When considering the furnishing for a project there are so many places you can look for inspiration and source from these days, whether that’s hunting for antiques or going to a trusted retailer but we often turn to the bespoke option and have pieces made from scratch.
Sometimes we are asked the merit of this approach as there is often a preconception it is a more expensive option and while it’s true it takes longer there are many benefits to having things designed specifically for your home. It’s sometimes hard to know which approach is better for your project so this week we are looking at the pros and cons of both buying off the shelf and designing bespoke.
Is it worth it? Designing bespoke items
The main reason for going bespoke is of course that you can have something made to your exact requirements because despite the huge selection of suppliers and products on offer, sometimes you can’t find exactly what you want. Sometimes you get close but the colour isn’t quite right, or the dimensions aren’t quite what you want. When designing for projects, at Howark Design the argument for designing something from scratch often outweighs the benefits of buying off the shelf. If it’s a coffee table, we can choose exactly the right timber, we can even choose the actual piece of timber the coffee table is made from. One of the best reasons for taking this approach is to get the dimensions exactly right to fit the space and we can tweak the design so it’s absolutely perfect for the scheme. With rugs, for example, it’s often difficult to find the right design, in the right size off the shelf. Rugs are one of the items that we almost always design bespoke. Good rug suppliers often have lots of wonderful, inspirational samples and most rugs and designs can be made in any colour, size or material you wish, offering endless possibilities that are just not available in the shops. Another bonus is that in our increasingly eco conscious times having items made by small local suppliers has a much smaller environmental impact than buying from larger companies and you can be confident in where and how your products have been made. So not only can you enjoy a beautiful unique piece in your home but have the added piece of mind that you are helping to support smaller business and the planet.
As we noted at the beginning there is often a common misconception that custom made items are far more expensive than their off the shelf counterparts, but this often isn’t the case. We find for the most part, that a custom made item is of a comparable cost to a ready made item of the same quality. The only thing that can differ more greatly is the lead time, with custom items often taking up to 12 weeks to design and manufacture, but as with so many things in life its often worth the wait to get what you want!
The Bespoke Design Process- From concept to completion
At Howark Design, when we set out to design a bespoke item, we follow a particular process to ensure that we are making the most of the opportunity to get the item exactly right for the client and its situation. During the scheming and concept phase we pull together the ‘look’ for the whole project and often have specific ideas for individual pieces of furniture at this early stage. We find reference images or produce sketches that reflect the style of the piece along with finish samples and sometimes concept imagery to show how they would sit in conjunction with the rest of the scheme. The combination of these elements gives the client a good idea of how each piece will look and feel as part of our concept presentation. Client feedback during this meeting is crucial to ensuring the finished piece is right for them and could range from wanting a particular timber to the inside of a chest of drawers (cedar is popular for keeping moths away from clothes) to changing the colour of a stitching detail on a piece of upholstery – the possibilities are endless!
Once the overall scheme and concept is agreed by the client, we will then start drawing up the item in more detail, taking into account the client’s preferences and feedback. This drawing is then sent to the chosen maker who will often produce their own construction drawing as an aid to ensure that the piece is being made in the best way possible. The construction drawing shows every little detail of the piece, how the joints are fixed, the direction of the grain if it’s timber and every single dimension. The construction drawing then gets sent to us for sign off, and once that is complete, the items starts production. This might seem like a long winded process but it’s the best way to ensure any unforeseen issues or details with the item are resolved at this stage. During production we will often go and visit the workshop where pieces are being made to ensure they are coming together as planned and check quality, finishes and comfort for items like sofas and chairs. Once the items are finished they will be checked again to ensure they are in perfect condition before they are delivered to their new home and placed in their positions. The installation stage when the client sees pieces that started off as a reference image or sketch for the first time after having being lovingly crafted over many weeks is hugely rewarding for everyone involved and just the start of their life together.
The benefits of off the shelf items
After extolling the virtues of bespoke designed items, it’s only fair we examine the merits of purchasing items off the shelf, and what these too can offer a project. Firstly, to point out the obvious, for a variety of reasons there are times when it just isn’t practical to use bespoke items, such as when lead times are restricted, or budget is very tight, or sometimes just because you know you can buy exactly what you need off the shelf. The reasoning we come across most often is lead time restraints, whilst bespoke items can take up to 12 weeks to arrive, most off the shelf items can be delivered in 6 weeks, sometimes even sooner if you’re lucky. Whilst bespoke pieces do offer the most flexibility, here in the UK we are so lucky to have a huge amount of amazing suppliers offering ready made products to suit many different styles and budgets, so whilst you may not have complete flexibility, there is still a great variety to choose from.
Another benefit of utilising ready made pieces is that you can often visit showrooms and look at the piece before committing to purchase. As an example, in the case of upholstered goods this can be beneficial in that you can test the comfort of a chair or sofa, see how the fabric looks in situ and get a sense of the scale, which can be difficult to determine from drawings and samples alone. Showrooms can also be a great source of inspiration, you often find that you go in to look at one piece and then end up seeing something else which you wouldn’t have considered otherwise!
Customising and making it your own
There is a middle ground between completely custom made items and off the shelf products. More and more suppliers are offering the option to ‘customise’ their designs to suit your needs, so you avoid having to go to the lengths of drawing the item from scratch, meaning the lead time often isn’t as long. A lot of suppliers will allow you to change the dimensions for a small charge, or offer different fabric choices, or customers own fabric. Many pieces will have the option of several different finishes to suit your scheme and budget and often these don’t affect the lead time. This in-between option is often a great compromise where restraints don’t allow us to design from scratch, and like off the shelf items, you can often see several options in a show room, allowing you to test the comfort and practicality of the piece first.
Whatever option you decide to go for there is a perfect fit for every home and budget. Howark Design offers high quality, professional design services for projects throughout the UK and Europe (and even further afield if required!) Please get in touch with us should you wish to discuss your project, or find out more about our services.
James & Saskia