I visited HomeGoods and At Home to see which home decor retailer is better, and the winner is clear

IMG_2412.JPGCaralynn Lippo/Business Insider

  • At Home is a rapidly expanding big-box retail chain that specializes in home furnishings and decor.
  • At Home rivals HomeGoods, a similar home decor chain owned by the same parent company that runs TJ Maxx and Marshalls.
  • I visited both stores in New Jersey to see which has the leg up when it comes to decor and furnishings, and the better option was obvious.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Anyone who has ever had to furnish their new home or apartment is likely familiar with HomeGoods.

The home furnishings and decor store chain was launched in 1992 by TJX Companies Inc., the same parent company that owns TJ Maxx and Marshalls, among several other chain stores across the United States, Canada, and Europe. In 2015, the company opened its 500th HomeGoods store, and the popular chain has continued to expand across the country in the years since.

HomeGoods has largely maintained its hold on the discount furnishings and decor market because of its unique array of furniture, bed linens, cooking products, and other home accessories.

But now, a new competitor is giving HomeGoods a run for its money.

At Home's story began when founder Eric White opened Garden Ridge Pottery in 1979. The single store outside of San Antonio remained the only location until White opened a second one in Houston in 1986. The company was sold to investors in 1988, but went into bankruptcy in 2004.

In 2011, the current owners, AEA Investors, acquired Garden Ridge, and three years after that, the company converted all of its Garden Ridge locations to the At Home brand. From there, the home decor superstore has continued its relatively rapid expansion.

The company currently operates about 180 big-box stores across the US, averaging 110,000 square feet per store - making each At Home just about as big as the average Walmart or Target. If the retailer follows through on plans to keep expanding, many more shoppers will become familiar with the lesser-known company.

But how does At Home, the newer kid on the block, stand up against HomeGoods? I visited each chain's location in Brick, New Jersey, to find out for myself.

And after making my way through both stores, I know which one I'll be going back to.
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First up was HomeGoods. When we drove up, there were a few cars, but all in all, the parking lot wasn't very crowded.

First up was HomeGoods. When we drove up, there were a few cars, but all in all, the parking lot wasn't very crowded.

Located right out front was an assortment of (not particularly well-organized) patio furniture in a variety of styles and colors.

Located right out front was an assortment of (not particularly well-organized) patio furniture in a variety of styles and colors.

Read more: I belong to both Costco and BJ's Wholesale Club — here's why it's worth it to pay for both memberships

Walking into the store, I was instantly bombarded with even more outdoor furnishings — dining sets, planters, and even a decorative surfboard. Nothing was organized particularly well, but luckily the store wasn't very crowded on a Sunday afternoon, so it wasn't hard to maneuver.

Walking into the store, I was instantly bombarded with even more outdoor furnishings — dining sets, planters, and even a decorative surfboard. Nothing was organized particularly well, but luckily the store wasn't very crowded on a Sunday afternoon, so it wasn't hard to maneuver.

Given that it was before Memorial Day when I visited the store, there was a big emphasis on summer decor. A prominent front display advertised items to help shoppers build an "outdoor oasis."

Given that it was before Memorial Day when I visited the store, there was a big emphasis on summer decor. A prominent front display advertised items to help shoppers build an "outdoor oasis."

To the left of the front entrance, there was a section dedicated to wellness, including supplements and protein powders.

To the left of the front entrance, there was a section dedicated to wellness, including supplements and protein powders.

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There was also a surprisingly wide variety of baking goods, cooking supplies, and pastas, which I wasn't expecting to see.

There was also a surprisingly wide variety of baking goods, cooking supplies, and pastas, which I wasn't expecting to see.

I wasn't particularly impressed with the clearance section, which was haphazardly arranged and a bit random.

I wasn't particularly impressed with the clearance section, which was haphazardly arranged and a bit random.

HomeGoods did have a few good name-brand finds in the clearance section, like this Kate Spade plate for only $8.

HomeGoods did have a few good name-brand finds in the clearance section, like this Kate Spade plate for only $8.

