Two Big Purchases, One Easy And One Not So   3 comments

Since getting our new car paid off this spring we can really start working on the wish list for the house. Two weekends ago we bought a grill, last weekend a dining room table, and this weekend a couch. Then we’ll pause to give me time to build my herb garden and sew up the new master bedroom curtains (not busy, not busy at all). The table and couch have been pretty big deals, and it was a bit of a toss up which was actually higher priority. While we have been using an office table as a makeshift dining room table, we didn’t have chairs and have been sitting on the loveseat pulled up to the table. I had to use a cushion as a booster seat to comfortably reach the table. It was also ugly and required a tablecloth, which cannot be cleaned with a wipe of a rag when it gets dirty. In competition though, on the sofa the fabric is completely torn up on the seat, and the top layer of batting beneath is also torn so the foam padding is exposed and crumbling. Therein is the problem: there’s a good chance that this sofa was treated with fire retardents, possibly including brominated fire retardents, and exposure becomes an issue when the foam starts coming out. Brominated fire retardents are persistent (don’t degrade), may contribute to neurologic and reproductive issues, and may be toxic to the liver and thyroid. So they affect me as an adult, they affect me as a woman trying to get pregnant, and they will be passed on to my child. Until we paid off the car we simply couldn’t afford to buy a couch, even a couch that didn’t meet my other requirements, so this has been a major chemical exposure that I have not been able to address. Oh, and the couch sags a bit, giving my husband back aches. Since we couldn’t decide which was really higher on the wish list, we tackled them at the same time. Yes, it’s obvious that the sofa was the more important one, but due to the higher price tag and greater research requirement it is a much more difficult purchase.

We started with the dining room table. My big requirement was that it be solid wood, so that it will last a long time and to eliminate offgassing from plywood or other engineered wood. From there we had two directions: secondhand (so that no new raw materials had to be used) or new from FSC-certified sustainably harvested wood. I think the option with the smallest footprint is the former, so we planned a weekend of driving from one consignment or antique store to another all over Sacramento. After the farmer’s market I decided to stop in at the consignment store nearest us to see if it was worth going with Mike when he got back from the gun show. I was in love by the third table. There were several tables that I could have lived with for a couple of years, and a couple that I could probably have lived with for decades. But there was one that was beautiful and seems perfect. It was also close to the most expensive table in the store. Mike and I went back in the afternoon, and he agreed that it is the table for us. It is solid wood, even the brackets under the table and the little drawers in both ends. The chairs are currently upholstered in a white cotton, but that should be easy enough to replace with leather upholstery and organic cotton or wool batting. Easy, and next-to-no driving around required!

Then we drove up the street to a store that sells custom furniture to start the process of getting a new sofa. Between the two of us we had some challenging requirements (ok, mine were the biggest challenges): firm cushions and back, leather, hardwood, organic fill, and no offgassing foam. We’re getting 3 of the 4. We didn’t even bother shopping any furniture galleries because we figured the chances of finding something hardwood, leather, and without/with a minimum of offgassing and toxic treatments were pretty much nil. A perusal of a few furniture store website where the words “(wood) veneer” showed up in every description proved that out. The issue with the wood is that many particleboards are made with adhesives that offgass formaldehyde and VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Plus hardwood just lasts longer. The issue with leather stems mostly from the fact that I am tired of not being able to clean my furniture. I’m one of the few people who tries to wipe down my fabric furniture every spring and fall, but usually I give up long before the water stops turning black. I want leather where one wipe of a cloth leaves a clean surface. Additionally, since we’re about to have kids I understand that leather stands up better to “life”, stains less (as long as you wipe the spill up right away), and looks better with age. And leather is not necessarily treated with toxic flame retardants, stain repellents, and water proofers. (Just the not-so-inert leather processing chemicals, oh well; and some cleaning/protectant chemicals aren’t great either). Unfortunately, about 95% of leather sofas have soft cushion backs, so it was a challenge to get a leather tightback sofa that will be comfortable for Mike’s back.

I did have to compromise on the foam in the sofa, though. Not surprisingly in the green black hole of Sacramento, in a web search I wasn’t able to find any custom furniture makers advertising non-polyurethane foam, and I’m not crazy enough to drive to San Francisco for a sofa. (Side rant, the term really should be “made to order” not “custom”) The consultant at the store we went with also expressed concern that a latex cushion wouldn’t last as long as the polyurethane. So I’m stuck with the VOCs (specifically isocyanate, I think, which is used to make it foamy) offgassing from the foam. The cushion has a layer of down on top of the spring/foam layer, which is encased in cotton batting, so there’s another miss. “Conventional” cotton uses an absolutely crazy amount of pesticides. While I would have preferred a spring/latex cushion with organic cotton, hemp, or wool batting, this compromise is acceptable. It’s about as good as I expected to find. All-in-all the sofa purchase was not as hard as I feared, but it was a challenging purchase and since there wasn’t an example of the model in the store, hopefully we like it. In 8-10 weeks when it is delivered.

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Posted June 11, 2011 by mayakey in home, pre-pregnancy, shopping

Tagged with , , , , ,

3 responses to “Two Big Purchases, One Easy And One Not So

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  1. Pictures…please?!

  2. Pingback: Sofa Saga « Love Knowledge Zeal & Fortitude

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