Photograph courtesy of Furnitureland South
First things first: Can you save money by driving five hours to shop for furniture in North Carolina? Yes, although an industrious shopper in Atlanta could perhaps find similar savings by following sales, asking for discounts, and trolling Craigslist. The advantage to shopping in the Furniture Capital of the World is that so many discounted brands and floor samples are together under one roof.
High Point earned its international fame over the past century. Demand for new houses and furniture after World War II helped fuel the industry there, which had already attracted furniture manufacturers from the North thanks to plentiful hardwood forests. This small Tar Heel town and its counterpart, Hickory (about an hour and a half away), have retained their dominance.
So why go to High Point? Forty-some outlets sell furniture samples, and they cut out the middleman on custom orders, too. Also, the biannual High Point Market (wholesale only, sorry) brings more than 75,000 store buyers and designers from all over the world to see the latest looks, and afterward the samples are up for grabs.
Where to start: Furnitureland South may have an unfortunate name and a kitschy facade (check out the photo above), but look past the Disney persona and wear good walking shoes. Furnitureland bills itself as the world’s largest furniture store, and that’s probably true. The sprawling complex offers more than a million square feet of furniture, fabric, and accessories. A Home Depot–sized outlet center tucked behind the main building is for cash-and-carry furniture: hundreds of sofas, tables, chairs, and rugs ready to be hauled home. But the main premise is ordering from showrooms, with free shipping in the Southeast for orders over $4,000.
Brands range from upscale traditional—Mr. and Mrs. Howard for Sherrill Furniture (a line by Atlanta’s Phoebe and Jim Howard), Ralph Lauren by EJ Victor, or Barbara Barry for Henredon—to Natuzzi leather sectionals or rustic Halo Styles. As is true for most High Point outlets, savings are about 50 percent. Recent deals were a leather Century Furniture wing chair, with a suggested retail price of $4,976, for $2,100 in the Furnitureland outlet center, and a trendy wooden chandelier that was $872 in the outlet versus almost $2,000 in retail stores.
The High Point Convention & Visitors Bureau supplies maps listing other local outlets.
Where else to go: Farther west along I-40, Hickory has become the second-most well-known destination for furniture. The major attraction here is Hickory Furniture Mart, not far off the highway, with a hundred or so manufacturers represented under one roof. Look for big sales right after the spring and fall furniture markets, when manufacturers send over floor displays. (This year, the dates are April 25 to 27 and November 7 to 9.)
A big draw at the Hickory Furniture Mart is the Mitchell Gold Bob Williams outlet. A ninety-inch steel-gray sofa from the Carlisle line, for example, can be had for $1,543 versus more than $3,000 retail, and all merchandise is ready to take home. Manufacturers like Wesley Hall, Drexel Heritage, and Hooker also offer on-premises merchandise, but many showrooms order custom items as well.
At both Hickory and High Point, reception desks encourage guests to sign in or walk around with an interior designer, but none of that is mandatory for browsers. If you prefer, research Furnitureland’s complimentary designers online to select a like-minded professional before you visit.
Where to stay: Plenty of chain hotels offer deals targeting shoppers, but a more interesting option is up the road at Greensboro’s Proximity Hotel. Dubbing itself the greenest hotel in America, it was the first LEED-Platinum hotel in the country (signifying it as energy-efficient and sustainable). Even though the hotel is new, the design resembles a renovated old factory; its mix of brick, industrial elements, and loftlike touches feels more Brooklyn than Carolina Piedmont. Print Works Bistro, the popular on-site restaurant, serves loosely interpreted French bistro food, with billowing curtains to soften the large space. Greensboro’s revitalized downtown offers art galleries, funky stores, and brewpubs.
This article originally appeared in our February 2014 issue.