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Beauty, Quality & Luxury – The Difference

I’ve been doing some thinking this last week about the factors that motivate people to make a purchase, and it occurred to me that I frequently see people equivocating the above three terms (beauty, quality, and luxury).

The problem is, these aren’t synonyms. They’re all qualities that can apply to possessions, but they’re not the same. This is true in the same way that your transmission, your engine, and your spare tire are all parts of your car – but they’re not interchangeable!

I could discuss this philosophically, but I think breaking it down with an illustration would work much better.

We’ll pretend you need a chair to sit in. You have several options, and many of them perfectly perfectly illustrate the difference between beauty, quality, and luxury.  Let’s go chair shopping!

Goin’ To The Garden Center

You can stroll over to WalMart, and buy the most inexpensive plastic garden chair you can find.  This technically meets the requirements (“a chair to sit in”), but how does it stack up?

  • It’s not beautiful. It looks like a cheap plastic WalMart garden chair, both from a quality and a price standpoint.
  • It’s not luxury. There’s nothing about it that makes it particularly valuable or sought-after.
  • It’s not quality. If you sit on it just right (or wrong, depending on how you look at it), the entire frame of the chair can warp or snap.

Find One  At The Furniture Store

You could go to a discount furniture store and get a thoroughly beautiful chair that’s made out of cheap materials, knowing full well that you’ll have to replace it in a few years because it’s not well-made. Let’s look at this option.

  • It’s definitely beautiful. Making the outside pretty is much cheaper and easier than making a sturdy frame, so you get beauty.
  • It’s not quality. The people who designed the chair were thinking about the soft fabric, not extended wear. You’ll probably be replacing it in a few years, if not sooner.
  • It’s not luxury. You’re not paying an insane price premium, and let’s be honest – most people know what cheap chairs look like. You’re not going to be climbing the social ladder with this purchase.

Gettin’ Out The Hammer

You could, in frustration, buy a bunch of 2x4s and some screws and build yourself a chair.  This would definitely work, but is it what you want?

  • It’s not beautiful. Unless you go crazy with your finishing work, it’s going to look like you bought some 2x4s and built a chair.
  • It’s quality. If you attach everything correctly, this chair would probably survive a nuclear war. They build buildings out of 2x4s – your chair will be pretty much indestructible.
  • It’s not luxury. It’s not particularly expensive, and even though people may find it interesting, it’s definitely not a status symbol of any sort.

Ask The Amish

Last but not least, you could go track down an Amish craftsman to build you a chair – assuming you can afford one!  How does this last chair measure up?

  • It would be beautiful. Every joint would be carefully fitted, each piece painstakingly sanded, and every surface finished up with a deep, lustrous varnish.
  • It would definitely be high quality. The wood would be some variety of hardwood, and everything would be reinforced and assembled with care to ensure a lifetime of service.
  • There’s no question it would be a luxury item. Odds are good this chair would cost you close to $1000, if not more. A dining room full of these (with the matching table) would have any visitor talking.

What’s Important To You?

These terms (beauty, quality, and luxury) are gauges that reflect what’s important to you.

Some people love having things that look nice. Others insist on having things that are high-quality. Still others use luxury purchases to attract the attention of their friends and family.

The thing I think is the most important is having awareness of why you’re buying what you’re buying. Don’t kid yourself that you’re “buying quality” just because the price tag is through the roof, or that you’re “enjoying fine things” when all you have is a cheap piece of plastic made to look like something expensive.

Be honest with yourself, and use that honesty to help you evaluate your purchasing in light of your values.

And while we’re being honest with ourselves, care to share? Do you prefer beauty, quality, or luxury? Are you consciously aware of how that preference affects your spending?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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13 Responses - Add Your Input!

Posted May 23, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

I’m facing the purchase of two chairs right now and I’ve had similar thoughts rolling around in my head about it. You’re a mind reader for putting this post up right now. :)

Taking a surface look at the chair concept in particular, beauty and quality seem to only come with the luxury price tag. I know what I want. Quality, comfort (which fits within quality), and a fair amount of beauty.

