Flat-pack furniture challenge

Anyone who has bought and tried to assemble bookshelves and cupboards in flat-pack form will know how the instructions often fail to convey how to approach the task.

While DIY buffs who fancy their carpentry skills will probably manage to put a ready-to-assemble wardrobe together, there are always anxious moments as you try to follow complex diagrams.

But flat-pack furniture makes a lot of sense from a manufacturer's point of view. It takes up less space in warehouses, it can be transported more easily than other furniture, and it can be sold at a cheaper price to consumers.

Oliver Murphy of Express Kitchens sells flat-pack kitchens, wardrobes, tables and other furniture pieces. He says that assembling a wardrobe requires some expertise in carpentry.

"It's like a jigsaw puzzle, where you have to fit the right parts into each section. I wouldn't undertake it unless I knew a good bit about carpentry."

Flat-pack kitchens work out less expensive than other kitchens, as a carpenter can fit these kitchens in two days or less. Considering that labour costs work out at approximately €500 per day, home owners try to cut down on the time it takes to fit a kitchen.

"You would want to budget €4,000 for a good quality kitchen. You can

cut costs by choosing veneer doors instead of solid doors," says Mr Murphy.

There are big differences across EU countries in the cost of home furnishings, and online furniture shopping websites boast that they can get you the best prices for all products.

Going online to browse furniture manufactured by global chains such as Argos and IKEA can help you make up your mind about what furniture you need for your home.

But remember, if you do order on-line, make sure to check the cost and length of time for delivery before paying at the virtual checkout.

While you can avail of better prices by buying on the Net, it's difficult to know whether the quality of products is up to scratch.

Dublin-based craftsman Sean Kerins, Managing Director of Kerwood, stresses that consumers can easily be misled when it comes to furniture descriptions.

"A piece that is advertised as solid wood probably won't be solid wood at all. It's more likely to be MDF veneered, with a solid wood frame," he says.

He used to make tables, wardrobes and other pieces of furniture to order. But he stopped making his own furniture a few years ago for commercial reasons.

"When you have shops like Argos and Protea Pine, which mass-produce furniture, it's very difficult to compete," he says. "Any large piece of furniture would have taken me a week to complete."

He now focuses on cutting and installing kitchens, which he finds far more lucrative, especially over the last two to three years, during which he has fitted an average of two kitchens per week.

Argos has enjoyed success in this country with its wide range of ready-to-assemble flat-pack products. Similar to Square Deal and Protea Pine, prices are affordable.

But experts in household furnishings agree that the cost of all types of furniture in Irish stores is over-inflated, especially when compared to other EU countries such as Spain and France.

Some well-known stores are marking prices up by as much as 150%, according to Des McStay, owner of McStay Upholstery. He believes consumers are being ripped off by some of the more fashionable shops on city high streets.

Mr McStay used to specialise in upholstering furniture, but now he concentrates on making sofas to order. He gives customers the choice of six designs for three piece suites.

"There are a few thousand patterns which they can choose from. Customers may come to me to have their sofa upholstered, but more often than not they end up buying a new one," he says.

Upholstering a three piece suite costs anything from €700 to €1,000. And if you're thinking about getting it done, make sure that the company has been recommended to you.

Although upholstering a suite costs, on average, two thirds of what the sofa and chairs are worth, it is a good idea if the suite is of a high quality, according to Mr McStay.

He advises consumers to shop around in order to find the furniture that best suits them, and urges shoppers not to be duped by some "of the outrageous prices out there."

One way to ensure that you're not overspending on your household budget is to buy competitively priced flat-pack furniture.

And while some of us feel conceptually challenged when it comes to following those instruction diagrams, inviting a friend for tea and a little manual labour might just do the trick.

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