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Loosely speaking, the term "furniture" means movable―a unit that's either freestanding or attached to a wall for support. Beyond that, furniture implies "tradition," although not all furniture-like wall systems look traditional. These days they range from country casual to formal elegance. In general, furniture units are ready-made and available on short notice. You'll wait longer to have custom furniture designed and/or built by a woodworking professional.

With a few exceptions, furniture designs are not as flexible as modular wall systems. Still, a visit to a retail furniture showroom will unveil a surprising range of ready-made storage and display options. You'll discover budget bookcases, Shaker-style media centers, French etageres, and many styles of chests and cabinets that can be used individually or in groupings to meet your display and storage needs.

Storage pieces

Stand-alone furniture pieces are fun to find and are especially apt for eclectic or country-style decorating schemes. Buy them new, buy them as antiques, or rescue them from thrift shops. Or look for unfinished pieces and put your personal stamp on them, saving money in the process.

Bookcases run the gamut from particleboard and pine boards to fine hardwoods like walnut and cherry. Some have bare-bones styling; others sport ornate moldings and face frames. Do you need adjustable shelves or extra-deep or extra-strong spans? You're sure to find a bookcase to meet any budget.

Armoires are tall, capacious cupboards with doors and sometimes drawers. Depending on how you outfit them inside, they can fulfill their traditional purpose as clothes closets or house anything from office supplies to your audiovisual equipment.

Hutches and other wood cabinets have been made in a seemingly limitless variety of sizes and types, from wall and corner cupboards to dry sinks, pie safes, and chests of drawers. The classic choice for storing dishes and glassware, a hutch can just as easily become a display case for sculpture or a collection.

Also be on the lookout for roll-top desks, trunks, chests, china cabinets, and buffets.

Furniture collections

Many large furniture manufacturers offer collections of furniture―as many as twenty or so pieces―designed to coordinate in style and finish. Most collections include specialized pieces such as media centers, china cabinets, and storage units.

Some storage furnishings come as a single piece, such as the tall armoire. Others consist of cabinets or units that you stack up or join side by side. Perhaps the oldest example of the stacked type is the lowboy with a highboy deck. Another example is the china deck that sits on top of a credenza.

Side-by-side groupings generally include different types of tall cabinets. For example, you can buy a tall curio cabinet as a center piece, add matching pier cabinets on either side of it, and finish off the ends with angled corner units. The result is a coordinated wall of cabinetry suited to a variety of purposes. These ensembles were, in fact, the original "wall systems."

Where can you buy it?

You can buy storage furniture at many outlets, including furniture stores, department stores, and designer showrooms. Some single pieces are sold through mail-order catalogs. For complete media centers or furniture to organize electronic gear, visit quality home-electronics stores. And if you look around a bit, you can find ready-made storage solutions in many other places, among them antique stores, unfinished furniture stores, and office-supply outlets.

As a rule, furniture stores excel in service. Many offer design help, financing, and, if needed, assembly. Most department stores sell from floor models or catalogs. They offer the same services as furniture stores, but, because floor space is limited, you may not find as large a selection. Department stores buy mostly from large, established manufacturers.

Designer showrooms sell ready-made and custom storage furniture and wall systems at wholesale prices to designers and architects. To view products in these showrooms and to make purchases, you may need to be accompanied by a professional.

Judging quality

As with any furniture, quality is often self-evident in the appearance and materials of a product. The best pieces are made of durable, high-grade materials such as solid hardwood and/or hardwood plywood. The quality of the piece is generally reflected in the joinery and detailing of doors, drawers, and similar parts.

Of course, the higher the quality, the higher the price.


Ideas for Great Wall Systems

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