The store also had random decor that didn't quite fit into any one particular category, like these … things.

The store also had random decor that didn't quite fit into any one particular category, like these … things.

There were aisles of pillows in an array of sizes, materials, colors, and patterns. Again, this section wasn't particularly well-maintained or organized. Several of the pillows were on the floor.

There were aisles of pillows in an array of sizes, materials, colors, and patterns. Again, this section wasn't particularly well-maintained or organized. Several of the pillows were on the floor.

Area rugs in several sizes and patterns were hanging from a movable display. Customers are able to flip through them to find one they like, while being able to see the rug in its fully unrolled size. It's a convenient and helpful way to show off the available rugs.

Area rugs in several sizes and patterns were hanging from a movable display. Customers are able to flip through them to find one they like, while being able to see the rug in its fully unrolled size. It's a convenient and helpful way to show off the available rugs.

Read more: Here are 11 stores where you should never pay full price

HomeGoods had several aisles of wall decor, mostly featuring artwork and inspirational quotes.

HomeGoods had several aisles of wall decor, mostly featuring artwork and inspirational quotes.

There were also more eclectic options, like this discounted portrait of a sheep.

There were also more eclectic options, like this discounted portrait of a sheep.

Like most home decor stores, HomeGoods sells decor and furnishing in a wide variety of styles and design aesthetics. The store's inventory is constantly rotating, and this particular location was heavily pushing what can best be described as "modern farmhouse."

Like most home decor stores, HomeGoods sells decor and furnishing in a wide variety of styles and design aesthetics. The store's inventory is constantly rotating, and this particular location was heavily pushing what can best be described as "modern farmhouse."

At the back of the store, there were rows of chairs and stools lining the wall next to an assortment of lamps. The lamp selection was excellent — the store had pretty much every size and style of lamp you could possibly need.

At the back of the store, there were rows of chairs and stools lining the wall next to an assortment of lamps. The lamp selection was excellent — the store had pretty much every size and style of lamp you could possibly need.

The store also had some full-sized furniture. For the most part, it offered armchairs, media consoles, and shelving units. The available furniture was tagged with pricing and displayed in the middle of the store, between aisles of smaller decor and furnishings that fit on shelves.

The store also had some full-sized furniture. For the most part, it offered armchairs, media consoles, and shelving units. The available furniture was tagged with pricing and displayed in the middle of the store, between aisles of smaller decor and furnishings that fit on shelves.

The organization of this particular HomeGoods location left a lot to be desired. There were large empty spaces where they'd sold out of certain products, and it wasn't particularly intuitive to find what you were looking for. For example, one aisle had frames next to coffee tables and end tables.

The organization of this particular HomeGoods location left a lot to be desired. There were large empty spaces where they'd sold out of certain products, and it wasn't particularly intuitive to find what you were looking for. For example, one aisle had frames next to coffee tables and end tables.

Read more: I'm a member of both Costco and BJ's. Here's why Costco beats its rival hands down.

The store's card selection wasn't particularly large, but they had more than a few unique, solid options. This Beyonce card for a pregnancy announcement particularly stuck out.

The store's card selection wasn't particularly large, but they had more than a few unique, solid options. This Beyonce card for a pregnancy announcement particularly stuck out.

I was very impressed with the store's bath section, which had a wide variety of bath organizational items and decor — and more prominently, plenty of name-brand, recognizable products at great prices.

I was very impressed with the store's bath section, which had a wide variety of bath organizational items and decor — and more prominently, plenty of name-brand, recognizable products at great prices.

There was also a "pet section" — several aisles offering pet products including food and water bowls, treats, bedding, and toys.

There was also a "pet section" — several aisles offering pet products including food and water bowls, treats, bedding, and toys.

Next to the pet section was an area dedicated to kids. They had plenty of kid-appropriate decor and furnishings in "kid town."

Next to the pet section was an area dedicated to kids. They had plenty of kid-appropriate decor and furnishings in "kid town."

There was a kid-sized chair in the shape of a baseball glove.

