When men buy "guy stuff" - cars, lawn mowers, electronics - they're on their home turf.
For those purchases, "men can rely on familiar brand names and test drives to guide their decision-making," says Jackie Hirschhaut, spokeswoman for the American Home Furnishings Alliance.
But although men are becoming more involved in decorating their homes, according to research by the American Furniture Manufacturers Association, "for most men, furniture stores are unfamiliar territory," she says.
Sofas and chairs top the list of furniture men are most likely to purchase, Hirschhaut says. And the qualities men want in those pieces are comfort, durability, and attractive styling.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course. But once a guy has settled on a style of sofa or armchair - traditional, contemporary, or something in-between - he'll need to check for comfort and durability.
How does he do that if he doesn't feel at home in a furniture showroom? For men - or women - shopping for upholstered furniture, Hirschhaut offers the following tips:
Kick the tires. Not literally, of course. But do put likely pieces through your version of a quality test. Lift one corner of a sofa to see if the frame feels sturdy. Press gently outward on the arms to make sure there is no "give." Ask what materials are used and how joints and stress points, such as arms, are reinforced. Frames made of kiln-dried hardwood and hardwood plywood hold pegs, screws, staples, and nails more firmly in place than do softwood plywood and strand board.
If the sales associate cannot answer your questions, find another associate, or a store with a better-informed staff.
Look under the hood. Some stores have handy "cutaways," which show how upholstered pieces are assembled. But you probably will have to rely on the know-how of a well-trained sales associate to explain the hidden benefits of a piece. A variety of construction techniques offer comfort and durability, but in general, the number of springs in a foundation and the way they are reinforced determine the cost and quality level.
Take a test drive. Don't buy a sofa, chair, or recliner without sitting, slouching, or reclining in it, for at least a few minutes. Put your feet up. Put your head back. Settle into the piece the way you would at home. Furniture cushions may be constructed using springs, cotton, or polyester fiber or down, but most are made from some type of polyurethane foam. Generally, the higher the density of the foam, the more durable (and expensive) the cushion. But the only way to tell if the piece is going to feel comfortable to you is to sit in it.
Think safety. Make sure the piece carries a gold UFAC tag, which indicates it was manufactured according to fire-safety standards developed by the Upholstered Furniture Action Council. Those standards reduce the likelihood of the furniture's catching fire from a smoldering cigarette, which is the leading cause of upholstery fires in the home.
Buying wood furniture
Wood furniture is easier to buy than upholstered styles because the materials and construction techniques are not hidden under layers of fabric and fillings. What you see is what you get, more or less.
It's important to understand that all woods have characteristic colors and features such as knots and grain markings. And each wood reacts differently to the various stains and finishes used in manufacturing. Even within matched sets of chairs, there will be variations of color and grain.
Also, manufacturers often treat wood with a variety of finishes, including distressed, antiqued, high-gloss, and painted. The more complex the finish, the more costly the furniture. And remember, a piece described as having a "cherry finish" may not necessarily be made of cherry wood.
Much of today's furniture uses engineered wood such as plywood or fiberboard. The latter is made from a mix of wood fiber and adhesive, which is fused under intense heat and pressure to create a uniformly strong product that resists warping and splitting and has no knots or other surface imperfections. A laminate made of plastic, foil, or paper printed or engraved to look like real wood usually is applied on top of the engineered wood, which is generally less expensive than real wood.
When buying wood furniture, follow these tips from the American Furniture Manufacturers Association:
Operate all doors and drawers. Do they open and close easily? The fronts of higher-quality drawers should be attached with dovetail joints.
Check that hardware is attached securely and straight. Drawer interiors should be smooth. Higher-quality pieces should have support blocks on drawer bottoms and dust panels between drawers.
Dressers and chests-of-drawers should not wobble or creak.
Turn chairs upside-down and examine the joints, which should be snug and free of excess glue. Check under tables that the corners are reinforced and the legs securely attached. If a table has leaves, make sure the opening/closing mechanism works smoothly.
Measure the length of walls where furniture will be positioned and the width of doorways before purchasing pieces. For entertainment centers, measure the height, width, and depth of the TV and other components.