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Common Furniture Misconceptions

Author : zzzzingas
Joseph Hoffmann Kubus sofa

Some Common Myths About Wood
Handcrafted pieces from long ago were built better than today's furniture. Actually, current methods and materials for joining/fitting furniture pieces together have greatly improved over the age of hand-made goods. Contrary to popular opinion, one of the oldest methods of fitting furniture pieces together has always been glue -- and the glues we have now are far better than the older glues. In addition, recent developments in wood finishes are great improvements over many of the older finishes, with longer durability, protection for the wood and improved shine or sheen. It's also easier now to kiln-dry wood which means the wood is more seasoned and much more stable than air-dried wood.

A Wood finish needs to be fed.
This is something of a misunderstanding. Yes, a wood finish can lose essential oils over the years (which causes cracking or crazing of the finish), but you actually don't need to feed the finish more oils. Eventually, no matter what you do, the finish of a wood product will wear out with day-to-day use and no amount of "feeding" the finish will protect it from that normal use. Does that mean it's pointless to wax or polish the wood? Not at all. Waxing the wood with a hard wax gives the best protection for day-to-day use and only has to be done about once a year. Tabletops or other areas that see heavy use might need to be waxed as often as four times a year. This wax helps prevent some scratching, keeps the wood looking nice and actually helps prevent dust build-up. After all, a good wax surface is slippery, so much of the normal dust will blow off the piece. Oil, on the other hand, holds dust to it.

Wood is alive, needs to breathe, must have essential oils periodically replaced.
Wood is only alive while it's still a living tree or bush. Wood found in furniture and lumber is, by definition, already dead. Since it's not living, it doesn't need to breathe or to be fed any kind of oils.

Wood veneer is bad.
This is one of the biggest misunderstandings in furniture. Most consumers, when looking for fine furniture, will say that they don't want any of "that veneered stuff." Most furniture people know some of the best, most durable and most beautiful pieces of furniture have veneered wood. Many inexperienced furniture buyers are looking to upgrade their furniture from the ready-to-assemble pressboard furniture. Much of this furniture uses a paper veneer with a woodgrain pattern printed on it. Eventually, the paper peels up and looks bad, usually this type of engineered wood is quite inexpensive and not a good quality and the whole piece of furniture eventually falls apart. To many people, when they say they don't want "that veneered stuff," they really mean they don't want any more inexpensive furniture and they're afraid that the word veneer means cheap. Actually, true veneered wood (rather than a paper veneer or a vinyl veneer), dates back to ancient Egypt! Using a thin (about 1/32") layer of more exotic-looking wood is a way to conserve the wood and actually strengthen the piece of furniture. (See Engineered wood is bad.)

All of the wood in a set or suite will match exactly.
Even if an entire table and chairs set was made from a single tree, chances are we would see some color and grain differences in each piece of the set. The joy of natural products like wood, leather and stone are the natural and irregular patterns that make them distinct.

Common Myths About Upholstery
Most expensive fabrics are the most durable. Not really. Fabrics like silks and damasks can be quite expensive, but won't hold up as well under normal use as Nylon or Olefin materials which tend to be the most all-around durable fabrics for a piece of furniture that will see a lot of use, but a blend might give you the look and feel you prefer with a durability you can live with.

Stain repellent is useless.
Nothing could be further from the truth! A good flurochemical treatment will significantly reduce staining and often makes cleaning easier. These treatments, though, are only a stain repellent -- they don't make the fabric more durable and they don't absolutely protect against any staining at all. A good stain repellent finish should come with a manufacturer's guarantee.

Common Myths About Leather
Leather cannot be repaired if torn. Untrue. There are many leather workers who specialize in repairing leather -- the best can match your furniture so well that you'll never even see the repaired spot. Whether it's a pressure-indentation from being pushed up against something on the wall, a scratch or tear from a pet, or even a stain or fading, your leather furniture can be brought back to like-new. Depending on the damage, the process could include applying heat to reduce an indentation, sanding and buffing the affected area, applying a leather filler material and then several coats of color (base color, print coat and final top coat). This kind of repair is best done by a professional, however, and isn't something that most homeowners should attempt.

Leather is sticky in the summer and cold in the winter.
While this might be true of vinyl, leather "breathes" and adjusts to conditions very quickly, making it comfortable all year long.

red Barcelona Chair

You can't clean leather or keep it looking clean.
This really depends on the type of leather you have, the type of wear the leather is subjected to and how you define clean. First, all leather will age over the years and develop a patina of a slightly different color than what the piece may have been when you first bought it. The patina doesn't necessarily indicate that the leather is dirty -- it just means that the dyes, pigments and oils in the piece of leather have aged and shifted. If that shifting bothers you, you might prefer a heavily pigmented leather to a pure aniline leather since these shift less than the technically higher quality pure aniline leathers. In addition, different kinds of leather need to be cleaned in different ways. You need to know what type of leather you have and follow the manufacturer's cleaning instructions very carefully. Don't use saddle soap or mink oil -- while these items might be fine for some utilitarian leather goods, you won't like what they do to your leather sofa or chair. If in doubt, the same small businesses that repair leather can likely clean your leather for you or recommend the best way for you to clean it.

Leather isn't as durable as today's fabrics.
Not at all! Leather is a highly durable covering for chairs and sofas. Leather is much stronger and lasts far longer than even today's durable upholstery fabrics.

Fabric on the bottom of a leather cushion is a cheap shortcut.
Actually, leather cushions (and pillows) used to have a metal grommet on the underside so that when someone sat on the chair cushion, the air trapped inside the cushion could escape. Unfortunately, that was a slow process (and often noisy as well!). Today, many leather chairs and sofas use fabric on the underside of a cushion to let the air out quickly and quietly. Rather than a cheap shortcut, it's a matter of personal preference.

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