In this industry, as in all, there are things to avoid & things to embrace. So I am glad that you are searching for further answers & hope that this guide will help demystify what bespoke furniture is, how it is made & how you can commission your own. I want to guide you through what you need to know & what you should take into consideration. Like knowing the difference between those that provide bespoke furniture solutions & those that provide customised solutions, two very different but often confused products.
WHAT IS BESPOKE FURNITURE?
Bespoke could be anything – a chair, a wardrobe, a table, a whole dressing room or kitchen. whatever the item, it has been designed & made just for you to suit your requirements. It will be unique & you won’t find anything like it anywhere else. Another way of describing bespoke is to say that it has been custom made, (not to be confused with customised, more on that later) although I would add emphatically that true bespoke must include an amount of specialist design.
The design element is so important as it will bring together vision with what is practical: design with craftsmanship. You will need someone who can interpret your requirements into a design, producing technical drawings that the specialist craftsmen & craftswomen can follow to create that something special and unique.
“Design is intelligence made visible.” — Alina Wheeler, author
HOW IS IT MADE?
The construction techniques and processes can vary considerably based on the design and functions of a piece, but typically speaking bespoke furniture should be made from the very finest materials that suit and complement the chosen design. Materials that are chosen not only for their aesthetic qualities but also their technical properties to ensure they can stand up to the use they are intended for over many years. There is a heavier usage of CNC and other automated machines these days it is true, but when it comes to bespoke furniture of any real quality there will always be a great deal of hand craftsmanship that is required to complete the piece and achieve the level of finish required in a bespoke product.
You should also not underestimate the amount of experience, training and knowledge that is required to succeed in this niche part of the furniture industry. I myself had 6 years of formal education and training solely in the skills of furniture design and production, including a 3 year degree. Following my formal training I now also have a further 20 years in the industry.
Do not underestimate the value of both skill & experience when selecting your designer/maker.
Here is a short video of the material removal process of shaping a very unique twisted drawer front, A process that takes days, just to produce one of these drawer front!
COST OF BESPOKE FURNITURE?
Commissioning a high quality piece of bespoke furniture of any kind is going to be a significant investment and this is to be expected given the amount of work involved in its design, creation & installation. I frequently get asked such questions as “how much can I expect to pay for a bespoke dining table”.
This is a question that I can in no way provide a straight answer to and certainly not without asking a lot of further questions myself. As a rough guide you can typically expect the entry price for a bespoke solution to be upwards of 3 times the price of a high quality off the shelf piece. Typically speaking the cost of bespoke furniture is not in the hundreds, but the thousands & if the item is to be a fitted/built in solution then this would increase the cost further, and there is absolutely no upper limit as to what you can spend on a bespoke piece.
As an example, I have designed & made bespoke dining tables that cost from £3000 all the way up to £30,000 and more.
Your one off bespoke piece will be designed just for you and will require a great deal of expertise & time being put into the process, with concept designs & technical drawings being created along with many other design and manufacture related processes along the way.
MEETING YOUR DESIGNER & GETTING THE BALL ROLLING
Most companies offering bespoke furniture solutions will provide a free initial consultation. Some may even provide a level of design & detailing upfront & free of charge which can be really helpful if you think you may require a little more proof and confidence in their design and delivery. However they approach this initial introduction process there should never be any pressure to purchase or to move faster than you are comfortable with.
For one piece of furniture, you may only need to meet once or twice but for more complex requirements, you’ll need to commit to more than one meeting, and quite possibly regular meetings throughout as you will need to talk through your project requirements in detail to provide a complete picture of what you want, and to possibly sign off design details, specifications and materials etc along the way. The design process should be driven by the designer as they will need to gather the required information in order to provide design solutions that consider and meet all of your requirements and these could be presented as sketches & mood boards, 2D plans & drawings or even full photo realistic 3D models.
TOP TIPS: – remember if it’s not looking like you thought or hoped it would, now is the time to say!
Q. WHEN IS BESPOKE NOT BESPOKE?
A. WHEN IT’S “CUSTOMISED”
Are you actually looking for that one-of-a-kind wow-factor piece that perfectly meets all your requirements or are you looking for a simple & functional solution to fit a specific space that is cost-driven? If the latter then a “customized” solution may be the better choice for you if you wish to keep the costs down. There are many companies out there that offer a standard (off-the-shelf) product range that they configure to fit your space. Please, please do your own research though.
As in all industries, there are people and companies out there who may not be quite what they say they are. There are even companies that still adopt the double glazing sales-man technique with a supposed 50% off sale. This type of approach is typically carried out by a few well known larger national companies that are NOT offering you a true bespoke service.
Some of these will even present a design at the point of the initial consultation. Using some convincing and quick “drag and drop” 3D imaging software in an attempt to try and close the sale that very same day! With these types of companies you could not only be paying a lot of money for a product that is NOT bespoke but also be pressured into rushing a decision to buy something that has taken someone less than an hour to put together. Good design is rarely created that quick believe me and please do also ask them what their design background and qualifications are too!
I am not by any means saying that all companies that follow this sales route are not to be trusted and their product is rubbish, as some do actually have a good overall reputation. But what i am saying is that what they offer is NOT bespoke furniture, it is a customised version of their “off the peg” product made to fit your space and it is likely that many other people have a version of the same or very similar in their homes.
BESPOKE MEANS BESPOKE – There are no limits to what you can ask for with regards to design, sizes or materials if you are buying a true bespoke solution.
YOU’RE ALMOST THERE!
OK so you’ve found your designer, fallen in love with the provided concept designs, have a good idea of what it will cost and how long it will take to make….
You will now need to commit to the design and indeed your designer by paying the deposit so that your designer can schedule your project and start to develop the concept design further etc. You should expect at this stage to pay between 30 to 50% of the contract value up front. This will normally be non-refundable as most of the funds will need to be used to start purchasing the specified materials and specialist items & services for your project, as well as assigning initial labour to further develop the design concept. You should also be made aware of the terms for the remaining contract value, and what process they will follow to ensure you are fully satisfied with your end results before they deliver them.
How long will it take to complete?
The rest of the process should then be led by your chosen design company with them advising on time frames for installation and final completion as well as highlighting other parts of the process, such as your requirement to sign off design elements and material and finish samples and possibly final concept drawings. As with cost, there is also no fixed time for bespoke furniture delivery but as a rough guide, a freestanding bespoke piece from point of order would typically be 8 – 12 weeks, and could by up to double this or maybe even more if they are particularly busy at the point you place your order or if the company is simply in high demand and take orders well in advance. Usually most companies will be able to manage several pieces within the same time frame, however if you are renovating an entire home then you should expect the required time to complete multiple pieces to increase accordingly.
I hope that the information within this introductory guide will be of some assistance to you and if you have any further questions then please do feel free to reach out to me directly on the provided contact information, I would be happy to further elaborate on any particular topic within this guide or to offer further assistance where I can.
All that is left for me to do is wish you all the best with you future project. I hope you get many future years of enjoyment from your bespoke installations whoever you choose for the design and crafting of your bespoke furniture.