When I moved into my first apartment after college, I remember wanting to buy furniture. The one phrase that I heard over and over again was “North Carolina furniture”. And so I went onto the Web (which was in its infancy at the time, yes, I’m old) and found a few furniture makers in North Carolina which featured all-wood furniture. I bought a bed, an end table, and dressers that ended up lasting until this day.
And then a company named IKEA came along. IKEA decided to use fiberboard instead of wood to make their furniture. Fiberboard is a combination of particleboard (boards made from wood scraps) combined with other scrap materials such as steel, plastic, and melamine. And as we all know, there’s no better place to get melamine than China.
And so the race to the bottom began. “Furniture makers” from China flooded Target, Walmart, and Amazon with cheap tables, desks, and chairs from China. Never mind that they invariably ended up in a landfill because of their shoddy designs and material. You could just go and buy a brand new chair in three years!
If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve already been through enough cases where the edge of your IKEA desk sheared off in a cloud of toxic dust, or a chair from China collapsed from under your butt (both things that literally happened to me).
For those of you who were born in the 20th century, do you remember what furniture felt like 30 years ago? It was solidly built to last and it was just as much art as it was utilitarian. In short, it had a “soul”. I can still remember the red sofa bed in my childhood family room room, the white kitchen chairs, Dad’s favorite recliner and Mom’s favorite chair as if they were part of the family. How many pieces in your house today can you say the same thing about?
How did you choose this list?
Simply put, I channeled the “me” of 1993. I focused on furniture makers that boldly state that they are made in the USA. Then, I scoured review sites to see which of them were mentioned over and over again for their quality, history, and pride in their workmanship.
There’s a mix of old school furniture brands that have “stood the test of time”, as well as brand new Direct to Consumer (DTC) brands. Most of the DTC brands were clearly inspired by one Scandinavian brand, who revolutionized the furniture space, but not without tremendous cost; the collapse of domestic furniture making industry, and increased use of MDF and particleboard (“fake wood”) that is less durable. It’s also questionable how good it is; whatever benefits come from reusing recycled bits of wood is quickly offset by the use of the chemical adhesives that can damage the environment and cause harm due to off-gasses. MDF also can’t be recycled; once it’s done, it goes into a landfill.
Apologies in advance for the the many readers of this blog in Europe and Asia; I would love nothing more than to feature furniture from around the world, but I just don’t have the ability to research it. Please feel free to add some of your favorites in the comments!
Best Furniture Not Made in China / Made in the USA
1. Benchmade Modern – Made in Dallas, Texas and Los Angeles, California
Benchmade Modern was named the best sofa overall by Wirecutter. It sells sofas, sectionals, sofa beds, beds, accent chairs, and much more, all made in their factories in Dallas, TX or Los Angeles, CA.
Benchmade Modern has thoroughly embraced the 21st century. You can customize your furniture online using a intuitive, easy-to-use interface and then have your furniture delivered to your door in as little as five weeks. You can order free swatches to make sure the color and fabric you’re getting is exactly right.
2. Stickley – Made in Upstate New York and Archdale, North Carolina
Stickley was one of the companies that appeared over and over again on nearly every “best American-made furniture” list I saw.
Upstate New York and North Carolina used to be thriving centers of manufacturing in the days before globalization. Today, when you drive through certain areas of both you see abandoned factories that once employed hundreds of skilled craftsmen and ghost towns that were once thriving.
Look, I have nothing against globalization; I remember being a starving kid who was thrilled to find a desk set from IKEA that wasn’t a thousand bucks. But that pendulum has swung way too far. Corporate executives don’t think twice about what shuttering local factories will do to their local economies. Consumers don’t think twice about buying “disposable” furniture built with slave labor that’ll last them 5 years and end up in a landfill.
There’s a long list of American furniture makers that filed Chapter 11 or have gone completely out of business. Harden Furniture. Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams. Furniture Brands (Thomasville, Broyhill, Lane, Drexel Heritage). Ruby-Gordon. Klaussner. The list goes on and on, and it looks like the pace of American companies finally giving up accelerated during the COVID lockdowns, the gift that just keeps on giving to China contractors.
Stickley Furniture seems to have bucked the trend, and a lot of this is due to their incredible customer service and quality, both of which get Consumer Reports’ highest rating of 5/5.
Stickley Furniture has been around for over 120 years and its among the best quality furniture you can buy anywhere, built to last, beautiful to look at, and functional. They continue to produce over 90% of their furniture in the United States. They even have a museum that documents Stickley’s contributions to the American Craftsman and Mission styles of furniture over the years.
Stickley furniture is known for maintaining or even increasing in value, and is literally heirloom quality, the way furniture used to be. If you want to save a little money, you can go to a site like Charish and get gently used Stickley furniture for a nice discount.
If you’re looking for quality furniture and can afford it, you owe yourself a visit to a Stickley showroom or a store that carries their furniture. But don’t take it for granted that they’ll be here 10 years from now. And if we lose brands like Stickley, they will never come back.
3. Sabai – Made in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Michgan
Sabai has been written up in Architectural Digest, Apartment Therapy, House Beautiful, Wirecutter, and many other industry publications as a company that’s committed to sustainability.
This is truly a modern company. The design process for their Essential Sofa, for example, took into account their designer’s skills and experience, but also feedback from their customers on social media.
