Farnoosh Torabi cropped and resizedI recently met with Financially Fit and Savvy Spender host Farnoosh Torabi to talk about  The Best Places to Buy Outdoor Furniture.





The biggest outdoor furniture trends now include

1.  Quantity Shipping Discounts: This is a great way to save some money when buying some great outdoor room furniture suites.

2.  Shorter Shipping Time:  Some retailers have recently dropped their shipping time by stocking this seasonal furniture.  Consumers are now less willing to wait all summer for their outdoor furniture to arrive than in years past.

3.  Polyurethane Resins and Other Protective Coating:  A growing trend in the outdoor furniture industry is furniture that can withstand the weather, year round.  Storing furniture inside isn’t an option for many people, especially those who don’t have the proper storage space inside their homes.  Weather-proof fabrics, like Sunbrella allow cushions to stay outside in even the worst weather without getting damaged.


Lake Forest Showhouse-2 2013This month, I was invited to preview the Lake Forest Showhouse, an annual tradition sponsored by the Infant Welfare Society.  In all its grandeur, the Lake Forest home designed by renowned architect, David Adler, Lake Forest Showhouse 2ccontained an endless supply of beautiful and innovative designs provided by interior designers, landscape architects and suppliers of every kind of product for the home you can imagine.

With 7-10,000 visitors expected over these few weeks, (ending May 19) the $40 ticket prices raise considerable funds for a charity that does good things for so many.  Many other organizations are jumping in to offer showhouses, hoping to get the same turn out as the Infant Welfare Society Showhouse events.
Lake Forest Showhouse1


I asked Farrow & Ball, a high-end paint and wallpaper company from England why they have participated as a supplier, donating so much time and thousands of dollars in gorgeous paint and papers, and they responded: “It is a relevant way for Farrow & Ball to be of service in their local Chicago community while reaching an audience who is interested in their product.”


showhouse 3Most decorators offer the names of the pieces they are showing at these showhouses, so viewers can get ideas and maybe even shop by themselves.  Usually, there is a caveat.  You need to have a pass at a design center to shop for many of the pieces showcased in the home.  Still, the donation to charity and the ability to walk through your dream home may be just the perfect outing for anyone looking for the most unusual ideas for their home.  With some homes having more than 30 designers showing off their interior design skills, you can compare the work of these artists and use this as a chance to hire the best designer for your own home.

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Photo credits: Farrow & Ball


Losing my father recently I was comforted by looking at old photos and reading letters from people whose lives he touched in so many ways.  I cut out old pictures from the newspaper and began to make collages, and framed them.  Nothing warms my home up like looking up and seeing a picture of my father.

Mementos of a loved one often get stored away to look at later, but when taken out of the cabinets, can add so much happiness to your life.


family memoriesI ran across the most charming of stores recently called Ben’s Garden, in Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York (there is also a location in Huntington, New York). Selling a precious collection of custom keepsake decoupage pieces, trays, paper weights, and stationery at stores like: Anthropologie, ABC Carpet & Home, Dean & DeLuca, and Kate’s Paperie, Ben has created a postcard keepsakenational following for creating special keepsakes and charming art pieces. Ben Busko is a most talented artist, offering gift ideas for family, friends, teachers and other special people in your life.  Send in old letters, wedding invitations, photos, or your child’s artwork to create lasting memories in preserved art.  For under $100, you can touch someone special with a keepsake.

By Kate Ashford, Money Magazine staff reporter, for Money Magazine

NEW YORK (Money Magazine) — Catalogues and giant anchor tenants in malls dominate the housewares industry, but while their purchasing power can mean lower prices on some items, most national retailers are locked into a rigid pricing structure, which means no haggling.

For independent retailers, however, haggling is not only permitted, it’s expected (figure on dropping the price by 15 percent to 20 percent).

Regardless of where you shop, remember that the only true judge of quality is you. It doesn’t make any difference if some salesperson regales you with tales of this cotton’s provenance or that sofa’s coil count – only your hand and keister can really tell.


The industry’s pitch: Designer-name couch for $699! Marked down from $1,299! All prices are final!

Rebuttal: Like clothing designers, furniture designers make different lines for different stores. So the couch you see at a discount store might look just like the posh store’s model, but the company took construction shortcuts to keep the price down. (Think outlet vs. retail stores.)

Also, about 85% of local stores will give you a discount if you ask (request 20% off), so don’t be shy.

And in the end, nothing is as important as how a couch feels.

The Verdict: Sit on the couch. For a while. If it’s a sleeper, fold it out and have a lie-down. Make sure the springs are made of eight-way hand-tied coils for long-lasting support. Look for a kiln-dried hardwood frame (not steel) for durability.

Less assembly is good too – the more pieces there are, the more likely it is that things will jiggle over time.

A good retailer to start with? Ethan Allen, says Jennifer Litwin, author of “Best Furniture Buying Tips Ever!” “Their sales staff is great and their furniture is well-made.”

