Dining setI have a terrible, terrible confession. I’m on the Pottery Barn mailing list, and I absolutely lust after the things I see in their catalog. Their items are rather pricey, in fact not at all frugal. And yet I can’t help myself, I love what I see. In the words of Absolutely Fabulous, “they have gorgeous things, darling, gorgeous.”

In fact, I have Pottery Barn’s Christmas 2006 catalog in front of me right now. Four months ago, I stuck a Post-It note on page 77, marking the beautiful “Montego” dining table, and saved it in my desk Inbox all this time. I was determined that, if my tax refund and bonus from work weren’t entirely taken up in paying off the Prius and the last of the credit card debt, I would use whatever extra I had to splurge on this gorgeous table.

Our current dining room set is sad: little more than a wooden card table that I’ve dragged around the country with me practically since college. The table is scratched and dinged, with numerous little droplets of paint on the chair backs and seats because they have served as stools for me during umpteen paint jobs in probably five different apartments before I finally bought a house. Really, it’s time to get a grown-up dining room table and (gasp) matching chairs.

Rob was prepared to indulge me; after all, we’ve been very, very good the past year. We’ve lived below our means; we’ve both checked our credit reports at all three credit reporting agencies; we’ve steadily reduced debts and paid a number of them off early. But before we actually plunked down $1599 for the Montego dining table and $2399 for the set of six leather chairs (yes, a stunning $3998 + tax), Rob suggested we take a spin around the local area, just to compare.

Presidents’ Day weekend is a perfect time to do this; every furniture store it seems is having a “spectacular” sale, usually through Wednesday (so there’s still time, folks!). We visited three showrooms: Ashley Furniture, Raymour and Flanigan, and Levitz. Truthfully nothing really grabbed us until we got to Levitz.

There we stumbled on the Urbana dining set which is actually rather beautiful, going for only $1000. It has a companion buffet and hutch, also for $1000. But when we asked about the set, we learned that all they had left was the floor model. It had some minor dings and scratches but nothing serious. (Besides, the set is already in a “distressed” style, so no big deal.) When we learned we could save $800 on the entire set (table, chairs and buffet) with the floor model, we were sold. Just for the asking, Levitz gave us a referral to a specialist furniture repair guy, who could get the finish back to perfect if we wanted, for a pretty low cost.

Thank goodness Rob’s better judgement prevailed. We were able to get not only a dining table and chair set, but a matching buffet and hutch, for less than a third the cost of the high-end Pottery Barn, and it was something I liked just as much if not more. What a great way to “splurge” and yet not break the bank.

Rob and I also noticed that we were pretty obviously a gay couple out furniture shopping, and every one of the Levitz employees here in suburban New Jersey treated us with courtesy and respect. We’ve never shopped with them before, but I certainly am inclined to in the future.