Know the Essentials Before Furniture Shopping

When it comes to finishing off your home, the small details can make all the difference. Whether you work with an interior designer or a trusted furniture salesperson, a little help goes a long way.

(Gustafson’s Furniture photo)

When it comes to making your house into a home, it helps to have some guidance along the way. Hiring an interior designer is one way to get started, but you can also tap into the knowledge and experience of the salespeople at local furniture and design stores.

Kelsey Nelson Lippert, a sales representative at Gustafson’s Furniture, 6641 E. State St., in Rockford, believes do-it-yourself home decorators need to take a few important steps in order to achieve their desired outcome.
Some of the biggest mistakes she sees occur when a shopper picks colors and styles without considering the big picture. How a new piece of furniture or decor fits in with its surroundings is an important consideration. But that’s only one part of the puzzle.

The main thing is to get started.

“Some people come into the store knowing what they want, others want a change but don’t know where to start, and then there are always those who think they know what they want but see something else they like better,” Lippert says.

Gustafson’s has displays to help people single out a look they enjoy, but it’s also helpful to arrive with a few ideas. Inspiration can come from magazines, store websites, online decorator tools and apps, home shows on TV and real estate listings. Then, it’s time to start shopping.

Trust Your Guide

Not all salespeople are alike, and there is an art to sales. It’s important to trust a good salesperson as you work through your decision on furniture and home decor.

“Good salespeople don’t hound customers,” Lippert says. “They make themselves available while giving customers the time and space they need to think and make decisions, yet they stay nearby to answer questions and help with problem-solving. I’ll walk around with people if they want that, but otherwise I let them look around on their own until they need my help.”

Lippert is not an interior designer, but she comes from a family where most everyone works in sales, including an aunt who’s an interior designer. Lippert combines those early experiences as she works to communicate with customers.

“Right away, I knew I loved furniture sales. It made me feel I was back with my aunt and helping people,” she says. “And I’m doing better than I ever thought possible.”

She feels the best compliments come when someone receives a new piece of furniture at home and calls Lippert to say it looks great, it’s just what they wanted, and – if it’s a mattress – it’s the best sleep they’ve ever had.

“The best ‘thank you’ I ever got was when a customer emailed my manager saying he was so pleased with how I treated him, even though he wasn’t making a big purchase,” she recalls. “He was impressed that, even though he didn’t spend a lot, I treated him as if he was making the biggest purchase of the day.”

Some people need more help than others in making decisions. A good salesperson is ready to assist however much or little the customer requires.

Lippert finds she’s often a sounding board for customers, as they narrow in on their choices. She recalls one customer who liked a dark cherry sofa and wanted to combine it with a blue suede chair.

“I took the sofa cushion and put it on the chair, and I asked him what he thought. At that moment, he realized it wasn’t a good combination,” she says. “Just because you like the fabric and the chair doesn’t mean you’ll like the end result when forcing it to work with something else.”

Another customer had light grey walls and wanted to buy a light grey couch.

“That wouldn’t work either, because both the wall and couch are too much the same color,” she says. “You need to have some eye-appealing contrast, so I suggested a darker grey, light brown or blue sofa.”

Lippert likes to use a 70-20-10 rule when selecting colors. The idea is to have one dominant color (gray, in this above vignette), followed by a secondary color and an accent color. (Gustafson’s Furniture photo)

Consider Your Palette

If putting colors together is not your strong point, Lippert suggests going online and looking at a color wheel to see what’s complementary and contrasting. That offers a good starting point for you and your salesperson.

When choosing a color scheme, start with with a main color, a secondary color and an accent color that all work well together. Some designers use a 70-20-10 rule to keep in perspective how much of each color to use.

People often overlook the color of their flooring when picking out furniture, so Lippert suggests they bring in a sample of their carpet or flooring. This offers a quick glimpse into whether or not the combination works.

On the other hand, when you order a custom piece, you can take fabric samples home to see how the combination looks. It’s important to understand how those color choices will look at different times of day.

In one home, the touch of blue in a customer’s area rug made all the difference when pairing a blue sofa and loveseat. With white walls and a burgundy accent wall, the color “popped,” and the look was fabulous, Lippert says.

Another customer brought in a sample of his wall paint to see what fabrics would work.

