Purchasing a large item of furniture is stressful enough—the money, the commitment, the sheer real estate it will occupy—without also schlepping from store to store, paying for delivery, bribing your friends to help you carry it upstairs, and potentially hating it once you see it in your home. These seven retail disruptors have committed themselves to reinventing the furniture-buying experience for these modern times—and it seems to be working.
In 2015, The New York Times published The Short-Order Sofa, an article which explored the "new breed of online furniture manufacturers offering high-end quality and customization – and often a quick turnaround time – at low-end prices." They are managing this by stripping away the costs of doing business as a brick-and-mortar. You may not get to test a sofa in store most of the time, but you'll get the best price possible, they claim. It's easy to wonder how much of that traditional retail price actually goes into the making of the sofa and how much goes toward swanky designers, ads and showrooms. The Times goes on to say that the new crop of direct-to-consumer, (mostly) online-only companies were inspired largely by the success of Warby Parker, the largely internet-based eyeglasses company that has gained an almost cult-like following for their low prices and trendy styles:
Like the online eyewear retailer, these companies focus on producing a great product at a great price, providing exceptional customer service and cutting middleman costs by doing most of their business online and aggressively marketing themselves through social media. That translates to higher profits, and it means they are able to control the way their products are presented and sold.
While a sofa is a much larger commitment than a pair of glasses, the concept of try-at-home, free-shipping, free-returns shopping is appealing no matter what you're buying. In fact, the nearly commitment-free aspect is even more attractive the more expensive/large the item being purchased is. The thing that allowed me to hit Buy on my sofa (see below) without hyperventilating was knowing that I had a year to send it back if it displeased me in any way (a perk that is especially comforting after countless articles were written about West Elm's Peggy sofa fiasco). It's so much easier to have a favorable opinion of your couch when you know you're not stuck with it even if it turns out to be ugly, uncomfortable, or spontaneously combustible. So relaxing! What else do these direct-to-consumers have to offer?
One thing all of these companies have in common is the expectation that eliminating the middle man of stores and showrooms means passing the savings on to customers. For instance, a three seat sofa from Burrow starts at $950, $1,299 at Joybird, and $1,095 at Kardiel as compared to $1,399 at West Elm, $1,599 at Crate & Barrel and $1,499 at Pottery Barn. Sure, the price difference isn't astronomical, but I will say that when I was shopping for a new sofa and loveseat—a very intense process that involved a GoogleDoc—the clear bargains were Joybird and Kardiel once I factored in size, shipping, quality of materials, and style.
Samples & Returns
While the inability to go see pieces in person may discourage some shoppers, generous return policies should quell any fears. Joybird offers an incredible one-year, no-charge, no-questions-asked return policy, Burrow offers free returns within 100 days, and returns at Kardiel are free if arranged within 3 days. If you really want to sit on a piece before you buy, Capsule does pop-ups, Kardiel recently opened a showroom, and Interior Define has furniture on display at their headquarters in Chicago.
Many of these companies make all of their furniture upon order only, meaning that you can order the size, fabric, and wood finish that you like, and the companies don't waste money stocking up on a ton of styles that nobody wants. This can mean a 6-week wait for custom pieces, but some companies keep a small supply of standard models on-hand and ready to ship.
Many of these companies have delivery services that are very apartment- and modern lifestyle-friendly. Most will set up a narrow delivery window with you, and many will bring your item inside and even upstairs (sometimes for an extra charge). Burrow ships sofas in pieces in smaller, easier-to-manage boxes, and Joybird assembled my sofa and took all packaging away.
Now, let's look at some of these companies breaking the furniture retailer mold:
I'm starting with Joybird because I have personal experience with the company—I own the exact sofa you see here! We've only had it for 10 months, so I can't speak on its longevity, but I love it so far. There's a good selection of Mid-Century Modern pieces, ordering was easyy, the return policy is very comforting, the sofa looks even better in real life, and it's super-comfortable. I would definitely order from Joybird again, and would in fact love to have another sofa just like this in black leather.
- Samples: Swatch kits are free, and you can choose greys/neutrals, blues/purples, greens, reds/oranges/yellows, and/or Safeguard Fabrics. When I ordered my swatches, I chose the first three sets. I was also able to request, via email, wood samples for the three leg colors, but there's no automated way to do that.
- Customizable: Most pieces are available in 12 in-stock fabrics, 61 custom fabrics, and 10 custom leathers. All are available with your choice of three wooden leg stains.
- Wait Time: In-stock fabric furniture is available within 6 weeks, and custom orders take over 6 weeks. When you place your order, you'll be given a more exact ETA and will receive regular updates on your sofa's progress.