There was a kid-sized chair in the shape of a baseball glove.

Looping around and walking back towards the entrance, the store's "gourmet kitchen" section sold cookware from great brands at extremely reasonable prices.

Looping around and walking back towards the entrance, the store's "gourmet kitchen" section sold cookware from great brands at extremely reasonable prices.

This stainless steel Calphalon pan was a total steal at only $16.99.

This stainless steel Calphalon pan was a total steal at only $16.99.

Exactly like HomeGoods' sister stores, the checkout area had shelves lined with random items to entice shoppers into making a last-minute impulse purchase. There were snacks, mugs, and reusable water bottles aplenty.

Exactly like HomeGoods' sister stores, the checkout area had shelves lined with random items to entice shoppers into making a last-minute impulse purchase. There were snacks, mugs, and reusable water bottles aplenty.

There were also quirkier products, like this "Angry Mama" microwave steam cleaner.

There were also quirkier products, like this "Angry Mama" microwave steam cleaner.

There's one last clearance cart on the way out. This particular one was well-stocked — all the better for buyers to snag a last minute deal before leaving the store.

There's one last clearance cart on the way out. This particular one was well-stocked — all the better for buyers to snag a last minute deal before leaving the store.

Overall, there's the potential for great finds for excellent prices at HomeGoods, but you need to dig a little (or in some less-organized sections, a lot). It has plenty of recognizable name-brand products in stock (much like TJ Maxx and Marshalls), but its stock is ever-changing. You essentially need to buy something when you see it, because there's no guarantee the same particular armchair or portrait of a sheep will be there the next time you visit the store.

Overall, there's the potential for great finds for excellent prices at HomeGoods, but you need to dig a little (or in some less-organized sections, a lot). It has plenty of recognizable name-brand products in stock (much like TJ Maxx and Marshalls), but its stock is ever-changing. You essentially need to buy something when you see it, because there's no guarantee the same particular armchair or portrait of a sheep will be there the next time you visit the store.

Next up, I visited the At Home store in Brick, New Jersey. This location was only about a 10-minute drive from the HomeGoods location I visited in the same town.

Next up, I visited the At Home store in Brick, New Jersey. This location was only about a 10-minute drive from the HomeGoods location I visited in the same town.

The very first thing that caught my attention was that the store is enormous.

The very first thing that caught my attention was that the store is enormous.

They're not kidding when they call this a "superstore." It's easily the size of any Walmart or Target, stretching from one end of a shopping center to nearly the end of the other.

They're not kidding when they call this a "superstore." It's easily the size of any Walmart or Target, stretching from one end of a shopping center to nearly the end of the other.

Upon entering the store (which, much like HomeGoods, wasn't particularly crowded on a sunny Sunday afternoon), I quickly noticed how spacious and well organized it was.

Upon entering the store (which, much like HomeGoods, wasn't particularly crowded on a sunny Sunday afternoon), I quickly noticed how spacious and well organized it was.

The clear signage and endless rows of products instantly put me at ease and drew me further into the aisles upon aisles of decor and furnishings.

The clear signage and endless rows of products instantly put me at ease and drew me further into the aisles upon aisles of decor and furnishings.

Much of the store's stock is seasonal and therefore rotating, with new items showing up on a monthly basis.

Much of the store's stock is seasonal and therefore rotating, with new items showing up on a monthly basis.

When I was there, it was filled with summer-centric items, like plenty of wicker patio furniture right up at the front entrance.

When I was there, it was filled with summer-centric items, like plenty of wicker patio furniture right up at the front entrance.

Signposts throughout the store explained how At Home's sales work, and it was very straightforward. Red indicates 50% off the listed prices, while green means the item is 25% off.

Signposts throughout the store explained how At Home's sales work, and it was very straightforward. Red indicates 50% off the listed prices, while green means the item is 25% off.

Much like HomeGoods, At Home had a variety of products that fit into distinct aesthetics and decor styles.

Much like HomeGoods, At Home had a variety of products that fit into distinct aesthetics and decor styles.