To achieve those parameters the price is high. I went to one furniture store recently. They had what I want available. Each recliner is around $1,000 though. They were having a 2 for 1 recliner sale so I went in hoping the brand I want would be included. It wasn’t. I sat in each one of their sale recliners. The quality and comfort were not there. Neither was beauty. The prices were still high. The saleswoman actually said that a recliner in that price category (marketed as a $500 recliner) would only have a lifespan of about 5 years. That’s a lot to spend on a throw-away chair and shows how our society is embracing disposable goods. I’m still searching for the perfect chairs. We’ll see what I end up with. Maybe it will be those plastic Walmart lawn chairs you mentioned until I find the right combination of beauty, quality, and luxury for myself.
Tanja from Minimalist Packrat recently posted..Leaping Rats and a Christmas Tree Shed Turned Tiny House

    Robert
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t that whole “mind reading” thing weird?

    I know I’ve seen really pretty chairs that were inexpensive, but I suppose it depends on what your concept of “beauty” is. :) I did some chair shopping quite a ways back, and from what I can tell nobody makes a chair that has the durability that I was looking for.

    The more I think about this whole “chair” issue, the more I think this is going to be the springboard for a few more posts. :)

    Thanks for stopping by Tanja, and thanks for commenting!

      Posted May 26, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      I should rephrase. There are plenty of beautiful chairs to be had for much less than a $1,000. My trouble is finding a beautiful chair that also the comfort level I’m looking for. If it was just looks I’d pick up some real beauties for under $300 each.

      And while I’ve got your ear, what chair did you end up choosing? It might help me in my search.

      The funnies thing: Out of all the chairs I’ve sat in new, used, high price, low price, (except for the $1,000 numbers) the most comfortable and durable one I’ve found was a 1970′s ripped vinyl recliner atrocity at a retro store. 40 years old and it was solid as a rock and incredibly comfortable. It just happened to be a strange yellow-green puce color! I’ve almost considered tossing beauty to the back-burner, and going for comfort/quality/money savings. It was only 75 bucks!
      Tanja from Minimalist Packrat recently posted..Leaping Rats and a Christmas Tree Shed Turned Tiny House

        Robert
        Posted May 26, 2011 at 10:50 am | Permalink

        Ah, I see what you’re saying.

        My wife and I decided that each of us was just going to have a decent office chair, instead of taking up the space with a large recliner. She already had an office chair, and I got a new one that’s just like hers (waited until it was on sale). This is the one:

        http://www.officemax.com/office-furniture/chairs/product-prod2780325

        Our needs may change in the future, but for now we’re happy with that decision. Not sure if that helps you or not. :)

        Best of luck in your chair search!

Posted May 23, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

Hey Robert! We actually purchased Amish crafted kitchen and dining room tables and chairs shortly after we bought out house about 11 years ago. It took something like 12-weeks for the furniture to be built, and it was expensive, but man is the work beautiful! We looked high and low for good quality, beauty, and perhaps a little luxury when we were shopping for dining tables. Nothing we found even came close to the Amish built dining sets.

I’m always willing to pay more for quality and longevity in a product. I don’t like to dispose of items, so if I know I’m going to use it for a very long time, I’ll pay more for something that will hopefully last as long as I plan to keep it. In the case of the dining tables, forever. And of course if I’m planning to keep a piece of furniture forever, it better be absolutely beautiful to me! :)
Jenny @ exconsumer recently posted..Less Me- More We

    Robert
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    I prefer not to pay more for anything, but if I have to then quality and longevity are the things that get me to spend the extra money. :D

    I’ve bought plenty of things at all levels of the above spectrum, and I have to say I’ve never been disappointed with the times I chose to get a nice, durable item.

    I’m curious, did you have to do anything special to the table, chairs, etc. to make them more kid-proof? (glass overlay, … ?) Or do you just have really well-behaved children? :D

    Thanks for commenting Jenny!

      Posted May 24, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      Ha, ha. Yes, my children are perfect. Not!