- Shipping: Free
- Returns: Free (pickup included) within 365 days
- Pro Tip: Joybird often has sales (there's one going on now through 3/27) so delay your order until the next sale. I signed up for email alerts so I could pounce when the time came.
We've had our eye on a Kardiel loveseat for over a year, but haven't ordered it yet since we'd dropped cash on the Joybird sofa. Kardiel has incredibly low real leather options compared to other companies, and there's a wide range of styles, from Mid-Century Modern looks to Chesterfields.
- Samples: Email the company at firstname.lastname@example.org to request your free samples. The first five are free, and each additional swatch costs $2. You'll want to have a list of the exact colors that you're interested in.
- Customizable: No, but most pieces are available in 5-18 different fabrics/leathers.
- Wait Time: 8-11 days if your piece is in stock.
- Shipping: You have to enter your shipping address to get a delivery price, but I made a sample order shipping a sofa to an Illinois address and a California address and both qualified for free shipping.
- Returns: Free if arranged within 3 days of delivery, if item is in pristine condition, and if you can repackage it for transit.
Article (formerly known as Bryght)
Article has the most "disruptor" origin story ever: "The idea behind Article came together on an adventure north of the Arctic Circle. Four software engineers, inspired by the beauty and challenged by the unfamiliarity of the environment resolved to radically change the way that people shop for furniture." The company carries a wide range of products from sofas and armchairs to beds, dining tables, rugs, and outdoor furniture. Prices are quite attractive, with leather sofas starting at $1,699, and many items ship in 2 days.
- Samples: Yes, but you have to call, email, or chat to arrange
- Customization: No, but sofas are available in 10 fabrics/leathers and a couple sizes
- Wait Time: Ranging from 2-5 days to 8 weeks, depending on item
- Shipping: $49 to front door, $99 for inside delivery, and $169 for inside delivery and assembly
- Returns: Within 30 days, minus shipping and return shipping charges
Maiden Home carries a highly curated collection: just 4 chairs and 4 sofas handcrafted in North Carolina. However, each piece comes with a ton of options including fabrics, woods, and sizes. The styles are timeless, and the prices are reasonable.
- Samples: Free (up to 5)
- Customization: Each piece is available in 40 fabrics, 4 leathers, and 4 wood finishes, and all sofas come in 6 sizes.
- Wait Time: Approximately 6 weeks, though expedited shipping is sometimes available
- Shipping: Free, including white glove delivery service
- Returns: $200/sofa and $100/chair, as long as return is arranged within 30 days and item is in new condition.
Capsule works with in-house designers and factories throughout the U.S. and Asia to make a wide range of products: sofa beds, coffee tables, dressers, and even ceramics and wall hangings. The selection is highly curated, and the pieces all work well together. If you're in L.A. you can arrange to visit their warehouse to see whatever you're interested in in person.
- Samples: Free
- Customization: None
- Wait Time: Often one week, but check each item for estimated delivery time
- Shipping: Free, though assembly/upstairs delivery service is available for $99
- Returns: Call within 7 days of delivery to arrange return and get a shipping quote. Item and packaging must be in brand-new condition, or a 20% charge will be added.
- Pro Tip: Sign up for the newsletter and receive 10% off your first order
Interior Define sofas are the most customizable of the bunch, with a ton of fabric options (all at the same price!), and, "Because every piece is made-to-order, we accommodate a wide variety of custom requests (customizing to the inch, if requested)." You can check out a selection of their pieces at their Chicago headquarters; in addition to sofas, they make chairs, chaises, and sleeper sofas.
- Samples: Free, up to 5
- Customization: Sofas available in 62 fabrics and 9 lengths with 16 leg options
- Wait Time: 8-12 weeks
- Shipping: Free including unpacking, clearing away packaging, and 1 flight of stairs
- Returns: Free within 14 days, $400 + 10% restocking fee within 365 days
Burrow may be the most novel of these companies, offering just one sofa. It can be assembled—or disassembled—in under 10 minutes without tools, features power and USB outlets, comes in multiple easy-to-break-down boxes, and you can add as many seats as you like on your own time. Sign up for the waitlist, put down a $95 deposit, and wait for the next batch of sofas to ship.
- Samples: No
- Customization: Available in two or three seats—but you can add seats for $200 apiece—and three spill-resistant (and pet-friendly) fabrics.
- Wait Time: You can add your name to the waitlist, but reservations for spring 2017 are already closed.
- Shipping: Free to your door
- Returns: Free within 100 days