The Right Stuff Shopping for your home means making trade-offs. The key is knowing what your money buys
By Sarah Cooper, Judy Feldman, Jonah Freedman, Erica Garcia, Megan Johnston, Tara Kalwarski, Leslie Land, Stephanie D. Smith and Betsy Wangensteen

(MONEY Magazine) – Why pay more? It's not that we aren't willing to splurge on certain things for our homes. We just want to get our money's worth. In other words, we don't just want stuff--we want the right stuff.

To uncover the not so obvious trade-offs between products, we challenged a team of reporters to find high-quality products ranging from stoves to sofas, ceiling fans to countertops--and then to find look-alike products with the same general quality and functionality at a lower price. (We used the manufacturer's suggested retail price; you may find items for less.)

Our team hit the pavement hard, scouring home stores, grilling manufacturers, and consulting scores of architects, interior designers, contractors, plumbers and other experts. As you'll see, sometimes you're paying more for style, sometimes for durability, ease of use or unique features. Whether that trade-off makes sense depends on your needs and budget. When you know what you're getting, you can make the best possible choice. That's smart shopping.


Sleek styling. Scads of settings. Special features. And big price gaps. What do you get if you pay more?


Wolf 30" Professional range; $4,510 This dual-fuel range has four 16,000-BTU burners. It offers the calibration of a gas cooktop and the even baking of an electric oven. Has a hidden control panel.

KitchenAid Pro Line KPTT780ER; $250 A Williams-Sonoma exclusive, this retro model boasts nine browning settings. Predominantly stainless-steel construction makes this a durable choice.

Corian $45 to $75 a sq. ft. (installed) Solid-surface countertops like Corian can be molded to integrate a sink--and have a seamless look that is a big draw. Scratches can be buffed away.

Sub-Zero Wine Storage 424, undercounter; $2,500 This stainless-steel built-in holds 46 bottles. You can set two separate temperature zones, one for reds and one for whites.

Hobart Mixer N50; $2,000 This serious five-quart mixer, with a commercial motor and three fixed-speed settings, is used by Wolfgang Puck. Great for a budding Debbi Fields.


GE Monogram 30" Professional range; $3,849 The new natural gas dual-fuel model has four 17,000-BTU burners. Like the Wolf, it has sealed gas burners and a self-cleaning electric oven.

VillaWare UNO 5825R; $60 This five-setting unit's mainly aluminum construction makes it lighter but less durable. It has extra-wide slots and energy-saving dual power switches.

Plastic laminate $15 to $25 a sq. ft. (installed) Laminates like Formica come in many styles and textures. It's a bargain, but it's scratchable, it can stain, seams are more visible and it's tough to repair.

GE Monogram Wine Reserve Undercounter; $1,299 This stainless-steel wine reserve has just one temperature zone, but it can hold 57 bottles on seven pull-out racks.

KitchenAid Mixer KP267IXER, Pro 6; $430 Also engineered for pros, this six-quart mixer has 10 speeds and a 525-watt motor. Like the Hobart, it comes with a dough hook, wire whip and flat beater.

Where to find it Ranges:, Toasters:, Countertops:, Wine storage units:, Mixers:,

Bathroom & Bedroom

Superior styling. Patented technology. Warranties. We sort through the options for you.


Toto toilet Carlyle with SanaGloss; $660 This one-piece's patented flushing system has a three-inch valve for a more powerful flush; the base's simple shape means there are no crevices to clean.

Newport Brass faucet 880 Series; starts at $500 Made of thick-gauge metal--the spout weighs three pounds--this brass faucet can take abuse. What you mostly pay for here: styling.

Le Bijou sink 16.2"diam. x 6"h; $1,200 The handmade "Blue Crackle" sink contains 24% lead crystal. It's a gorgeous look, but the crystal isn't tempered--even a dropped razor could nick it.

Tempur-Pedic mattress The Classic; $1,883 It put foam on the map. An eight-inch-thick (three of memory foam, five of polyurethane) queen comes with a base and 20-year warranty.

Casablanca Stealth ceiling fan 3245W/B32-79; $900 This fan's sleek design houses a high-grade motor that maximizes airflow and minimizes noise. Comes with a remote and wall control.


Kohler toilet Santa Rosa Elongated; $350 Kohler's compact elongated one-piece toilet has a narrower, two-inch flush valve. And the curves and bolts on the base can accumulate dirt.

Kohler Forte faucet K-10272-4; starts at $221 This one has a lighter, zinc body and, like the Newport faucet, uses a ceramic disk valve--more durable than plastic or rubber--to crush debris from pipes.

