The pair of side chairs arrived in boxes so flat I thought I had gotten the wrong items. Then again, I usually order furniture that comes assembled.
I had ordered the matching set of midcentury, azure-blue accent armchairs for our upstairs TV room. I found them online after a search for blue accent chairs on the Overstock website surfaced 763 options.
After narrowing my search based on looks, size and price, I turned to the reviews. What ultimately sold me on the chair I chose was its 4.5-star rating. Among the more than 500 reviews were many that regaled how easy the chair was to assemble.
I surveyed the flat boxes as one might size up a wrestling opponent. Then I cut open the cartons. Surprisingly, inside each packed box were all the pieces needed to assemble one chair — two sides, a seat, a back, hardware, an Allen wrench and instructions.
I laid out the hardware, cross-checked the pieces against the instructions and set to work. Except for one minor operator error (when I attached the left arm to the right side), all went smoothly. I had the first chair together in 20 minutes and its mate together in 15.
Most amazing, they were sturdy as a nun’s faith.
Not too many years ago, a similar project would have involved more parts, more tools, more cursing and a rickety result. I wondered what had changed.
“Ready-to-assemble furniture is shaking its bad rap,” said Elton Rivas, co-founder of Semi Exact, a company that sells ready-to-make furniture components that DIYers can customize to make what they want.
“The perception has been that putting together your own furniture is too hard, and that only low-end furniture comes this way,” he said.
Here’s what Rivas said has changed:
• Emboldened consumers. Big box retailers such as The Home Depot, Lowe’s and Ace Hardware have empowered consumers to say, “Yes, I can do this myself.” Pinterest and Instagram also are fortifying consumer confidence. “Today’s consumers are more willing to build their own furniture and are taking more pride in saying they did it themselves,” he said.
• Helpful resources. For many would-be DIYers, the root of their resistance has been the fear the item won’t work or turn out well, Rivas said. However, today so many online tutorials and inspirational resources are available to help consumers overcome their skill gap. Whatever you want to make, a YouTube is available to show you how.
• Better parts. As demand for ready-to-assemble furniture grows, companies are working to make putting furniture together easier. “Improvements in machinery and equipment have allowed for manufacturers to create higher-quality components with less variation, so pieces go together with greater precision,” Rivas said.
• Savings. The ability to flat pack items that the end user will assemble dramatically reduces costs. It not only eliminates the need for professional assembly, but also saves on storage and shipping because unassembled furniture takes up much less space.
• Online reviews. No one is going to order a piece of furniture that has 10 reviews saying the assembly is a nightmare. Consumer reviews and posted photos hold furniture makers accountable.
• Consumer shift. The furniture industry has gone from being manufacturer-driven, where companies say, “We’re making this, and so this is what’s available,” to being consumer-driven, where customers say, “This is what we want. Now make it happen.”
Marni Jameson is the author of “What to Do With Everything You Own to Leave the Legacy You Want.” Reach her at marnijameson.com.