Pros and Cons of American-Made Furniture
It isn't just patriotic to buy American-made furniture, it's common sense. It can be expensive, but it's some of the best furniture you can buy.
If you drive American-made cars and look for Made in USA labels when shopping for home furnishings, you undoubtedly believe in American craftsmanship and technology. If your main motivation for buying American is supporting the domestic economy, American-made quality is a welcome bonus.
Kevin Southwick, a furniture restoration expert, says American craftspeople didn’t produce furniture in quantity until 100 years after colonization, and American styles tend to be inconsistent. But that doesn’t mean they are inferior. Southwick points to the iconic work of masters such as Sam Maloof and George Nakashima, who turned abundant hardwoods into museum-quality pieces. Their creations, and those of others like them, are examples of American experimentation and ingenuity in action.
Contemporary mass-produced furniture is far different than the custom-made pieces of the past, but there are still good reasons for purchasing American-made. Be wary of product labeling, though. An American flag pasted on a product doesn’t necessarily mean it was made in the U.S.
What Does American-Made Mean?
The Made in America Movement (MAM) specifies four distinct labels that signify a product’s origin. Of these, the “Made in USA” label is the most significant. It indicates the product was assembled in the U.S. and — crucially — the materials used to make it originated in America. A “Made in USA” cabinet or chair features American wood products produced in an American factory by domestic workers.
Other labels are close in appearance to the red, white and blue “Made in USA” label, so look closely. They include:
- Assembled in USA indicates a product with imported materials was put together in an American factory.
- 60% U.S. Content means it contains at least 60 percent American-made components and materials and was assembled in the U.S.
- American Brand indicates a product probably made elsewhere. You should find another label showing the name and location of the producing factory. If there isn’t one, the Federal Trade Commission considers this label equivalent to the “Made in USA” label, but it isn’t a reliable guarantee of American origins.
The best way to know you’re buying American-made is to purchase directly from an American factory. Most of those, says Southwick, are in the East and Midwest. “The West Coast doesn’t have many cabinet shops,” he says, “and that’s where you get the good stuff.”
Pros of American-Made Furniture
The impulse to support the American economy is important. Beyond that, there are good reasons for buying domestically produced furniture:
- Quality materials: American manufacturers use genuine wood products, including domestic hardwoods, softwoods and plywood. Imported furniture originating in places with lesser quality standards may be constructed with flimsy materials covered with thin veneers.
- Sustainability: Dwindling resources taught American manufacturers the intrinsic value of the forests and their inhabitants, and many use sustainable methods to harvest wood. Efforts are also made to recycle waste wood.
- Higher safety standards: American manufacturing is tightly regulated, and products tested to ensure safety. Furniture produced in some countries may contain hazardous chemicals like lead or formaldehyde, or may be assembled in a slipshod way.
- Fair labor practices: Skilled workers in American factories receive a living wage and work a standard week. The same can’t be said for some other countries, where workers may be underpaid and endure brutal working conditions.
- Faster lead times: Supply chain issues may cause products shipped from overseas to be held up in ports or elsewhere en route to domestic distribution points. Wait times can stretch weeks and months.
- Better dispute resolutions: If a piece of furniture arrives with parts missing or in unsatisfactory condition, there’s a better chance of a quick resolution if the supplier is American. Many American companies have been passed down from generation to generation and have longstanding reputations to uphold. They employ career craftspeople who take pride in their work.
Cons of American-Made Furniture
There are fewer downsides than upsides to buying American-made furniture, but they are important ones:
- Higher cost: Higher-quality, safer furniture assembled by workers making a living wage comes at a cost, so it makes sense American-made furniture is more expensive than imported furniture. Southwick says custom American-made cabinets can cost three times as much as imported furniture from a big-box retailer.
- Limited styles: With notable exceptions, American furniture factories tend to be small, specialized and focused on specific lines. That, combined with the limited number of American furniture manufacturers, means ready-made product lines can also be limited. If you’re looking for high-end custom furniture, however, anything is possible.
American-Made Furniture Companies
When asked to name an American-made furniture manufacturer, Southwick’s immediate response was Ashley Furniture. Founded in 1940 and based in Arcadia, Wisconsin, it’s the world’s largest furniture retailer, with more than 6,000 outlets in 123 countries. It’s also one of the few large-scale retailers that manufactures much of the furniture it sells.
Most other manufacturers operate on a smaller scale. Some notable ones include:
- The Joinery: Based in Portland, Oregon, the Joinery began as a one-person operation and grew to encompass a team of skilled craftspeople. It offers a few customizable furniture options and takes pride in its team approach to production and sales.
- Stickley: If high-end is your thing, Stickley is your source. The company manufactures 90 percent of the hardwood furniture and fine upholstery it sells in its factories in New York and North Carolina. Known for its high level of craftsmanship, Stickley furniture is expensive and long-lasting, which makes it a great investment.
- Vaughan-Bassett: This Virginia- and North Carolina-based company has been manufacturing furniture for more than a hundred years. It’s known for its wood bedroom collections, constructed from local hardwoods and softwoods, and it always sources local materials.
- Vermont Woods Studios: Based in Vernon, Vermont, Vermont Woods Studio has been producing custom wood furniture since 2005. The company is dedicated to sustainability, harvesting wood in a way that protects animal habitats and ensures long-term health of the forests.