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  • Deborah Emery

Interior Design in the Age of Covid-19: 5 Tips for Shopping for Home Furnishings Online

Before Covid-19, I had been meaning to write a blog about the pros and cons of shopping for home furnishings online. Now that it is the only way one can shop for such items, at least for the time being, it seems particularly apropos. 


Even people who have always worked from home are spending more time there than they ever did. For those who are fortunate enough to have the means, this is giving them the time and opportunity to prioritize their homes and address long-standing home improvement needs. 


So, if you are interested in a re-decorating or renovation project, now is a great time to plan for it and see what’s out there. I hope my advice below will help you both in your search and to avoid some potential mistakes. 

1. Make sure it is returnable, and read the fine print to see if there is a restocking fee. 

While returning things is a royal pain, it is essential to check whether something is returnable when ordering online. Even the best photography makes it difficult to know exactly what you are going to get. It is better to deal with the hassle of re-packaging, and sending back, rather than get stuck with something you hate or just doesn't work. 




2. Avoid getting overwhelmed by the choices. 


Once you find sites that allow you to return items, you are really ready to start looking. I hear from clients all the time how overwhelming all the options can be. I suggest if a site has them, set the parameters of size, price, color, etc. and use those to help you narrow things down. You can also set a limit for yourself, like stopping at page 10, or some other parameter that feels right for you. Of course, many of us have more time these days, but that doesn't mean we don't have other things we have also always been meaning to do if not for lack of time, so you will probably not want this to become a complete time suck. I also suggest using an idea storage/planning tool like Houzz Ideabooks, Dropbox, or a Pinterest board, so you can come back and review everything together before making final decisions. 




3. Carefully check the details.


It may look like it is the perfect size in the picture on the site, but make sure you use a tape measure to check all dimensions in the space you plan to put the piece. It is also really helpful to compare the dimensions of a similarly sized piece that you already have to get a sense of the scale of the new piece and decide if it will work.



Lighting can be particularly deceiving on websites. If you need new lamps for a bedside table, set up a lamp from another room on your bedside table, step back, and assess how the size and scale work. Does it need to be a little taller, fatter, etc. If you are looking for furniture like a table, holding a tape measure out or taping the size out on the floor in 2 dimensions is not the same as understanding the space something will take up in 3 dimensions. Get creative, even if you have to put two chairs together and hold a piece of cardboard on top to simulate a console table or a dresser, this can be really helpful in avoiding mistakes. 


A note on ordering light fixtures...


If you are ordering a light fixture, check whether it comes with lightbulbs (if it's not an integral LED fixture). If not, find out what bulbs it takes so you can order those too and have everything you need on hand when you install it. 


Whether you are just buying lightbulbs or an integral LED fixture, check the color temperature. K is for Kelvins!! This is critical: the higher the K number, the less warm, and the more white and clinical a fixture or bulb will appear. I generally use 3000 K for kitchens and bathrooms, and 2700 K for living spaces and bedrooms. Typically 3500 K and above is better for commercial spaces and doctors' offices. 


4. If samples are available, get as many as you can before making a final decision. 


When buying upholstered furniture, rugs, shades, or other soft furnishings, samples are your best friend. Yet so many people skip this step as they dont want to wait for them, and are anxious to get their order going, However, I would be very reluctant to buy anything where samples are not an option, unless you see #1 above. Of course, they are not available for all items, such as lighting. But for anything involving soft materials, there will often be samples available either for free, to purchase, or to rent (buy and return for full credit). If I havent already made my point, let me say it again, I highly recommend this! Apart from the fact it is so difficult to see true colors and other details online, materials look different in different lighting environments and you will want to make sure it works in yours. (By the way, this is also critical when you have the luxury of shopping in stores or showrooms). Ultimately, samples will allow you to successfully bring together pieces you may be ordering from different sites/manufacturers, as you can see before you order how things will work together. 




And last, but definitely not least...


5. Never order important seating furniture online (unless you really don't care how comfortable something is, or don't plan to own it for very long, which isn’t the case for most people). 


It is so important to be able to sit in something before you buy it. This is really the only way to see how it fits you, how it feels, and to make sure it will be comfortable. This is particularly true for major seating purchases such as a living room sofa/sectional, reading chairs, and dining chairs. Presumably, you will be spending a lot of time in these, and it is critical that they are comfortable, which is something you generally cannot tell online. 


A few last thoughts...


Many of the well-known online retailers are very busy with orders, so don't assume this is a great time to shop for bargains, at least not from them. On the other hand, you may get some good pricing with smaller, lesser-known vendors, but beware that you may be taking a chance ordering from them in this environment, as they may not be around in a few months. So be judicious when committing your money, i.e. don't spend all of it in one place. Also, check whether your credit card company will cover you for an order to a business who goes out before delivery, etc. 



For those who are ready to place orders, but may not be able or ready to take possession of those orders right now, many online retailers will hold things for you for 2-3 months. If you are thinking about ordering a number of things, and want to consolidate deliveries, you can send them to a reputable moving/storage company who can deliver everything at once. It will be an extra cost, but will save you significant time in coordinating different delivery dates and times. 

Happy planning and shopping! 




Deborah Emery



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