Furniture shopping tips

Move every few years, and you regularly face the need to adapt existing furniture to new spaces. You end up with strange combinations, or matching pieces in different rooms, or stuff stacked in the garage, awaiting use in future homes.

This migratory pattern has given rise to a popular home-furnishing style known as "eclectic." Eclectic (from the French for "mismatched bookshelves") means furniture purchased for previous houses, rearranged to fit current needs.

Furnishings put our personal history on display, and "eclectic" style lets us show just how haphazard our lives have been. This is how you end up with a hula-girl lamp on top of an antique commode, next to a waterbed, all sitting on a colorful rug apparently purchased that drunken night on the Mexican border. You accumulate such items over time. Like tattoos.

Eventually, you land someplace where you'll stay awhile and your thoughts turn to new furniture, maybe some that matches, maybe some that doesn't wobble or have big butt-dents in the cushions.

(The previous paragraph does not apply if you are a "guy." Guys don't care about butt-dents. Guys have two thoughts about furniture: 1) Is it arranged so that I can get to bed in the dark, drunk, without falling over something and breaking an elbow? And 2) Is my chair lined up directly in front of the TV?)

The problem with furniture shopping, as with most shopping, is sifting through too many choices. Too many weird products and funny brand names and unfamiliar terms like "eclectic."

We're here to help. Clip the following Furniture Glossary and take it with you when you hit the stores.

Furniture Styles and What They Mean:

Early American -- Spindly.

Primitive -- Splintery.

Santa Fe style -- Primitive, but brightly painted.

Country style -- Primitive, with gingham touches.

Mission style -- Nothing to do with the missionary position, so stop smirking. Square, wooden, uncomfortable.

Colonial -- Uncomfortable furniture designed by people who had the fashion sense to wear large buckles on their hats.

Contemporary -- Uncomfortable.

Modern -- Uncomfortable, with sharp edges.

Art Deco -- Uncomfortable, but shiny.

Shaker -- Uncomfortable, but in a penitential way.

Adirondack -- Uncomfortable, made of planks.

Mediterranean -- Wrought-iron.

Scandinavian -- Blond.

French Provincial -- Furniture with fancy epaulets.

Bombe -- Furniture with goiters.

Chippendale -- Elaborate furniture designed by male strippers.

Other Handy Terms:

Overstuffed -- Designed for fat people.

"Pottery Barn" style -- Designed for skinny people who live in apartments.

"Pier One" style -- Designed for Margaritaville.

Retro -- Old.

Antique -- Really old.

Rustic -- Really old and badly constructed.

Refurbished -- Old and broken.

Floor model -- New and broken.

Distressed -- Broken on purpose.

Ready-to-Assemble -- So broken that it comes as a box of loose parts, some of which are missing.

Now that you know the terms, you're all set to go shopping! Furnish your house exactly the way you want!

Just in time to move again.

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