Did anybody else see the article in September's Smart Money magazine about buying furniture? They took a demo team to Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, and Restoration Hardware's furniture to expose the core of the businesses.
I can't find the article online, but it reminded me of the time my dad and I went into Pottery Barn to find a Christmas gift for my semi-traditional sister. We left rather quickly as my dad explained he did not want to purchase from a company "popularizing bad design." It wasn't intended as a slander of taste, but of overall design qualities: the aesthetic, the materials, and the craftsmanship. Whether he was disappointed in one aspect or all, I don't know, but the phrase stuck with me.
Take, for instance, this super neat shelving unit from Pottery Barn. It is $249 as shown, and is simply MDF coated with a thick layer of paint. I won't get into the environmental impact of MDF, but $250 for MDF is about $200 too much. It is pretty the materials they use to make the cheapy, put 'em together yourself shelves at Target. For an additional $50, you can get a Mahogany stain. I don't know if its a stain over veneer, because I can't imagine a stain over MDF looking remotely decent, but I would imagine it must be. What quality of veneer do they use? Smart Money inspectors said the veneer is 1/40th of an inch thick, or the width of a paper towel.
Ugh, makes me regret having bought a Pottery Barn owned West Elm shelving unit. Though mine appeared to be solid wood, it seems they aren't above hiding a little MDF in there for good measure, either.

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