The notions of “affordable” and “good quality” might be viewed as subjective, and what we’re referring to as “unique” is a bit broader than a pure literal interpretation. So let’s start by clarifying what we mean.
For the purposes of this post, what we mean by “affordable” is furniture that someone with a typical rental apartment, condo or their first single-family home might want to consider. The stores we list below rarely sell anything for over $1,000, the majority of items are a few hundred dollars, and some pieces can even be had for around $100. Given rent prices and the costs of home ownership in the DC metro area — whether you’re renting an apartment in Chinatown, living in a group house on Capitol Hill or now have your very own rowhouse in Bloomingdale, furnishing it doesn’t need to max out your credit card. Having said that, we don’t mean the absolute cheapest furniture available either. Rather, we’re going to point out furniture stores that, for their prices, provide a high amount of value and quality, especially if you’re willing to dig a bit and maybe use a touch of elbow grease. (If you’re looking for something that you can throw to the curb or the dumpster in a few months after your internship, you might want to look elsewhere!)
And while we’re on the topic of affordability and prices, keep in mind that some of the stores on our list do entertain haggling. So, if you see something you like and it seems just a bit out of reach, you should definitely consider throwing out an offer. Again this applies to some of the stores below (as noted); others offer their best price from the get go and are not likely to negotiate.
High Quality Furniture
This is the easiest of the criteria to define. Nice furniture uses durable building materials including solid hardwood, strong metals, glass or sturdy composite materials (e.g, acrylic, acrylic glass and lucite), high-quality wood or durable engineered veneers (e.g., formica) and other materials that can stand up to everyday use. The type of construction used in well built furniture might include the use of dovetail joints or finger/box joints. Furniture that you can hope to keep for years, decades and perhaps even generations also uses high quality assembly hardware (e.g., metal instead of plastic fasteners).
Good quality furniture in most cases does not use particle board, press wood or malleable plastics for any significant portions of their build material. Particle board is also often finished over with paper, sometimes with an artificial print to look like a wood grain. These materials rarely survive the realities of life, especially District city life, such as the need to move (and move again!). Or for those that have been unlucky enough to experience a flood, perhaps those with an English basement apartment in DC, these materials melt almost as easy as butter when they come into any prolonged contact with water. Also, furniture that is built to last does not rely on cam lock nuts. Don’t bother trying to dissemble those things and expect a quality rebuild, and don’t put too much weight (or a drunk uncle) on a product that relies on them.
You’ve probably caught on that we’re referring to mass manufactured, low cost furniture from stores like Ikea. Don’t get us wrong, they’ve got some appealing products at rock bottom prices, but they’re generally not built to last as long as fully assembled furniture. Their inventory also lacks originality in so far as they manufacture and sell millions of the exact same piece throughout the world. Our list of stores is meant to provide some local alternatives to the College Park or Potomac Ikea; the Target locations in Columbia Heights, Greenbelt, Wheaton/Silver Spring or Falls Church; and either the Georgetown, Chevy Chase or Tyson’s Corner locations of Urban Outfitters. We’ll soon have another even more targeted post about good alternatives to those stores, not just in terms of price, but specific style as well (e.g., midcentury modern and Scandinavian design).
Unique, Character Rich Furniture
Perhaps it would be even better to label this category as (increasingly) rare furniture, original furniture, or not run of the mill. Unique literally means one of a kind. and while you can find some one of kind, made by local artisan pieces on ATTIC, that’s not the story here. We mean vintage, antique and small-run furniture that isn’t produced or wasn’t produced on the order of the mega bazillions and/or furniture that is no longer in production. You won’t find furniture that you simply load up on a standard retail website or flip open a catalog for and expect that the store will have tens if not hundreds of that piece in their inventory — that’s not unique, rare or very original — and you won’t find it in this post (or on ATTIC!).
The Foundation for a Unique Piece
One last thing before we share our list. If you’re a do-it-yourselfer (DIYer) or furniture hobbyist that might want to refinish or paint a piece, then these stores are all great options. Many of them will have some banged up, nicked up, paint peeling pieces at even better prices than usual. With a bit of sandpaper, some lemon oil, wood stain or newer products like chalk paint, giving a piece of furniture an artistic treatment is easier than ever. But even a simple paint job requires some money for materials and sometimes a weekend to complete, so don’t waste that effort on furniture that won’t last!
