Not all pre-1970s furniture was built to last a lifetime.
Then, as now, only the most expensive furniture was built for long term durability.
The reason that lifetime quality furniture seems to have disappeared is that it is no longer easy to find in retail stores.
Beginning in 1985 with the closing of WJ Sloane (the nation’s largest retailer of high end furniture) there have been fewer and fewer high end stores selling expensive furniture.
There is actually more top quality furniture available now than ever. But it is less visible to the general public.
This disappearance of high end furniture retailers resulted in the subsequent disappearance of many large high end furniture manufacturers.
The large high end furniture manufacturers have been largely replaced by hundreds of small manufacturers and thousands of small custom shops.
The high end furniture stores have been replaced by thousands of professional interior decorators. The interior design community has grown rapidly over the past three decades.
It is difficult for most people to find small furniture makers. It is even more difficult for them to evaluate which are the best for a particular project.
Another difficulty is that small manufacturers often specialize. They may make only one specific type of furniture. A craftsperson who makes a dining room table may not make matching chairs.
Interior design firms and experienced independent interior design professionals bridge this gap.
They are familiar with the larger high end furniture manufacturers. They are also familiar with the small local craftspeople who can create high quality custom products.
In 1970 there were very few large furniture retailers with annual sales of more than $50 million. There were thousands of smaller independent stores.
Today over half of all U.S. furniture sales are done through huge retail chains with sales of $500 million or more. A significant percentage of the remaining furniture sales are made through mid-size regional chains.
The vast majority of furniture sold in large and mid-size national and regional retail chains is priced to be affordable for most people.
There are very few small independent furniture retailers remaining.
The number of small independent furniture dealers selling high quality products built to last a lifetime is a tiny fraction of what existed prior to 1970.
Those that do exist often specialize in narrow niche markets such as leather upholstery.
Lifetime quality furniture simply costs more than what most people are willing to spend. That has not changed since pre-1970, but it is more difficult now for most people to find.
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