What Does Custom Furniture Really Mean?

What Does Custom Furniture Really Mean?

What Does Custom Furniture Really Mean?

Customization is all the rage, but custom furniture strikes fear in many non-designers’ hearts. We asked our pros to weigh in and explain how the bespoke, handmade furniture process works.

At Homepolish, we pride ourselves on making things personal—from our approach to the process to how we aim to create the perfect space for your lifestyle. So it may come as no surprise that our designers are firm believers in the power of custom furniture.

Custom furniture can sound intimidating, conjuring up ideas of long lead times and lofty price points, but the process is well worth it—and not as rough as you think if you have the right guidance. Let our designers lead the way.

Design by Tali Roth, photo by Claire Esparros for Homepolish

Why should I go custom?

The value of a custom piece comes in many forms. Maybe it remedies your wonky sizing issues (giant space? miniature space? strangely in-between?). Maybe it fixes a problem or serves a purpose the greater design world hasn’t solved just yet (hello, attractive cat furniture!). Or maybe it just pulls together your visions and dreams in a way that something that already exists just doesn’t. Many times, custom pieces can solve significant design challenges in a way that might offset other costs.

Imagine you have a very large room—if you decide to have one store-bought sofa or sectional, the space could look sparse, but several sofas together could either be visually overwhelming or too matchy-matchy. A customized sofa, like Tali Roth used in the space above, provides a solution that turns a long and narrow-layout into a prime space for relaxation.

“We decided that the huge sofa with flexible seating and a coffee table would be perfect for [the clients’] laid-back style of entertaining,” Tali recalls. “Thinking laterally was new to me, but opting to line the entire wall with plush sofa turned out beautifully.”

Meanwhile, in a smaller space, customized items need to provide maximal functionality. For designer Pippa Lee, custom meant maximizing a miniature space into a kids’ gym that even tots with more sprawling rooms would be jealous of. If you’re looking for more functional examples, think inventive storage systems or convertible furniture that can transition a space seamlessly (Murphy beds are vastly underrated). 

Design by Pippa Lee, photo by Nick Glimenakis for Homepolish

A custom piece also saves you the time of sourcing for something that just isn’t out there. You might spend hours scouring for the ideal headboard that would span your entire bedroom wall and features hidden storage, or a convertible table that goes from small bistro something with room for eight, and never find just what you want. With custom, you never wonder if the better option is out there (and how often do you get to say that).

“Nothing beats that feeling of sinking into the perfect piece of furniture at the end of the day,” gushes our designer Jennifer Wallenstein. “You may not find that perfect piece out in the wilds of CB2 or West Elm, but it is completely possible to create it with your designer’s help.”

Design by Louisa Roeder, photo by Sean Litchfield for Homepolish

A note on cost…

With inexpensive “fast fashion” retailers dominating the furniture market, it’s easy to get thrown off by the price of a custom item. It’s important to remember that with custom you aren’t getting something that’s mass-produced overseas. Your one-of-a-kind piece is made specifically for you by local artisans and craftspeople. And that has a value that offsets the price. Add to that the chance to have flourishes you’d never get in a store, and the spend feels justified.

“Today, we are bombarded with mass-produced furniture and I think it’s my duty as a designer to make those connections with local talent that can add authenticity to a project and also do my part to keep their craft from being outsourced,” explains designer Haley Weidenbaum,

“It’s especially helpful to have the custom option when you have a funkily shaped or sized space that you really want to fill,” adds designer Shannon Tate. “I had my local woodworker make an entryway console for one of my clients and the whole top of it is covered in handmade Mexican tiles that my client once used as coasters at her wedding. It’s such a special piece and will be treasured by them forever.”

If you still want to keep cost down, consider making a few concessions and working with your fabricator to save where you can.

“Send your organized project details to the vendors to request a quote,” Haley explains. “If budget is a concern, ask if there is a way to make the item at a lower cost (such as using a cheaper wood).”

