Like any good relationship, creating custom-built “bespoke” furniture requires healthy communication and trust between you and the designer or craftsman. There’s nothing quick or cheap about custom furniture; it requires an investment, but an exceptionally crafted made-to-order piece is worth it.
What is Bespoke Furniture?
The word bespoke is more commonly used in reference to clothing. Like tailors who make perfectly fitting suits, retailers, custom-furniture craftsmen and designers can also offer savvy customers the option to create the furniture of their dreams. This can be as simple as selecting a favourite colour for an existing sofa model, or as involved as working one-on-one with a designer to conceptualize and craft several pieces for an entire home.
For shoppers who know how to customize a latte at the local coffee shop but might find bespoke furniture a little intimidating, Calgary’s furniture retailers are a great place to start. Hitting up a shop means you can see the products on the floor that can be customized.
Bespoke Furniture According to Bruce MacMillan
Bruce MacMillan, owner of Limitless Calgary, says clients like that they can adjust pieces to fit their needs.
“We do full custom work, but we tend to do most of our work modifying core products and pieces we already have in our line,” he says. “It’s easier for the client to have the core product as a tangible reference, rather than trying to create what it looks like in his head.”
The “Cherie” side cabinet from Limitless can be configured in several different ways to suit the client’s needs.
MacMillan notes that, since there are literally thousands of different combinations, custom requests are always filtered through the expertise of Limitless’s designers. “We want the pieces to fit from a design point of view and from a human scale,” he says. “I always ask the designers if the adjustment will work and look okay before we put the Limitless name on it.”
Emily Sissons on Custom Furniture
Emily Sissons, design director at Domaine Fine Furnishings & Design, says 75 per cent of the manufacturers Domaine works with welcome custom orders. “Clients are traditionally used to ‘what you see is what you get,’ but it’s really not the case,” she says. “A lot of our manufacturers welcome custom, have the capabilities to do it and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
A trend will eventually die off, but a custom piece can be timeless.
“There are times when a client loves the style, sensibility and material of a manufacturer’s product, but they can’t seem to find ‘the piece,’ so we’ll design one in-house with them and send it to the manufacturer to review. The whole process takes at least 10 to 18 weeks.”
But Sissons says the wait is worth it. “So many things are mass-produced; furniture is driven by trend and not everyone wants what’s popular,” she says. “A trend will eventually die off, but a custom piece can be timeless.”
Michael Holton on Furniture That’s Built to Last
If you’re interested in bespoke furniture that’s locally made and built to last, an artisan furniture craftsman can build a piece that stands the test of time. An artisan furniture-maker or woodworker is often driven by creativity, an interesting idea or the opportunity to sculpt a beautiful piece of wood. Collaborating with a client results in not only an original piece of furniture but also art.
Ballerina Table by Michael J. C. Holton of Joseph Carlyle Design.
Michael J. C. Holton, owner of Joseph Carlyle Design, compares the design process of his custom-made wood furniture to a martini. “A martini is classic and timeless,” he says. “There’s a dominant ingredient, a secondary one and that little twist of flavour. I’ll work with the client directly to get a sense of what they want, the foundation, and I add that small twist of flavour to the design.”
Holton says most of his clients have an idea of what they want, and they approach him because they’re familiar with his designs and they like the work he does. “Clients like that they’re supporting a local Canadian craftsman, and they’re interested in quality,” he says. “I offer a lifetime guarantee [on furniture].
John Morel on Custom Furniture and Creativity
For John Morel, owner of The Furniture Maker, his more than 30 years of woodworking experience has taught him that custom furniture involves a lot of give and take. “I like to think that I enter into a relationship with a customer when I build something so personal for them,” he says. “I’m offering them something really unique.”
Morel describes custom work as a creative process. “I listen to the customer as carefully as I can, and I look at the space and try to understand their lifestyle,” he says. “I can develop a customer’s idea or offer them my own idea, but often I find, after I’ve made one piece, the person will say, ‘Oh, I wish I listened to you,’ because they see what my capability is. The snag is that it’s a process – for them to learn about me and me to fully understand what they really want.”
Monica Stevens on the Nature of Design
If your tastes are more eclectic, the layout of your living space is unusual or you simply want to create furniture that is seamlessly integrated into your home’s design, then it’s time to call in a designer. From conception to creation, you entrust your vision to the designer and, together with highly trained artisans, they create the customized piece or pieces.
Monica Stevens of Monica Stevens Interior Design says the very nature of design is custom. “From space planning and layouts to the actual furniture, it’s my whole mindset when approaching a project,” she says. “I always think, ‘How can I tailor something even further for a client?’ “
Custom table by Michael J. C. Holton of Joseph Carlyle Design.
Stevens says the idea of building bespoke often comes out of a client searching for and not finding what they want. “I’m usually the one who introduces the idea of a custom piece,” she says. “My role is to initiate the conversation and shape and guide the vision.”
Over the years, Stevens has cultivated a group of local craftspeople she works with including cabinetmakers, stone and glass manufacturers, and upholsters. “I love the process of helping a client understand what they can achieve in terms of a custom piece,” she says. “As a designer, you’re there to offer your expertise and years of experience to give them the very best product that’s been tailored to their needs.”
Robert Pashuk on Serving a Specific Need
Robert Pashuk of Robert Pashuk Architecture says custom design is the key to serving a client’s specific need. “A client will come to us with a problem or requirement that they need to fill,” he says. “A lot of times, it has to do with something specific like a dresser or a storage unit they can’t find in a retail setting.”
A sketch by Robert Pashuk detailing the design of a side table.
Pashuk says he gets a lot of requests for custom media units, and he’ll source colour options, exotic wood and stain samples, often above and beyond what can be found at the retail level. “For a recent client, we created what we call ‘the wall of awesome,’ ” he says. “Basically, a bookcase that was integrated with a media unit, a writing desk and storage.”
With an arsenal of local craftspeople and experienced designers to guide the way when it comes to bespoke, Pashuk says, “Really, the sky’s the limit.”