But unlike its rival, At Home meticulously designated its varying decor styles into their own sections. Those who appreciate a good ocean theme would naturally be drawn to the "Deep Seas" collection.

But unlike its rival, At Home meticulously designated its varying decor styles into their own sections. Those who appreciate a good ocean theme would naturally be drawn to the "Deep Seas" collection.

Read more: What it's like to shop at Grocery Outlet, the 'extreme value' supermarket that's been described as 'the TJ Maxx of grocery stores'

And shoppers who go for a more modern aesthetic might lean more towards "Industrial Luxe."

And shoppers who go for a more modern aesthetic might lean more towards "Industrial Luxe."

The styles got extremely granular. At Home had items fitting the “Modern Farmhouse” look …

The styles got extremely granular. At Home had items fitting the “Modern Farmhouse” look …

… and also had a separate, similar but slightly distinct "Industrial Farmhouse" collection.

… and also had a separate, similar but slightly distinct "Industrial Farmhouse" collection.

There were many shelves of inspirational quote decor.

There were many shelves of inspirational quote decor.

Some were less "inspirational" but still quite fun and quirky. This ode to cheese (it's battery-powered and the cheese slice lights up!) now resides in my very own kitchen.

Some were less "inspirational" but still quite fun and quirky. This ode to cheese (it's battery-powered and the cheese slice lights up!) now resides in my very own kitchen.

At the head of each aisle, there were certain bargain-priced products available, like this selection of wedding decor for under $25.

At the head of each aisle, there were certain bargain-priced products available, like this selection of wedding decor for under $25.

At Home reminded me a lot of Costco (which I love), but generally cleaner and better organized. Products lined the aisles on shelves, but there were also products displayed in the center of the floor and between aisles — exactly like at Costco.

At Home reminded me a lot of Costco (which I love), but generally cleaner and better organized. Products lined the aisles on shelves, but there were also products displayed in the center of the floor and between aisles — exactly like at Costco.

I'd already known going in that At Home would dwarf HomeGoods in terms of actual square footage. But seeing the store in person and even just glancing at the store directory really drove that point home.

I'd already known going in that At Home would dwarf HomeGoods in terms of actual square footage. But seeing the store in person and even just glancing at the store directory really drove that point home.

While HomeGoods had a better selection of recognizable name brand products, At Home had its own branding. One line, Shanty2Chic, was designed exclusively for At Home.

While HomeGoods had a better selection of recognizable name brand products, At Home had its own branding. One line, Shanty2Chic, was designed exclusively for At Home.

Signs around the store also informed me that At Home has its own credit card. Signing up yields shoppers 10% off their first purchase and rewards on all purchases.

Signs around the store also informed me that At Home has its own credit card. Signing up yields shoppers 10% off their first purchase and rewards on all purchases.

HomeGoods seemed to have better pricing on certain products, but you could also find a good deal shopping At Home's stock. While I was impressed with HomeGoods' lamp selection earlier in the day, At Home put its rival to shame in terms of the variety available.

HomeGoods seemed to have better pricing on certain products, but you could also find a good deal shopping At Home's stock. While I was impressed with HomeGoods' lamp selection earlier in the day, At Home put its rival to shame in terms of the variety available.

It was a similar situation with the wall art. HomeGoods had some nice pieces, but At Home had at least five times the amount in an almost overwhelming variety of sizes and styles.

It was a similar situation with the wall art. HomeGoods had some nice pieces, but At Home had at least five times the amount in an almost overwhelming variety of sizes and styles.

There was one whole aisle just for enormous clocks.

There was one whole aisle just for enormous clocks.

Moving along to the back of the store, I saw that At Home offers mattresses, headboards, and loveseats, things I didn't see at the much smaller HomeGoods.

Moving along to the back of the store, I saw that At Home offers mattresses, headboards, and loveseats, things I didn't see at the much smaller HomeGoods.

Walking towards the bathroom, I was floored to see just how many chairs and stools At Home had in stock. There was seating in an endless variety of heights, styles, and colors.