Deco Lav sink 17"diam. x 5.5"d; $513 This mass-produced sink is made of tempered glass that's nearly as strong as a windshield. The cobalt pigment is applied with a sandblasting technique.

Sensus mattress Memory Foam 1000; $979 This queen-size mattress has a structure similar to the Tempur-Pedic's, with the same five-pound-density foam. With a base and a 10-year warranty.

Minka Aire Cobra ceiling fan F809-BN; $660 A visual twin to the Stealth, down to the nickel plating and blade pitch. The big difference: a less powerful motor (and no remote).

Where to find it Toilets:, Faucets:, Sinks:, Mattresses:, Ceiling fans:,

Living Room & Home Office

Making trade-offs in the quality of leather, picture resolution, paint and more


Mogensen sofa 30"h x 86.5"w x 32"d; $15,665 at Moss (New York City) The vegetable-tanned leather covering the oak frame of this sofa is strong and buttery soft. But it's sensitive to stains and light.

Panasonic 42" Plasma TV TH-42PX20U/P, 3.9"d; $6,500 Conventional TV pictures pale next to the sharp resolution on this high-definition TV. It comes with two main video-input jacks.

Donald Kaufman Color Collection $55 to $76 a gallon Color professional Kaufman uses up to 13 pigments per paint (most brands use two to four). Available in 66 hues.

Aeron chair $950 This fully loaded ergonomic icon from Herman Miller comes in three sizes. It's a work of art, literally--displayed at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

Bamboo flooring $6 a square foot Bamboo is about as durable as hardwood, and it's eco-friendly. Duro-Design's 30 colored bamboos need a new urethane coat every five to seven years.

Artemide lamp Tolomeo Mini; $370 with base This slick table lamp has a 27-inch reach and is adjustable to a height of 40 inches. It can support a 100-watt incandescent or 13-watt fluorescent bulb.

Keurig Single-Cup B100; $250 The leading maker of office single-cup brewers has an option for the home. It can brew eight cups in a row. Uses over 50 coffee and tea K-Cup varieties.


Karlanda sofa 32.6"h x 82.3"w x 35.8"d; $1,149 The leather on Ikea's similar but less sophisticated sofa is chemically treated. The frame is a combination of pine and plywood; the legs are birch.

Akai 42" Plasma TV PDP4294, 3.1"d; $3,000 This enhanced-definition (ED) TV has about half the resolution of an HDTV--but twice that of a regular TV. One main input jack.

Benjamin Moore Regal paint $31 to $36 a gallon Kaufman's base paint. You won't perfectly match a Kaufman shade, but you'll still get high quality--and more colors.

Professional Matrex Back chair 2300; $200 at Not as cool, but a good one-size-fits-all choice. Like the Aeron, the back adjusts to the curve of the spine for support.

Solid red oak flooring $4 to $5 a square foot This flooring (usually supplied in 3/4-inch thick, 2 1/4-inch planks) is less expensive and can go 10 to 15 years between refinishings.

Lamps Plus adjustable lamp 74538; $30 This desk lamp has a 13-inch reach. It provides a dimmer (40-watt) light, so you get the look but not the intensity.

Melitta one:one MES1B; $50 This unit offers the choice of a five-ounce or eight-ounce drink brewed in less than a minute. Six coffee blends and four tea "java-pods" are available online.

Where to find it Sofas:, TVs:, Paint:, Chairs:, Flooring:, Lamps:; Coffeemakers:,


Comparison shopping for the yard and garden


Water-weathered sandstone $600 per 70 square feet Creekstone's rounded edges formed by untold years of tumbling in riverbeds and streams lend paths instant grace.

Brentwood wheelbarrow Monticello/five cubic feet; $160 A rugged gardening wheelbarrow with steel chassis, rustproof polyethylene pan and oversize tire for steady steering.

Sheffield arbor 294273; $1,795 Walpole Woodworkers is famous for its rot-resistant northern white cedar fences. This six-foot by eight-foot cedar arbor can be color-customized.


Aged bluestone $475 per 70 square feet Garden Path is a natural stone with similar subtleties, weathered by the wind and rain. Since aged bluestone is flat, it's easier to sweep and shovel.

True Temper wheelbarrow Four cubic feet; $44 Holds less, so you're not as likely to overload it. A wide, flat pan keeps more pots upright and makes a good mixing tray.

Rose arch $521 This Garden Arches arbor's clear grain western red cedar resists rot and takes stain well--or can simply weather to silver. Five feet by eight feet, four inches.

Where to find it Stone:; 800-231-2200. Wheelbarrows:; True Temper at hardware stores, Arbors:;