Enough Already, Show Me the Stores!
Community Forklift (Hyattsville, MD)
4671 Tanglewood Dr
Hyattsville, MD 20781
Community Forklift is a nonprofit organization dedicated to salvaging and selling reusable building materials. However, they also have a decent selection of used and vintage furniture that you can get at really good prices. Some of their inventory might need a bit of love depending on your style, but the pieces will have solid bones and meet the criteria discussed above. Check out some of Community Forklift’s recent furniture inventory which ranges in style to include midcentury, French provincial and much more. And if you’re on the lookout for some vintage hardware for your home, Community Forklift is also listed on our Flea section. If you need even more motivation to visit, look below for info about Tanglewood Works at the same location.
The Market House (Rockville, MD)
4980-C Wyaconda Road
Rockville, MD 20852
Another Maryland shop that offers solid wood, well crafted furniture at very reasonable prices is the Market House of Rockville. Their store “rescues furniture; renews its look and recycles it for resale.” They carry both genuine antiques (100+ years old) as well as midcentury and other more contemporary pieces. Take a look at their latest furniture offerings. They also have a large selection of vintage collectibles that you can see in our Flea section.
Miss Pixies (14th Street / Logan Circle)
1626 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20009
For those that want a place closer to downtown DC, Miss Pixies is the spot. The store has been in DC since 1997 and has moved on from its original Adams Morgan location to its much larger and current space on 14th Street. Perhaps the store on this list with the most frequent changes in inventory, you can find affordable furniture of every style imaginable from shabby chic to hollywood regency and art deco to midcentury modern. Plus you’ll find tons of vintage collectibles (“smalls”), housewares and artwork. Keep your eye on our Browse page for the absolute latest inventory (since things at the store move fast) and Miss Pixie’s store page for a wider look at recent offerings.
Mom n Pop Antiques (Park View / Petworth)
3534 Georgia Ave NW
Washington, DC 20010
Recently labeled as the “Best Place to Buy Things for Your Home to Make It Look Like You’ve Lived There for Years, Except You Bought a Flip a Year Ago” by the Washington City Paper, Mom n Pop Antiques is a great place to hunt for a deal on an interesting piece of furniture. The owner of the Georgia Avenue shop, Bill Simms, will likely negotiate a bit if a particular piece catches your eye. He’s also really great about keeping an eye out for things you want that he doesn’t have yet, so say hello and chat him up for a bit. Check out a few of their recent items.
Ruff & Ready Furnishings (Upper 14th Street / 16th Street Heights)
4722 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20011
This is the place that actually got us started on the hobby and our first introduction to DC’s vintage and antique furniture scene. Originally located on 14th Street just south of U Street (in a place now occupied by Taylor Gourmet sandwich), they moved due north a few years back. Upon arrival expect to find an assortment of their latest furniture placed out in front of the store, furniture stacked from floor to ceiling on the first floor, and a basement full of deep bargains. We definitely recommend making an offer that’s suitable to you on their tagged prices. The surface condition of pieces will vary, but they all generally have good bones. Some need a bit more love than others, but that can lead to an even better deal for you. Take a look at some of their recent inventory.
Tanglewood Works (Hyattsville, MD)
4641 Tanglewood Drive
Edmonston, MD 20781
Located exactly adjacent to Community Forklift is Tanglewood Works. Here you’ll find some wonderfully up-cycled, restored and creatively re-imagined furniture pieces, most of which have country or shabby chic styling. This place is especially good if you want a vintage piece with some contemporary flare (e.g., bright and warm paint colors) for a very good price. Everything they sell is 100% ready to go; no sanding, painting or polishing needed. Check out their latest inventory.
ATTIC now combines the furniture listings and new inventory offerings of nearly 50 furniture stores in DC, MD and VA. Use our handy map of DC area furniture stores if you need something in a particular area.
Got your own favorites? Feel free to let us know by leaving a comment.