By Helen Fields for U.S. News & World Report – USAUS_News

Former mutual fund analyst Jennifer Litwin’s frustration with furniture drove her to an internship at Sotheby’s and a career as a consumer advocate. For her book Furniture Hot Spots, she went undercover, visiting and rating hundreds of stores.

What do furniture shoppers do wrong?

“A lot of people feel they have to do their whole house at once and want everything coordinated. But the most important thing is to take your time to watch how you live in your space. And I think people overpay for things like couches.”

Does a good couch cost thousands?

“I saw a couch at Ikea in the $500-to-$600 range. It was very attractive. But the cushions were sort of lumpy. For a couple hundred dollars, a local furniture store can put in new cushion filling.”

So you love Ikea? I’m amazed!

“I [also] love Urban Outfitters. People don’t realize that they sell vintage furniture online at very good prices–really well-constructed furniture.”

Any nightmare shopping experiences?

“At a store in New York, I saw these shabby pink suede chairs that looked like they came right out of the dentist’s office. The guy wanted $6,000. He said they’re by [20th-century designer] George Nelson. I said, “How do you know?” And he said, “They’re signed.” I turn the thing over and, sure enough, no signature.”

And what was his response?

“He looked like he’d just been caught!”

This story appears in the November 21, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.

Jennifer Litwin