5 Steps to Lengthen Furniture’s Life Expectancy

April 27, 2012

Restore or renew furniture to refresh your facility.

If the furnishings in your facility are dulled, scratched, torn, or outdated, don’t necessarily assume you’re destined for a showroom full of new ones. With patience and elbow grease, you can restore the luster to your current furniture or create a “new to you” look by purchasing or renting pre-owned pieces.

“It’s economically smart and better for the environment to extend the life of existing furniture or consider buying pre-owned furniture that has already made its carbon footprint,” says Andy Cooper, training manager for ServiceMaster’s Furniture Medic restoration program. “Furniture doesn’t need to be as disposable as it’s often treated.”

(Photo: A furniture restoration expert may be able to preserve the look of your existing furnishings or fix up pre-owned purchases. The laminate on the piece below was easily replaced by a Furniture Medic technician, giving it a like-new look and saving it from the landfill. Credit: ServiceMaster)

Start with these five steps for finding and fixing quality furnishings.

1. Reasons for Renting

First, consider why you need to change your furniture. This will help you narrow down vendors and sources. If you’re outfitting a new office or clinic that will stay in place for the long term, you might want to own the furnishings.

However, a short-term project or an upcoming move to a new building might call for renting instead, says Bob Buzzell, former VP of commercial development for CORT, a nationwide furniture rental company and pre-owned furniture dealer that routinely works with Fortune 500 companies.

Other reasons you might choose to rent include:

  • Your company is a start-up or has recently launched a new business venture, requiring a short-term office setting while the project’s viability is tested
  • Your company is in the middle of moving to a new location and you need to minimize disruption while you move the permanent furniture
  • Capital is scarce, discouraging you from tying up valuable funding in furnishings
  • Your company wants to retain its options for future furniture changes
  • You need to stage an office or dwelling to attract tenants
  • Permanent furniture delivery is delayed or the anticipated delivery time is unacceptable
  • Furnishings need to reflect style or seasonal changes
  • A natural disaster has destroyed existing furnishings—some insurers cover the cost of renting replacement furniture for a short term specified in your contract
  • You need to change the purpose of a room for a one-time event and don’t want to purchase furniture you’ll only use on occasion

2. Look for Quality in Preowned Pieces

Understand what, if anything, you plan to use from your existing furnishings in the area and search for pieces that match or complement it, regardless of whether you plan to rent or purchase.

Any company would be wise to look for solid wood furnishings rather than particle board, says Chris Tantillo, owner of a ServiceMaster Furniture Medic service in Westbury, NY, one of more than 300 of the furniture restoration franchises.

Particle board is less durable, while solid wood holds up better against wear and tear and allows for more opportunities to repurpose, refinish and repair, Tantillo explains.

A quality substrate, like lumber core or plywood, is ideal when it’s coupled with solid wood components and real wood veneer that’s as thick as possible.


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Personally inspect each piece you hope to save, as this will help you differentiate which pieces are in top shape.

Whether you’re restoring your own furniture or assessing the quality of pre-owned items for sale, start with signs of quality like structural integrity, recommends Jane Sullivan, a senior associate and interior designer with Margulies Perruzzi Architects.

For example, a table with a scratched solid wood top could be refinished and any shallow scratches filled as long as the wood is still in good shape. Also look inside pieces that can be disassembled, such as workstations, to see what shape the moving parts are in.

3. Compare with Your Space

The next step is to compare your choices against your facility’s floor plan and aisle width, Sullivan explains.

Scrutinize the size and shape of any pre-owned or reused furniture to judge whether it will fit correctly in its new home. Some furnishings can be changed to accommodate different sizes and shapes, but may lose some of their aesthetic appeal in the process.

[On topic: Open Plan Overhaul: Bending Rail Desk]

“The size you’re looking at might not fit easily into your new floor plan, so look at the design to see if what you were thinking of taking will work,” Sullivan says. “Some companies can cut modular systems down—for example, if you have an 8-foot station, you can remove some of the panels, but you might lose detailed pieces like caps on ends of furniture. Work with an interior designer so they can lay out a floor plan, get clearances, and meet code for circulation.”

4. Know Your Local Codes

In some cities, building codes include specific language on the use of pre-owned furniture—even if your company is repurposing its own furniture elsewhere on the property, Sullivan says.

For example, Boston, where Margulies Perruzzi Architects is located, requires fire certificates on reused or repurposed furnishings intended for a public space. California sets stringent requirements for seating in commercial and public facilities, including a fire-retardant barrier that’s mandatory if the furniture contains foam.

Boston also specifies this barrier for fiberfill. If your state requires this documentation but the vendor doesn’t have it, beware.

“When you start thinking about reusing any kind of furniture, check with a local architect, the designers involved, or the local authorities on fire code issues,” Sullivan recommends. “If we bring furniture onto any building site, it has to have a tag on the bottom to say that it passes fire codes.”

5. Communicate Your Needs

Some furniture, such as workstations, are often found in smaller quantities, so don’t count on being able to procure 1,000 matching pieces, Sullivan says.

Instead, keep an eye out for pieces that complement each other even if they don’t quite match, such as casegoods that can be refinished with the same stain or pieces in complementary colors.

A good vendor will help you in this area by sourcing as many matching furnishings as possible, offering potential combinations, and refurbishing furniture as needed.

“Look for people who have an adequate inventory and can handle your needs,” Buzzell says. “They should have the ability to redo the fabric and provide replacement parts.”


If you choose to buy from a warehouse or another vendor who doesn’t offer restoration services, try calling in a restoration company. For a fee, they can judge what it would take to refurbish the furniture and replace any needed parts, Chris Tantillo recommends.

Both you and the vendor should also be on guard to ensure your purchases are commercial-grade, Buzzell adds.

“The mistake some people can make is to buy office furniture at a big box retailer. It’s not designed for commercial use,” Buzzell says. “If you buy a chair at a big-box retailer and somebody sits on that for eight or nine hours a day for six months, it’s going to start to squeak because it’s not designed for that use.”

If you choose to buy from a warehouse or another vendor who doesn’t offer restoration services, try calling in a restoration company. For a fee, they can judge what it would take to refurbish the furniture and replace any needed parts, Tantillo recommends. Having this information in hand will better position you to determine the cost-effectiveness of rescuing each piece.

“One client, an accounting firm, was interested in purchasing 15 desks from a used office furniture store and asked us to inspect the desks in the warehouse,” Tantillo recalls. “When meeting with the office manager, we came across similar credenzas, conference tables, additional desks and office chairs. They spent about $40,000 for the items, which we refurbished for $3,000, and they ended up furnishing almost one entire floor of their office. All furnishings were delivered in about three weeks, whereas new furniture sometimes takes up to six weeks.”

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About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with a special emphasis on covering facilities management. She aims to deliver practical, actionable content for facilities professionals.

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