      The kitchen table has a few very slight dings and scratches, but we can always refinish it when the kids are a little older. The finish is surprisingly durable (I think they told us they put something like 20 coats of clear finish on the table). And the structure of the table and chairs are solid.

      So, even though I’m not sure that today I would choose to pay what I did for the dining tables and chairs what I paid pre-kid and anti-debt, I’m glad we have them now. :)
      Jenny @ exconsumer recently posted..Less Me- More We

Posted May 24, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

I don’t think I have much appreciation for beauty, quality or luxury. I tend to buy cheap, and I often find it lasts as long as a more expensive item.

Also, there is a mindset that believes that having a new chair every few years is nicer than having a quality one that is always degrading for years and years — although I don’t completely subscribe to that theory.

Gip
Gip/So Much More… recently posted..Focusing Passion Means Opening And Closing Doors

    Robert
    Posted May 24, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    The guy at the furniture store down the street has that mentality – “by the time this couch wears out, I’m ready for a new one anyway”. He’s completely honest about it (and the quality of the various products in his store), which is a refreshing change of pace. :)

    Of course, if you get a quality product (the Amish chairs & table, for instance), I don’t know if “always degrading” is a good way to describe their aging process. Many of those look almost as good twenty or thirty years down the road as they did when they were brand new.

    “Cheap” works too, as long as you’re getting a product that lasts. :)

    Thanks for commenting Gip!

Posted May 24, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

My buying habits vary, depending on what I’m buying — how frequently I’ll use it, how long I hope it will last, etc. I tend toward the cheaper end of the spectrum, but avoid the bona fide junk for the most part. The times when I’ve chosen to buy top-shelf items I’ve usually been pleased, but sometimes I’ve been burned.

One thing I won’t pay a premium for is “luxury” as you’ve defined it – paying more for acertain brand or perception of quality just to impress others. As long as it’s good enough for me and meets my needs, I don’t really care what anyone else thinks. Not that I mind if someone happens to be impressed with what I own, but that’s never my goal.
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Robert
Posted May 24, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

You sound a lot like me. There’s a certain minimum threshold I need, and beyond that the main motivator for the purchase is price and perceived value. Occasionally I’ll pay a bit more for something that looks nicer, but usually the stuff that’s built well looks plenty fine for my needs.

I think that the “I don’t really care what anyone else thinks” is one of the great hidden secrets to minimalism. :D

Thanks for commenting Mike!

Posted May 27, 2011 at 11:36 am | Permalink

I like old furniture, and price tag is the first place I look. Thinking specifically of chairs, all four of my dining room chairs were free, and I love the appearance and comfort of all of them. If I had seen them in an antique store, they would have had a pretty high retail cost – and I would NOT have purchased them. I was just really lucky! Same with my table, it’s a 60s chrome & formica table that would probably have retailed $200+ if it had been cleaned up and presented in a store, but I got it for $25 when the house next door to my parents’ was being torn down. And since these pieces are all already 40+ years old, the quality must be pretty good!! The only NEW piece of furniture I’ve ever bought was a loveseat this past winter. It was cheap, but it’s totally comfortable and since we have no kids or pets and only use it about once a week, it should last a long time. I guess I have just always been fortunate enough to find cheap, good stuff? Perhaps the key is patience and frugality ;)

The area where I do find myself thinking of Quality, Beauty, and Luxury is in exercise/outdoor clothing. I’m less likely to want to go out if I don’t feel attractive in my gear – lame but true. I’m less comfortable outdoors/exercising if I don’t have quality, moisture-wicking gear. And discount gear is usually ill-fitting and made with lousy materials; I consider my gear a luxury. SO, my favorite gear is Under Armour brand. I have a pair of leggings that were $50 and a t-shirt that was $30 (along with a $15 pair of SmartWool socks) – WAY MORE THAN I would consider spending on “everyday” clothing. BUT, I have literally used these pieces 5-6 days a week, for over a year now, and they aren’t degraded in the least.
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Posted March 13, 2014 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you writing this article and also the rest of the site is also really good.

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