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By Susan Fornoff, Chronicle Staff Writer for San Francisco Chronicle

Furniture expert Jennifer Litwin took off her makeup, put on her jeans and stalked furniture stores in 12 U.S. cities, pretending to be a shopper. The result, a slim but spirited volume called “Furniture Hot Spots,” awards chairs of distinction to nine San Francisco stores but calls several of the city’s high-end antiques dealers onto the carpet for service snafus.

“Do you think there’ll be a barrage of angry retailers?” wonders Litwin, who writes for Consumers Digest from her downtown Chicago home. “I was thinking maybe I should change my phone number.”

Well, that just might be a good question for, say, the owners of Therien & Co., which sells expensive and even museum-quality 17th and 18th century continental furniture on Vermont Street. Litwin awards Therien her highest rating for merchandise quality (“wonderful and unique”) but only four of the maximum five chairs for service, and she writes: “The salespeople seemed to size me over as though they were estimating a price on a vintage car set for auction. God forbid you should attempt to touch the merchandise! They look at you as if you have just raped their turtle.”


“I am surprised actually, because that is one of those things we are super-conscious about, and make every effort to break through that barrier,” said Bruce Tremayne, one of the store’s four owners, who did manage to have a laugh over the turtle line. “There was a point in the ’80s when we had a store on Sutter Street, we played classical music and our salesmen wore suits and ties, and people were intimidated, and I think we learned from that experience to do what we could to soften that image.”

Now the suits are gone (not so the ties), and the sound is jazz. Yet stuffiness still reigns — in Litwin’s book, anyway, and throughout the Therien neighborhood, where the likes of Benjamin Storck, Ed Hardy and Garden Court Antiques rated even lower on the service scale than Therien. These are stores that welcome the public yet sell mostly or exclusively to interior designers, at prices as high as $20,000 for a rare antique in top condition.

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furniture bank association of north america logoThere is a wonderful way to improve other lives while improving your home.  The Furniture Bank has 70 locations throughout the country, picking up furniture from your home or store and delivering it to those in need.  With more than 1 million homeless in America, gently used furniture donations are greatly needed to provide comfort to seniors, battered women, the unemployed and students.

every piece of furniture helps - girlThe Furniture Bank works with donators and the recipients of some very functional furniture.  A side benefit of donating furniture is being able to write off furniture donations from taxes.  You may also wish to send a check to the Furniture Bank.

Some local furniture stores are even offering discounts of up to 10% if they work with a local furniture bank to donate furniture.  Ask your local furniture store.

How to Donate Furniture if You are a Homeowner

furniture bank truckVisit www.furniturebank.org to find one of the 70 locations for pickup across the United States.  Each furniture bank operates independently and decides which items they are willing to take.  Large items like beds, sofas, dressers and lamps are all functional pieces that families starting over need.

Donate Furniture if you Own a Hotel or Other Business

Businesses can reap the benefits of donating gently used furniture.  Many banks will pick up the furniture even two or three hours away.

Why not help someone else in the coming year?  Visit www.furniturebank.org

Pantone 2013 colorsIf you have ever walked into a furniture store and then into a clothing store, you’ll begin to see recurrent color themes.  Our eyes begin adjust to these colors, and that’s how trends are born. Though I’ve vowed to never follow trends in color or fashion, (my friends would agree), I am interested in trying out small additions of the latest colors trends.  It is easy to become stale in your sense of design and fashion, and adding a pop of a hot color doesn’t have to make you look trendy, just updated–there’s a difference. pantone colors 6 The Pantone group carefully selects after doing a lot of research on environmental and consumer trends, news, new technology and other noteworthy events, and their research paves the wave of the future, in how we see the world, our homes and closet.  Selecting some key colors can make all the difference in the world when you are selling a house or just refreshing your look.

In my own home, I have decided to reupholster some furniture in my living room and office.  Though I am careful to not go overboard in buying the hottest trends in fabrics, I am selecting fabrics that reflect a slightly updated look.


This year’s hottest colors are emerald green and pale purple.  Here are examples to whet your appetite:
pantone colors 9pantone colors 8pantone colors 5

pantone colors 3

pantone colors 7pantone colors 10

pantone colors 4


1.  Paint a wall–this is easy and an affordable way to bring life into your home and freshen things up a bit

2.  Paint a baseboard or molding a different color–why not take advantage of the 2013 color trends without making a long term investment?

3.  Add a blanket or pillow with your favorite hot new color—maybe add a small geometric–your home will instantly look updated and fresh

4.  Get an inexpensive poster, new or old, frame it in a Pantone 2013 color

5.  Buy a kitchen appliance, small or large, in a hot new color—who says you have to take your kitchen appliances off the counter?   Keep your favorite, or most frequently used appliance out.  You’ll be surprised at how your family and friends will notice and compliment you on it.