They are meticulous in their selection of materials, using only recycled, upcycled, natural, non-toxic, and FSC-certified materials. They also design their products to be easily repaired and resold; instead of glue all the pieces and the upholstery are attached with fasteners. They’ll even buy your furniture back from you when you’re done with it. They also don’t treat their furniture with chemicals, which is good for both the environment and you.
4. Vaughan-Bassett – Made in Galax, Virginia
Like Stuckley, Vaughan-Bassett has been around for over 100 years and is a company that shows up on most “best of” lists.
They employ over 500 people in their factories in Galax, Virginia. They replace every tree they cut down with another. Today, they are the largest manufacturer of wooden bedroom furnture in the United States.
5. Burrow – Made in North Carolina, Mexico, Vietnam, Poland, and India
Burrow is one of those companies that have taken off in the online era. Their customizable, modular sofa has been named as one of the best by Wirecutter as the best choice for smaller spaces.
I appreciate that Burrow is transparent in their sourcing. Most of their sofas still continue to be made in the United States, but as they’ve become popular they’ve managed to steer clear of China, unlike most of their direct competitors. Their FAQs clearly say where each of their products are made: their mattresses are made in the USA; their coffee tables in Poland, Vietnam, and India; their seating in North Carolina, Vietnam, Poland, Mexico, and India.
6. Maiden Home – Made in North Carolina
Maiden Home is a relatively direct-to-consumer brand founded by Nidhi Kapur in 2017. Her story is a lot like many millennials; she and her husband went to big box stores to look for furniture and saw nothing but cheap, generic, nondescript furniture that didn’t last more than a few months and sold by salespeople who couldn’t even tell her where it was made.
Kapur started her company focusing on providing high quality, transparency, and convenience. She had an advantage; she could launch fresh as a direct-to-consumer brand and bypass all the overhead of traditional furniture manufacturers dealing with distributors, resellers, salespeople, etc.
Instead of using cheap products and offshoring to maximize her profits, she insisted on using high quality materials and—in a brilliant move—only artisans from North Carolina, many of whom were likely displaced when their old companies were unable to adapt to the new economy or worse, abandoned them by trying to be profitable by making cheap products overseas.
7. Allform – Made in North Carolina
Allform is actually owned by the same people who make the Helix Sleep Mattress (which I named as one of the best mattresses not made in China). Personally, I think they would have done better with a name like “Helix Sit”, but what do I know? 😛
It was launched in 2020 as a direct to consumer “sofa in a box” concept that mirrors Helix Sleep’s “mattress in a box” concept. You can find sofas and armchairs with either fabric or leather upholstery. They use top quality fabrics or leather that’s transparently sourced from North and South America, as well as hardwood frame made of sustainably sourced pinewood. Their modular nature means you don’t have to agonize over which model to buy; you can just add more as you grow. They’ve gotten rave reviews from Apartment Therapy, NBC, and thousands of customers.
They manufacture their sofas in North Carolina.
8. West Elm
I’ve shied away from putting online stores like Crate and Barrel, Restoration Hardware, and Pottery Barn mainly because unlike most of the companies listed above, these retailers go completely out of their way to hide the country of origin from you. Why? It’s simple. They get their products made overseas using cheap labor and cheap materials, sell it to you at the same price as if it was made with skilled labor and quality materials, and pocket the difference.
West Elm is the exception I’ll make. They’re the one retailer I’ve found that clearly puts Country of Origin on every one of their product pages. I see chairs made in Vietnam, coffee tables made in Singapore, beds made in Indonesia, and so on. It’s refreshing to know that there’s at least one retailer that trusts you as a customer with this information.
It was actually tough to keep this list to just seven choices, because there are tons of other brands that I found in my analysis. Here’s just a sample (ranked in order of the number of times they were cited as one of the best.
- Vermont Woods – Founded in 2005. Made in Vermont. Hand-crafted wood furniture built from sustainable trees.
- Medley Home – Founded in 2005. Made in Los Angeles (wood and latex and wool upholstered furniture), North Carolina (poly foam furniture), and Illinois (mattresses).
- MAVIN – Founded in 1975. Made in Ohio. 100% made in the USA from their own wood.
- Daniels Amish – Founded in the 1990s. Made in Ohio. Customized, hand-crafted wood furniture.
- OnlineAmishFurniture.com – Founded in 1997. Based in Michigan. More quintessentially Amish furniture.
- Inside Weather – Founded in 2018 . Made in California. Sustainable custom modern furniture.
- Emblem – Founded in 2019. Made in Chino, CA. Custom furniture especially for shared spaces.
- Apt2B – Founded in 2010. Made in Los Angeles, CA. Specializes in sofas made-to-order.
- Schoolhouse – Founded in 2003. Based in Portland, OR. Sources from all over the world (including China), but puts country of origin clearly on each product page. Surprising diversity of manufacturing countries.
- La Z Boy – Founded in 1927. Based in Michigan, built across North America. Iconic “dad chair”.
- Fyrn – Founded in 2011. Based in San Francisco, made in North America. Classic principles of woodworking with modern build techniques. 10 year warranty, labor included.
- Sherrill Furniture – Founded in 1945. Made in North Carolina. Iconic sofas and chairs.
- Polywood – Founded in 1990. Made in New York, Indiana, and North Carolina. Patio furniture.
There are actually a lot more not listed here; a Google search should turn up a lot of choices.
Do you know of other furniture makers worthy of mention here? Let us know in the comments!