How to have your own piece of furniture designed?

As a furniture designer I noticed in the past that many clients initially think it’s a big step to have their own furniture custom made. If you’ve never set a designer to work, you simply don’t know what you’ll get. This can be demotivating.

Whether you’d like something for yourself, or are looking for something unique for one of your clients as an interior decorator or stylist, with a custom made piece of furntiture you can solve loads of problems.

I will vanquish some myths and prejudices.
And I’ll give you a handy checklist in case you ever decide to have your own piece of furniture designed. Still have questions? Check out Frequently Asked Questions.

Things people say

‘It’s expensive to have something designed.’

This is all relative. A couple of things to consider:

  • If you compare a unique piece of furniture that was especially designed for you with a quality piece from a good designer store that has been nicely finished off, you’ll find that there isn’t much difference in price.
  • In what case would you consider having a piece of furniture designed? Probably when you’re looking for something that will last, something sustainable. If you’d like something personal, not something mass produced but made especially for you. Order something custom made and presto, you’ll have a custom made solution. Secret compartments, smart storage space, parts you can unfold, unusual measurements, anything is possible. A piece of furniture that suits your taste, your length, your available space, your work or life.
  • Did I mention you’ll be buying something unique?

‘The end result can be disappointing.’

Yes, this could happen. Luckily, there’s much you can do to prevent that from happening! The design process is extremely important. Work out each detail with the designer up front. Colours, but also hinges and valve guides and such. This way you’ll make sure you won’t be unpleasantly surprised. A good designer is very well capable of visualising his design in 3D. This will give you a chance to see what the design will look like in your room. Check out the checklist below to prevent disappointing results.

‘It will take a long time before I get my piece.’

On average I think six weeks is an acceptable delivery time. Recently I bought a couch, from the store. Just to compare: it had a delivery time of eight weeks.
If you buy something from a furniture store that they can’t get out of depot for you, then six weeks is a reasonable term. So, a piece of furniture, specially designed for you, does not need to take any extra delivery time.
Think, too, about the pleasurable anticipation when having to wait a few weeks. Like a vacation you book in advance. What can be more fun then buying an extraordinary object, that gets delivered or installed a few weeks later?

Checklist of having your own furniture designed

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1. Put up some boundaries for yourself;

  • Your budget
  • What your funiture’s functionalities should be
  • Sustainability (how long should it last, reusability)

2. Find a designer or cabinet maker

Consider this: a designer can often independently help pick out a cabinet maker against the best price/quality ratio.

3. Invite the designer for an introductory talk

During this it will become clear if the relationship ‘feels good’. There needs to be a click, you should feel you can trust the designer. After all, this will be a very personal proces for both of you.

4. Ask for examples

And have the designer tell you why he or she made this or that choice. This will help you decide for yourself if you think the designer knows what he or she is talking about.

5. Ask for references or search the designers website for them

6. Look at details like …

mitered corners, the finishing, use of materials or choices made for parts.

  • Mitered corners are usually corners in an angle of 45 degrees. This way you won’t get any seams on panes during paintwork.
  • Take a look at the finishing and see what the quality is like of the paint job, the density of the veneer or the frame work. Plastic edges (ABS edging) sometimes leave a mass-produced impression. Finishing with veneer bandings often gets better results.
  • A designer usually names the materials he or she works with on his or her website. Please check which qualities and/or disadvantages said materials have, so you can go for the right choice with your designer. For example the choice between plywood and solid wood, what choices of wood have a great colour fastness or are damp proof? Is it suitable to paint over?
  • When checking choices of parts, think about for example the quality of hinges, covering dampers, the availability of materials, and if materials can be bought after a while still. Also be on the lookout for things like the adjustability of your parts, or the capacity of drawer conductors or valve strokes. Your designer should be able to tell you all about it.
  • Ask about why the choice has been made for a certain brand, or where this kind of material or solution has been used before, or which suppliers are available.

7. Do you have faith in the whole thing?

Then choose your designer or cabinet maker.

8. Have a drawing made up based on your conversation

Expect a few perspective drawings as well as a technical drawing with measurements.

9. Discuss this drawing together

Have the designer work out and visualise this outline.

10. These drawings and visualisations cost money

When a designer offers a “free” drawing he earns back his investment when selling you the piece of furniture. I always work according to this principle. When it comes to big projects (i.e. designing kitchens, interiors or renovations) it’s best to keep the designing process separate from executing it, and thus to pay for the drawings. After that you can start the tendering procedure. With smaller projects (tables, cabinets) it’s best to work with a price where the cost of designing is integrated in the total cost. Please do remember though: you can’t go shopping around for another designer with the designs. If you have someone design something, and then look around for someone who can make it as cheap as possible, well, that’s not only a low move, it makes you liable as well for intruding on the designers copyright. There’s also the chance that obstacle number 2 becomes true: the end result may dissappoint.

11. When the designs suit you, ask for an offer with a set price

12. See if your offer is based on the general conditions of the trade union that applies. (In the Netherlands: members section of interior work and furniture manufacturers)

This sort of works as a trade mark. And it’s your go-to for your complaint should dissatisfaction or misunderstandings occur.

13. See if the cost of delivery and installment is included in your offer

14. Order

If it’s up to your budget – which will be the case if you discussed your budget with your designer from the start – you can now order!

15. Feel secure

You will feel secure when placing your order because you checked your collaboration and budget, and because you discussed ánd saw in detail what you will end up with.

Still have questions? Check Frequently Asked Questions.