When it comes to purchasing essentials for your first home, buying furniture and setting up your bedroom are good starting points.
Whether you buy new, vintage or antique furniture, focus on quality construction and materials. Start with comfort and style. Sit on each piece you consider, and try different positions before deciding if it's right for you. If you order a custom piece, ask to sit on one that has the same frame and structure.
No matter how pretty the piece, unless the frame is strong, it won't last. This is particularly true of pieces meant for daily use. Some tips:
* Kiln-dried hard woods -- birch, maple, ash or gum -- are more durable than soft woods, such as pine, poplar or fir.
* Wood joints should be mortise-and-tenon (one piece slides into the other) or dovetail (finger-like projections that fit together like gears do) and secured with glue for strength.
* The piece should not feel light and flimsy, as it might tip easily.
* Larger pieces, such as sofas and love seats, should not sag in the middle. That shows lack of support and bracing.
* Coils in seats of upholstered pieces, like box springs in a mattress, give firmness and stability. Steel coil springs that are hand-tied where they meet are the strongest.
* When it comes to wood furniture, keep in mind that hardwoods are more durable than soft woods, and also more expensive.
Hardwood choices are generally a matter of appearance, style, budget and preference. They include cherry, oak, maple, walnut, birch, poplar and teak.
Furniture made from soft woods, such as cedar and pine, are typically less expensive. Pieces made from composite wood products, such as particleboard and plywood, vary in price and performance.
Other choices can be veneers and laminates. For veneers, inquire about the base material as well as the face veneer.
Laminates cover a base material and often are used in children's or casual furnishings.
For the bedroom, evaluate your needs. Besides the bed, other pieces usually focus on storage, so it's wise to assess the closet situation for hanging space before getting carried away on furniture. With skimpy closet space, consider an armoire or unit that combines some hanging rods and a few drawers. Deep drawers work for large items, but for socks and jewelry, shallow drawers are more practical.
When selecting a bed, your first consideration is size. Headboards and footboards will add 3 to 4 inches to each end, and bed coverings add about 3 inches per side. It's wise to "test drive" a mattress. If you will share the bed, take him or her along. Test how it feels to lie, sit and move on the mattress. Remember that firm doesn't always mean better; it's a matter of personal preference and body shape.
Pillow choice is personal, too. Look for pillows that can be squashed and fluffed and that feel right for you in thickness and firmness. Down- and feather-filled pillows offer the most comfort and the longest wear, but they're not right if you're allergic to feathers.
Synthetic and polyester pillows are durable and inexpensive, and foam rubber pillows are inexpensive and considered hypoallergenic. However, they might wear out quickly. Pillows filled with buckwheat hulls, used in Europe for years, are catching on in the United States. They mold easily to form and are not conducive to dust mites, so they are good for allergy sufferers. But they're not for everyone, so ask about the return policy.
Blankets are sized to drop over the sides and bottom end of the mattress, extending slightly beyond the mattress depth. Consider cotton, quilted matelasse and pique coverlets. Other choices include cotton fleece, wool, wool-silk blends and acrylics.
Quilts may be used as blankets, coverlets or as extra bedding folded at the end of the bed. Take extra care with antique quilts in terms of sunlight and washing. Durable machine-made quilts for everyday use are available. A variety of bedspread options are available, too.
(Better Homes and Gardens Making a Home (Meredith Books, $29.95)
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