Bespoke furniture: a buyer’s guide
How to commission a unique handcrafted design that's made to treasure
Investing in bespoke furniture can provide a practical solution for filling a tricky space. The piece could even become a family heirloom. Small designer/makers, joiners and independent upholsterers may offer a bespoke service, while you can get custom-made designs from some bigger companies that also sell off the shelf.
The cost of one-off furniture varies, depending on exactly what you want and who you commission to do it, but as a rough guide you can expect to pay from £5,000 to £30,000+ for a dining table. In general, going custom-made is less expensive with an upholstered armchair, in a choice of sizes, fillings and fabrics, costing from around £1,000 to £3,000.
Custom-made furniture is an adaptation of an existing design with certain features altered. This option offers a degree of individuality through being able to select things such as the type of timber or the fabric.
Grouped in this category are modular storage systems where you can select the furniture’s colour or finish, and pick a combination of shelves, cupboards or drawers to meet your storage needs and that fit well in the space it’s destined for.
Many furniture companies offer made-to-order ranges alongside their off-the-shelf collections, but there are also brands that specialise in customised designs only such as String Furniture and Vitsoe.
Bespoke furniture is unique and made to your precise requirements, with the design process starting from scratch. It can reflect your style and story, and as such it’s an heirloom to treasure and pass on through generations of your family.
It’s also an opportunity to spend your money with an independent maker you believe in. A one-off design can also present a practical solution to furnishing an unusual layout or small space so you get exactly the right scale or finish.
‘Made-to-measure, built-in storage is ideal for rooms with sloping ceilings or curved walls where freestanding pieces won’t fit,’ says Mathew Freeman, president of the British Institute of Interior Design and founder of Freeman Studio.
‘These spaces call for handcrafted furniture tailor-made to use every inch of space, which can be finished to complement your scheme,’ he adds. ‘Cabinets can be designed to include practical features such as a pull-out desk, fold-down ironing board, an entertainment centre or even niches for pets to sleep in.’
Find the right maker
Each designer/maker has a distinctive style. As a bespoke piece of furniture will be completely personal to you, it’s vital to find someone whose aesthetic you like, so ask to see several examples of previous work. They must also be skilled in the type of furniture and material you want, whether wood, metal or upholstery.
Professional trade organisation directories are a useful way to find specialists – try the Furniture Maker’s Company Guild Mark Directory, the Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishers, and the British Artist Blacksmiths Association. Always arrange to meet with potential makers before committing to a piece, to assess whether you share similar design ideas and to allow you to develop a sense of trust.
Creating a brief
Commissioning a piece starts with you articulating what you want, so clear communication of your vision, in terms of both practicality and style, is crucial. You might sketch out a design, present images of similar pieces or curate a Pinterest board to help convey your ideas. The more information you provide about the purpose of the piece and where it will live, the more likely it is that your idea will be realised.
Ask to see samples of materials, along with details of sustainable sourcing. For example, Goldfinch Furniture sources fallen or ethically felled hardwood from managed woodlands, and designer Sebastian Cox manages his own woodland for timber and the benefits of biodiversity. You should be provided with renders or drawings to get a good sense of the piece.
Changes made to the drawing may be chargeable, so check how many times and at what point you can ask for alterations, and how much these will cost. Make sure you fully understand the design before you give approval.
Is bespoke furniture more expensive?
Have a conversation about your budget early in the commissioning process, and be sure to know exactly how much you can afford to spend. The cost of custom-made and bespoke furniture can run into thousands of pounds and pieces take several months to complete.
Bespoke furniture makers and craftspeople want to work with you to turn your vision into a reality and will often make suggestions to keep within your budget. It’s common to agree staged payments.