6.  Buy new knobs for your desk drawers—knobs usually run $5-20, but give a little burst of life and color that can modernize your office space

Pissed Consumer logoI recently sat down with Opinion Corp’s Pissed Consumer to ask what the feedback has been for consumers mattress shopping.  Based on customer feedback, I’ve come up with the nuts and bolts every consumer needs to know when buying a mattress.  I’ve made my own costly mistakes in the mattress department.

1)  All of the major brands of mattrescomfy mattresss companies put different names on the same mattresses in different mattress stores.  This is done so you won’t be able to compare prices when shopping for a mattress.  Ask for a spec sheet to compare prices for the same mattress from the same manufacturer.serta mattress

2)  Ask for a short trial period.  Many mattress companies say their mattresses compare to a well-known brand, Tempurpedic.  You need to really try out the mattress for a night or two to make sure it meets your comfort needs.

3) Ranked from most to least mattress complaints are: Serta, Tempurpedic, Simmons Beautyrest, Sleep Number Bed and Sealy.


For a more extensive list of reviews for all kinds of mattresses, check out Sleep Like the Dead.

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Through all uncertainties of the real estate market and the economy you might say that home decor has changed for most homeowners.  Stodgy, impractical and stuffy furniture of the 70’s and 80’s, the look of our parents’ generation, has given way to more functional, comfortable and affordable fashions.   Picking up the basics at places like Costco and fashionable, urban, flea markets, have become the norm.



      1. Dwell( ideas for a more efficient house, soup to nuts)
      2. Reader’s Digest (decluttering ideas–fresh and new ideas that will make your life a lot easier)
      3. Oprah Home (multiple choices displayed for every piece of furniture you will need)
      4. Martha Stewart Home (smart, fashionable choices for each room in your house)


      1. Homeportfolio.com (lists thousands of choices of products and design ideas, and links to the sites where you can buy them–saves huge amount of time)
      2. Lesliehindman.com (great Chicago-based auction house that offers monthly auction in a wide variety of styles, periods and prices–take advantage of the great auction prices right now)
      3. Designspongeonline.com (perfect place to get ideas that are well thought out and executed-no need to hire a designer if you go to this site–artistic, creative, easy to use and fun!)
      4. Decor8blog.com (special finds and secrets from around the world, for all the little details of your house, with links to the nation’s best stores, all in one site)
      5. Freshome.com (displays latest design and function characteristics for every piece of furniture you buy)
      6. Trendir.com (the latest in materials, colors, textiles, trim)
      7. Homedesignfind.com (beautiful layouts of entire room designs–great place for room design ideas)
      8. www.houzz.com (best ideas for rooms, places to shop, color schemes)


By Sue Doerfler for The Arizona RepublicThe Arizona Republic

Next to our homes and cars, furniture likely is the most expensive purchase we’ll make.

And just like with home- and car-buying, it’s best to make informed decisions when purchasing sofas, chairs, chests and dining tables.

What should you look for? Comfort, style and function top the majority of most people’s wish lists, according to the American Home Furnishings Alliance, a trade association based in High Point, N.C.

Quality construction is equally as important, says Jennifer Litwin, a consumer advocate who writes furniture reviews for Consumers Digest. Litwin, whose Web site is jenniferlitwin.com, recently published Best Furniture Buying Tips Ever! (House of Collectibles, 2005, $14.95).

Also important:

  • Written warranties.
  • Free or reasonably priced furniture assembly.
  • Shipping that is free or minimal in cost.
  • Salespeople who know their merchandise.
  • Price. Buy the best quality piece that you can afford, advises Jackie Hirschhaut, the alliance’s vice president.


Corner blocks – Used to strengthen the corners of seat frames. Can be attached with glue or screws, or both.

Down – Soft, fluffy feathers. Used by itself, down creates a luxurious, soft seat cushion. Down-covered foam is less expensive and offers more support.

Eight-way, hand-tied springs – Each coil spring is placed in the seat by hand and tied into place with twine using a series of interlocking knots.

Flexible polyurethane foam – A synthetic foam used in almost all upholstered furniture. Generally, the higher the density FPF the more durable and more expensive the cushion.

Natural fiber – Cotton, linen, silk and wool are natural fibers used to create upholstery fabric.

Synthetic fiber – Acetate, acrylic, nylon, rayon and polypropylene are among synthetic fibers used to create upholstery fabric.

Source: American Home Furnishings Alliance, High Point, N.C.


All wood – All components in the piece are wood. May be a combination of solid wood and engineered wood.

Artificial laminate – A surface of plastic, foil or paper that is printed with a wood-grain pattern and bonded to a composite such as particleboard or medium-density fiberboard.

Bird’s eye – Markings of small spots that resemble bird’s eyes. Often found in sugar maple. Prized as a decorative feature.

Burl – A tree knot or protruding growth that shows up as a pattern in the grain when sliced. Used for inlays and veneers.

Dovetail – A wedge-shaped tenon that fits into a corresponding cut-out space to form an interlocking joint.

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