Since these pieces tend to make a big impact on your overall design, consider too that other “supporting role” furniture and accessories can be purchased on a budget, to help balance the overall cost of your space.

Design by Marc Houston, photo by Sean Litchfield for Homepolish

So what can I customize?

Pretty much anything! From rock climbing walls for kids to coffee tables with hidden features, there’s not much that can’t be done. It’s helpful to start by scoping what priorities are most important to you. Do you often entertain guests in the dining room or do you prefer lapping up the luxury of a glamorous vanity? Think about where a custom piece could give you the most impact.

“If I could choose one custom piece, I would definitely make it a sofa or sectional,” Haley says. “Not only does the sofa define a living space, but it’s one of the most used pieces of furniture in a home. By customizing a sofa, you ensure it will fit perfectly in the room. Plus, it will also be tailored to your liking when it comes details like firmness and density of the seat cushion fill.”

Focus on the details

Once you have your vision, you’ll need to pull together as much info as possible to make sure your dream becomes reality.

“Before you propose your project to the fabricator, gather measurements, inspiration images, and materials and then draw out the necessary details to convey the desired end product,” Haley suggests. “The more specific, the better! If it’s a bulky custom item, make sure to measure the doorways and that it can fit through the threshold…We have seen this happen and, yikes, it’s not pretty!”

But don’t forget that the custom piece of your dreams won’t come with a snap of one fabricator’s fingers. Oftentimes a piece of custom furniture will require a few more players in the creative process. For example, a sofa isn’t only made of fabric—there’s the frame, cushions, and even more to contend with.

“Bring your idea to a fabricator specializing in the craft needed to complete the project,” Haley advises. “But sometimes it may require a couple different vendors to work together, such as a mill worker and an upholsterer.”

Design by Stefani Stein, photo by Tessa Neustadt for Homepolish

Since there are a lot of moving pieces, it’s always easier to realize your bespoke dreams with a buddy—a designer specifically.

The process of finding a fabricator to build the furniture of your dreams can be a little daunting by yourself, and a designer can demystify the process while anticipating questions you didn’t even think of. For a designer, the process quickly moves from idea to sketch to technical drawings (which otherwise you are at the mercy of your millworker or fabricator to provide and interpret). Then your designer can suss out the details with the fabricator to ensure everything from joints to the nails used to complete the piece are perfect.

Design by Liz Lipkin, photo by Sean Litchfield for Homepolish

Design by Ariel Okin, photo by Seth Caplan for Homepolish

Good things come to those who wait

When it comes to the world of custom, lead times are just part of the process. Since you’re getting a handmade, non-mass-produced piece, it will take time. Roughly, here’s how long the process can take for different types of furniture, usually broken up into two-week increments:

4-6 weeks: smaller woodwork, cabinetry, accessories, hardware

6-8 weeks: larger woodwork (desks, chairs, benches, side tables)

8-10 weeks: dining tables

12-14 weeks: smaller custom upholstery projects

14-16 weeks: large upholstery projects (sofas, daybeds), rugs

These are general time frames, but there are no set rules in the industry. It’s always best to check with your designer and the fabricator as many factors can affect the process (materials, timing of your request, etc.).

Can we meet in the middle?

If you aren’t totally convinced about the magic custom pieces can have in your home, the design world has come up with a strategy. “Semi-custom” refers to manufacturers with standard designs which can be adjusted with made-to-order details. Since not every detail is specified, you’ll be able to save some on cost and timing. Big-names like Restoration Hardware and ABC Carpet & Home and upstart brands like The Inside, Semihandmade, and Joybird make cherry-picking your favorites from options such as fabric, stain, and more a breeze.

Design by Rosa Beltran, photo by Tessa Neustadt for Homepolish

Want to see the custom process in action? Our designer Tina Rich crafted an elegant dining table of her own and walks you through the process here. If you are ready to work with a designer to create something for yourself, get started with Homepolish today.


Cover Image: Design by Marc Houston, photo by Sean Litchfield for Homepolish