Walking towards the bathroom, I was floored to see just how many chairs and stools At Home had in stock. There was seating in an endless variety of heights, styles, and colors.

It just kept going and going. Any type of chair you could possibly ever need for a table, kitchen island, or countertop had to have been available there.

It just kept going and going. Any type of chair you could possibly ever need for a table, kitchen island, or countertop had to have been available there.

While some of the options seemed a bit pricey for the quality, there were plenty of clearance deals that were well worth the price.

While some of the options seemed a bit pricey for the quality, there were plenty of clearance deals that were well worth the price.

I can't stress enough that I've never seen this many chairs in my life prior to this shopping experience.

I can't stress enough that I've never seen this many chairs in my life prior to this shopping experience.

One thing that wasn't so great about having everything out on the floor was the potential for damage. I saw quite a few furnishings that had visible marks, scuffs, and dings. Not ideal.

One thing that wasn't so great about having everything out on the floor was the potential for damage. I saw quite a few furnishings that had visible marks, scuffs, and dings. Not ideal.

Since it's nearly summer, there was a big push for outdoor area products, much like at HomeGoods. The store had a great selection of fake plants in varying sizes and styles.

Since it's nearly summer, there was a big push for outdoor area products, much like at HomeGoods. The store had a great selection of fake plants in varying sizes and styles.

Wicker patio furniture as far as the eye could see.

Wicker patio furniture as far as the eye could see.

I very much appreciated At Home's love of clear and helpful signage, informing shoppers that a particular item had matching pieces available.

I very much appreciated At Home's love of clear and helpful signage, informing shoppers that a particular item had matching pieces available.

If I thought the selection of chairs was astounding, At Home's patio cushion section was about to blow my mind.

If I thought the selection of chairs was astounding, At Home's patio cushion section was about to blow my mind.

The store had stacks upon stacks of cushions in a variety of depths, shapes, styles, patterns, and colors. It would've been easy to find a cushion to fit just about any decor style or design aesthetic.

The store had stacks upon stacks of cushions in a variety of depths, shapes, styles, patterns, and colors. It would've been easy to find a cushion to fit just about any decor style or design aesthetic.

The cushions also came at varying price points, depending on the durability of the material. There were "everyday" cushions and the slightly pricier "premium" cushions.

The cushions also came at varying price points, depending on the durability of the material. There were "everyday" cushions and the slightly pricier "premium" cushions.

For those who might be overwhelmed and confused by all the available options, At Home did a great job of providing instructional and informational signage to help shoppers choose the correct product for their needs.

For those who might be overwhelmed and confused by all the available options, At Home did a great job of providing instructional and informational signage to help shoppers choose the correct product for their needs.

There were also nicely curated displays all around the store to give shoppers inspiration if they hadn't decided ahead of time on a particular style or look for their room.

There were also nicely curated displays all around the store to give shoppers inspiration if they hadn't decided ahead of time on a particular style or look for their room.

I was also struck by how nicely organized most of the aisles were. Throw pillows, for instance, were arranged in a color gradient, which I thought was a great touch.

I was also struck by how nicely organized most of the aisles were. Throw pillows, for instance, were arranged in a color gradient, which I thought was a great touch.

At Home's in-store sign, boasting "endless possibilities," certainly isn't kidding. For its sheer variety of styles and wide selection of available products, I have to give the win to At Home over HomeGoods. While you're likely to find lovely pieces at great prices at the latter, you'll almost certainly have to dig through a lot of mediocre stuff to find them — At Home is simply a better overall shopping experience, particularly for those who have a set design aesthetic in mind and know precisely what they need.

At Home's in-store sign, boasting "endless possibilities," certainly isn't kidding. For its sheer variety of styles and wide selection of available products, I have to give the win to At Home over HomeGoods. While you're likely to find lovely pieces at great prices at the latter, you'll almost certainly have to dig through a lot of mediocre stuff to find them — At Home is simply a better overall shopping experience, particularly for those who have a set design aesthetic in mind and know precisely what they need.
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