin sheets of wood applied to a core, which could be solid wood or engineered wood, for decorative effect.

Source: American Home Furnishings Alliance, High Point, N.C.


Brocade – Originally, heavy silk with an elaborate pattern in silver or gold threads. Has an embossed appearance.

Chenille – From the French word for “caterpillar.” A plush, fuzzy yarn used to create upholstery fabric, which also is known as chenille.

Chintz – Originally, any printed cotton fabric. Now refers to fabric with a glazed or “polished” surface.

Damask – Named for the ancient city of Damascus, where elaborate floral designs were woven in silk. Flatter than brocade and reversible, though the pattern changes color on the reverse side.

Jacquard РDamasks, tapestries, brocades, matelassés and all upholstery fabrics with elaborate figures woven on a Jacquard loom.

Matelass√© – French, meaning “to cushion or pad.” Refers to fabric with a quilted surface produced on a loom.

Moire – A fabric, particularly silk, with a watered or wavy pattern.

Toile de Jouy – A fabric of cotton or linen printed in a single color with scenes of landscapes and people, especially from 18th-century French prints.

Source: American Home Furnishings Alliance, High Point, N.C.

Jennifer Litwin