Our Furniture Purchasing Experience in Bogotá, Colombia

February 2016

Twitter sofaMichael: When a husband hears, “We need new living room and dining room furniture,” there exists limited options. But once the words have exited the wife’s mouth your best response is “Si mi amor”(Yes, my love) and try for the best deal you can get.

Graciela: Sometimes I believe men really do not understand the benefit. Women think of others. Space is also to be considered. If you move to a new place then room sizes change. Children moving out changes room dynamics. Family size may increase. New daughter-in-laws or son-in-laws and especially grandchildren means changes in chairs and tables.

Guests should feel comfortable in your home. More modern and comfortable furniture is a must. And even for the owner’s own feeling of well-being one definitely needs to experiment with colors and decoration. As our age and life style changes so do the demands of what our bodies feel comfortable with.

Michael: In the USA options are abundant. But in Colombia I found  limitations. For much of my life antiques occupied my home. Over the years with careful searching I purchased many 18th and 19th century pieces at prices below that of new furniture of lower quality. But my move to Colombia kept those pieces in the States.

I enjoy woodworking. When my children were growing up I designed and built beds, tables and benches . In our first house in Colombia, even with limited tools, my handiwork showed in night stands, closets, tables and lighting fixtures. But at the time my wife spoke the words of wanting new furniture our home in Bogotá had no place for me to practice my skills.

We both  prefer furniture made of wood. I am talking real wood. And so our quest to find descent furniture in Bogotá began. What a frustrating time and eye opening experience it turned out to be for me.

U.S. citizens may not realize how great they have it with furniture. At many of the antique shows you can find beautiful pieces. Then if you want something that is still all wood but not antique quality estate sales are great. For new furniture you have variety of showrooms offering a wide range of prices and quality. Then there is a real gem in the Hickory, North Carolina furniture stores.

Colombia offers nothing similar. In 11 years of checking so-called antique stores I have only found one piece at a reasonable price. There are no such things as estates sales here. And even when you find people selling off furniture it is closer to throw-away junk than actual furniture. And most new furniture stores are a joke.

My wife and I traveled much of the city looking. We even went to the North on the Autopista where there are many furniture stores grouped together. We found many places selling the metal or metal and glass stuff made in China. Upholstered pieces frequently have particle board frames. And even at that it is some of the cheapest stuff I have encountered. I remember one dining room table with a top made of quarter-inch pressed board.

There are a few places selling better furniture in classic styles like Hepplewhite and Chippendale as well as their bastard deviations. But the prices are three to four times what you pay for an equivalent piece in the United States.

Colombian manufacturers are good at disguising the flaws and cheapness. I am use to putting a stain that highlights the beautiful grain of the wood. Then finish with a clear varnish or lacquer. Here in Colombia they put a dark stain into the varnish. Then put both on at the same time completely covering everything. One would never know even if there is a part of real wood underneath. The process creates a problem. I have noticed that if the furniture is left in direct sunlight the finish blisters.

Finally my wife said, “Let’s look in Barrios Unidos.” I wish my wife told me earlier about this area many refer to as Avenida 80 con Carrera 30. There are several blocks with many small stores packed with display furniture. Basically you order and they make it for you. Selection ranges from the very low to medium-high end. And for style there is rustic to modern. But still it is short of the variety available in the USA.

When you go there be prepared. Walking shoes is a must. Expect to visit many stores and definately ask prices. This is a place where your looks can easily add a gringo tax to the cost. Since many shops make your furniture to order expect to put 50% of the cost down and wait four to six weeks for delivery. My wife and I were lucky and the vendors we used delivered everything on time. But many have told us of having to wait extra weeks. Best bet is to be insistent that the delivery date be met and call them ahead of the date to remind them.

For our living room my wife chose something more elegant. No problem with me as I very rarely use the room. The dining room did not quite go my way though. Since it is just my wife and I my preference was towards something small. My other half wanted to be prepared to feed the masses at family gatherings. Since Colombian houses really do not have kitchen tables the dining room is where all meals are eaten. For me there is nothing worse than to always having to be super careful not to scratch the table. We finally got an agreement on something rustic.

Bogota furniture shopping trestle tableBut rustic in Colombia is more rustic than what one finds in the United States. Here it is more like saying lack of finished carpentry skills and using non-kiln dried wood. Since the area has just display pieces they made the table to our (I mean my wife’s) length and width specifications. The build is equivalent to the 17th century trestle tables with a top that is about 2 1/2 inches (6 cm) thick. The finish is not the stain and varnish sprayed on. In fact I do not know what exactly it is, appears to be a combination of stain and wax. Bottom line is the table can take a scratch and still look good. We also purchased a matching corner cabinet. No other place we checked offered that.

I have spoken with some expats that became frustrated with furniture available in Colombia. They eventually shipped everything from the USA.

Graciela: The good thing about the showrooms in Barios Unidos area is since they are display pieces you can negotiate for the finished furniture to be a different size or design. That is something I have not seen in first world countries.

With our new house my husband can once again enjoy his hobby woodworking. So we saved money on night stands and bookshelves he made.

Also there are places outside of Bogotá that make and sell furniture. Friends have purchased in such places as Racquirá.

Michael: One of the components of being an expat is to embrace the culture you live in. The discoveries made in looking for furniture gained me more insight into the country and its people. One can consider furniture shopping as an adventure.

Best part is that my wife is happy and the final cost was  within reason. With the exchange rate at the time of this writing the cost totaled about $2,000 USD for both rooms.