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The Painted Furniture Bubble

( or what you should consider before buying painted furniture )

The popularity of Swedish painted furniture in the Gustavian style has rarely been higher. Yet due to the nature of this product more care than normal is required when making your purchasing decision. Furniture paint, like heavy makeup, can cover a multitude of sins. So the first and obvious question is:

From what material is the painted furniture made?

One would expect the answer to be "wood". But surprisingly there are fashionable shops that are selling painted furniture made largely from MDF. The retail prices charged do not of course reflect the cheapness of the raw materials used, and, unless you ask directly, the showroom staff are not going to enlarge on the matter. Always make sure your furniture is made from the material you expect. If the salesperson gives you a pitch about MDF being more stable in modern centrally-heated homes, ask questions about the source of the data. Ultimately, if you are happy with MDF furniture, be brutally honest about the price you are prepared to pay.

Always look inside the drawers and underneath the piece. Painted furniture in my opinion should be wholly painted furniture. Many manufacturers are of the opinion that if a surface is not readily visible then it need not be painted, nor in some cases even sanded and primed. Always try your best to check over a showroom model prior to purchase. If this is not possible quiz the sales staff on the telephone. Always ask direct questions; a cornered sales rep tends to dissemble. To ensure the level of quality you require is understood, write a covering letter to send with your deposit stating the necessity for all surfaces to be painted. If your chosen retailer demands a premium for this, simply take your business elsewhere; it can take up to ten weeks to get your furniture and during this time your deposit sits in the retailerís bank earning interest for them.

Find out where your painted furniture is to be manufactured

The romance of buying a nordic style of furniture that is actually made in Sweden is a false conceit. You end up paying for the importation and the delivery time is normally extended, especially during the wholesale summer closedowns. Try to find a supplier with British factories. You can be sure that they are using the same methods as their Swedish or European counterparts (there is actually little room for romance in high volume furniture manufacture), and the cost of getting the furniture made and delivered will be correspondingly lower.

British factories are also more accessible and better able to understand special requirements such as paint matching and bespoke dimensions and they do not suffer the six week summer close-down common on the continent.

While on the subject of paint matching - if you intend to buy a set of painted furniture of the same colour for a particular room it is wise to purchase it all at once. Building up a collection piece by piece will lead to colour variations as different batches of paint come and go through the factory over the course of time. Shades may even be discontinued without notice.

If budget is a problem try to build your collection using complementary or contrasting paint colours. Most manufacturers offer a wide range of lovely rustic colours in reds, greens, pale yellow, buff and champagne. Rooms furnished with these colours retain the Scandinavian freshness but offer a warmth and character missing from the basic white colour scheme. 

Painting and distressing is not as difficult as many people imagine. Furniture paints and glazes are now widely available; one retailer of painted furniture sells the full range of finishes and colours used in its Swedish factories. Buy some sample pots and practice on a piece of spare wood (or even MDF). If you like the results you achieve, then congratulations, you have truly set yourself free. Now you can trawl the junk shops for that special piece of pine or oak furniture, take your bargain home and give it your very own nordic makeover. 

If you canít find that special junk shop star and your heart is truly set on a Gustavian style writing desk in the grand Swedish royal tradition, it is worth considering a bespoke service. Buy a book on the history of Scandinavian furniture and choose the piece of your dreams. Find a cabinet maker and show him the picture. Most cabinet makers enjoy getting involved in such projects and the result will probably cost a fraction of the "off the peg" showroom model with the advantage of a lot more individuality. 

The final precaution if you have purchased painted furniture is to insist that the delivery driver waits while you check every single surface of your purchase in good light. It's a good idea to use a torch and play the light over the painted surfaces. Painted furniture is notoriously susceptible to transit damage. If you find such damage you are advised to reject the furniture outright. Think carefully before you accept the offer of a repair or touch-up on-site. Your legal position is a lot stronger if you refuse delivery of sub-standard goods rather than accept them with conditions attached. 

The painted furniture bubble is not far from bursting.

Weíve seen the modern taupe, wenge-wood and steel "look" go from exclusive designer territory to becoming the linchpin of high street furniture retailers. The sudden availability of this "look" on the high street has caused its partial fall from grace in designerís studios. In addition to the effect of this over-exposure, the price competition has its own inevitable effect. How long can the high-end retailers of painted furniture hold off the "me-too" high street and mail order companies? How long before heavyweights like Ikea and Habitat give them a run for their money?


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