“What people think will work and what does work are not always the same thing, and most of the time, the customer has to see for himself or herself to believe it,” Lippert says.

One couple had neutral-colored walls with a dark purple accent wall. In the spring and summer, they accented the room with white and lavender, and in the fall and winter they used white and black accents, with just a touch of green and red during the holiday season, so it wasn’t overpowering.

Little accents like plates and centerpieces, help to add a cozy, lived-in feel to a room. If done properly, they can also rotate with the seasons. (Gustafson’s Furniture photo)

Find Your Style

Style is another consideration, and it’s easy to take for granted. Some of the more common styles people are drawn to include traditional, modern, contemporary, transitional, modern farmhouse, eclectic, glam, mid-century modern, industrial, coastal and minimalist. Each has a slightly different color palette, texture and feel to it.

Lippert once had a customer who wanted to achieve a “country” feel in a room, but they wanted to make sure it wasn’t obvious. He planned to redo the whole room and had colors picked out, but once he found a throw pillow he loved, every other decision revolved around the pillow. Paint color and furnishing choices had to match those pillows.

Every room needs a focal point to bring it all together. Your focal point can be a large piece of furniture or artwork, but it can also be something small like throw pillows, a vase of flowers, or a throw blanket. Whatever it is, the focal point should catch your eye as you walk into the room. So, look for something that’s unusual, has a unique texture, or is colorful in a way that quickly catches someone’s attention.

Sometimes, decorators build an entire room so they can rotate artwork or other accents with the seasons.
“The smallest thing can make a room stand out and make people feel at home right away,” says Lippert.

Other Considerations

A word of warning: It’s easy to get carried away and use too many small, decorative items around the house, says Lippert. Having a mixture of big and little pieces adds interest to a space. Restrain yourself, because while you’re trying to achieve a look that’s refreshing and inviting, it’s sometimes easy to go too far and become cluttered and confusing instead, she says.

Lippert finds that customers often overlook the size of the room they want to fill. Either they forget or they haven’t considered where and how the furniture will sit, how it will get into the house, and whether or not there’s space for everything else around it.

“It has happened that people pick out something for a room, but it won’t fit through the door to get it in the room, so it’s very important to take measurements,” Lippert says.

Lighting also fits into this bigger picture. The amount and type of illumination you choose can greatly affect how colors look at different times of the day.
“Even from the store to home, colors and fabrics can look a lot different,” says Lippert. “And once you get samples home, your lighting can affect the entire atmosphere.”

Texture can also set the tone of a room, depending on whether you want a soft, fluffy, comfortable look or a more slimmed-down look. Texture comes into play through drapes, blinds and furniture, as well as accent pieces like woven baskets, throw blankets and plush pillows.

Combining textures adds interest, such as pairing a leather sofa and loveseat with a fabric chair, or the other way around. Texture can also give a room an elegant look with a rich-looking fabric or a comfortable feel with a more casual-looking fabric.

And with the many technological advances in fabrics, polyester is the best choice, Lippert says, because it can be made to look like leather, suede, fur and more. It’s also one of the most durable fabrics available.

“So, whether you are living alone or have a lot of kids and pets, polyester fabrics are the easiest to clean and they hold up to any amount of wear and tear,” she says.

Special touches add plenty of interest, too. In a bathroom and kitchen, add perfumed soaps in a decorative dish. Elsewhere in the home, mix trays with candles, fill bowls with small stones, or arrange books on a table for that warm and cared-for feeling.

Dark color schemes can be brightened up with just a touch of a light color. A white or beige basket for blankets, or other light-colored storage can accomplish that look.

Other small touches, like a throw across a couch, or pillows on a chair, make an entirely different look, Lippert says. So do personal touches.

Figurines, photos, a favorite gift, a family heirloom or something you just find lovely, makes a home your own, Lippert says.

“If you really like something, you will find a place for it,” she adds. “Any interest you have, such as golfing, fishing, hunting, pets, flowers, music or farming can be the stimulus for how to decorate a room. It can be something sentimental because it came from someone you love, or it just reflects your tastes. Still, it’s those special touches that make a house a home. Anything that means something to you will make you want to go home and feel comfortable and safe because you like what you see. If a home is warm and inviting to you, it will be for other people, as well.”