Quality or Style: When Compromise is Necessary, Which One Wins?

Quality or Style: When Compromise is Necessary, Which One Wins?

Carolyn Purnell
Jul 2, 2012

It's a no-brainer. When faced with the question of whether I prefer quality or style in my furniture, the answer is undeniably and wholeheartedly, "Both." But sometimes you're caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, and you can't have it both ways.

Let's just say that I would never call my partner "the devil" or "the deep blue sea," but we're in the process of moving in together, and as many can attest, the joys of moving in are always tempered by those "keep or ditch" questions. We've talked about the tensions of cohabitating before on Apartment Therapy, and you're probably familiar with the usual suspects: finances, conflicting aesthetics, cleanliness expectations, etc. But as we talked, I found that we were faced with a more specific quandary. When evaluating our furniture, we found ourselves asking, how much should quality come into play versus aesthetic considerations?

Before we continue, let me insert a disclaimer: I actively like many of my partner's belongings, and a number of the items that we're going to keep are his. That said, I'm not a fan of his dining table. Objectively, it's fine. It's a mission-style affair, in great condition, made of high quality wood, and having lifted it, I can attest that this table is as sturdy as they come. But the finish is too orangey for my liking, and while mission-style is perfect for some people (and downright beautiful in the right room), my tastes lean more to the funky and modern than to the classic. And so do my partner's.

Enter the quandary. I've got an Ikea Docksta table, and I've been happy with it in my bachelorette pad. My partner likes the looks of the table, and he's told me that he wouldn't mind if we keep it. Great, right? But then my practical side kicked in. How much shelf life do IKEA products tend to have? And even if it were to last for a while longer, is it realistic to get rid of a table built to outlast my progeny in favor of something of a lesser quality? It's not in our budget right now to get rid of both and buy something that we both like. And even if we sell both tables on Craigslist, the chances of getting enough money to buy a new dining room table seems like a bit of a gamble.

Generally, this issue isn't going to gum up the works. I know that we'll keep one of the tables, save up for a new one, and at some point in the future we'll replace it, either because we prefer another one's looks or because the IKEA one has passed its prime. But on a broader level, I find this question interesting because I think its causes and effects go beyond the cohabitation context. Decor is always a balancing act between budget, style, comfort, and quality, but it seems that when we discuss our ideal spaces, there's often an unspoken negligence of at least one aspect. In my experience, the stars rarely align for all four. I've lamented in the past that my budget has forced me into the realm of IKEA furnishings, but now that I'm faced with the prospect of moving out of IKEA-land, I'm realizing that while quality is important, it isn't everything.

Don't get me wrong. I love well-crafted pieces, and it's hard not to feel a bit silly when getting rid of one in favor of something less durable but more attractive. But it also feels much less personal to have the "not-my-style" piece in my home. What do you think? Should one always "trade up" when buying new furniture? Or is it okay to get rid of something of nice quality in order to purchase something of lesser quality?

(Images, left to right: Kelly and Michael's Light and Bright Abode House Tour & Susan and Ryan's Less-Is-More Farmhouse)

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