"The just don't build 'em like they used to," is an addage that applies to so many products, but maybe none as much as furniture. In decades past, a table or dresser was a purchase that was expected to last a lifetime and perhaps more. Furniture could be passed from generation to generation.
Today, it seems that the same pieces can barely survive for a few years, and definitely not make it through a move to a new home. Scratches, broken parts, twisted drawers, and joinery failure is common.
There may be several factors at play, but you can certainly point fingers at Ikea, West Elm, and Wayfair for creating a market for very low cost furniture. That, in turn, as put pressure on so-called high end retailers to find less expensive but still attractive alternatives.
What was once solid wood like walnut, cherry, oak and mahogany is now MDF (medium density fiberboard), or lighter duty particle board that is veneered to look like solid wood. The veneer is very thin sheets of real wood that is glued to the filler board. This can create a beautiful result, but the strength of solid wood has been lost. The other issue with this technique is that joinery frequently fails; screws pull out, mortices lose tightness, and components just pull apart.
Additionally, furniture has moved from complete, solid pieces to flat packed parts that are shipped to then assembled by the consumer. It is virtually impossible to create furniture that is durable when it has to be broken down and put together by homeowners.
What can you do? If you are in search of high quality furniture that is also built to last, then you are entering into the realm of custom furniture. There is a large number of talented craftsmen that share the same goals. They build with solid materials using techniques that are proven to produce reliable and stunning furniture.
Concerned about cost? Custom furniture is not cheap, but it remains an unbeatable value. Cost can be mitigated by choosing wood species that are plentiful and local to your region. But the real value is in getting a solid, well-built, one-of-a-kind product that really will last for many years - perhaps generations. Just like the good ole days!