Furniture: Buying Commercial vs Residential for your Workplace

Part One:

Most client’s I work with are looking to update their space to better reflect their brand and allow their team to work better. But for many clients, as with any startup, the budget is the main constraint. Often it is too small to allow them to invest in quality furniture for their space.

One easy way to get around this, is to furnish an office with residential furniture instead of commercial furniture. While this can be a reasonable way to furnish an office, here is a breakdown of what I buy from residential vendors on a regular basis and what I only buy commercial vendors for my clients.  

For starters let’s define commercial vs residential when it comes to furniture:


Commercial furniture is made from higher quality of materials - the fabrics are tougher, the foam is sturdier, the finishes are stronger. Any commercial grade product is meant to hold up to heavy use for long periods of time.

Commercial furniture is generally built to be replaced every decade. While it follows the trends in design, it also tends to be fairly aesthetically neutral since it’s going to stick around for a number of trend cycles. This is why corporate furniture tends to be so boring, they’re doing it on purpose! If a large company invests hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars in decorating their space, they don’t want it to feel dated within a year or two.

The upside is that the warranties are longer and more inclusive. But as you can guess, all of this means you’re paying a lot more for the product, often twice to ten times as much as residential.



Residential furniture is made from materials that are not quite as strong and sturdy as their commercial cousin. The pieces tend to be more stylish and follow trends more closely. In turn, the pricing is much lower. There is a huge range in residential furniture but for the most part I use companies like West Elm, CB2 and Ikea. There’s a big difference between a sofa from West Elm or CB2 and a sofa from Ikea, but you learned that back in college!

When to buy residential furniture for an office

Ultimately it comes down to budget. If you only have a couple grand to spend on upgrading your office, it would be a waste to spend it all one one sofa, even if it’s going to last a long time. In general, the kinds of residential furniture that works best in a office, have hard finishes and no moving pieces. This means tables, storage units, shelving, are great ways to save money.

Here are a few furniture pieces that I consistently buy from residential vendors:



Conference tables, dining tables, and printer tables all can be bought from residential vendors, which will help you save money when updating your office. Dining tables tend to have finishes that are sturdy enough to last a few years, or at least until your next fundraising round.

The main thing to note is the average dining table is more narrow than the average conference room table. Dining tables tend to be 26’’ to 36’’ wide, but the average conference table is 30’’ to 58’’ wide. If you have a large conference room, you may not be using your space effectively or allowing enough room for people to sit across from each other with laptops if you install a dining table.

Additionally, when there’s heavy use of a table, like in a conference room, the joints and assembled parts tend to come loose easily. If you notice that happening, tighten the bolts or screws right away otherwise it can make the problem permanent. If it keeps happening, give the vendor a call and see if they have any suggestions for reinforcing that joint.


Storage & Shelving

For the most part, in an office space, storage and shelving doesn’t get heavy use, and won’t show wear and tear easily. This makes these items a good way to save money when furnishing your space.

However, small to medium sized shelving units that would look fine in an apartment can easily be dwarfed a workplace. When adding these kind of pieces think about the scale of the space. If you are lucky enough to have a high ceilings, a small piece of furniture will have very little impact. If you want a room divider or statement piece, go big.

One of my favorite pieces that’s low cost, high impact and multi-functional is the Kallax unit from Ikea. Coming in at around $280 for the 4x4 cubby unit with 8 door inserts and two caster rails, it’s a deal. I often use this to divide space and provide additional enclosed storage for team members to put their backpacks, gym clothes or whatever it is that would otherwise sits under and on top of their desk. The wheels allow it to be moved throughout the space and feel lighter since it’s not sitting on the ground. You might be surprised to know that I often see these units in Buzzfeed-worthy, “offices-you-wish-you-worked-in.”

The main exception for using residential in these situations is anything with moving or removable parts that will be used often. This includes drop-leafs for tables and sliding doors. Most people are rough with workplace furniture and due the sheer number of people who use it daily, you’ll want pieces that are well reinforced.


Temporary furniture

Sometimes it makes sense to buy a cheaper residential furniture piece knowing that it will only hold up for 6 months or so. For instance, you may be planning on moving and building out a new office but aren’t sure of the aesthetic of the new space. Or you want a lounge in a space that will be replaced by desks shortly. If you just need something that will fill your current space now, an Ikea sofa will do. Alternatively, you be a little more environmentally friendly and rent nicer pieces from furniture rental companies, like Cort.


There are a few types of furniture that are perfectly fine to buy from residential vendors that will hold up well, saving you money when furnishing an office space. In my next post, I’ll talk about which types of furniture should be bought from commercial vendors and why.