Who commissions furniture and why?
The simple answer is ‘anybody’ and ‘for all sorts of reasons’.
Sometime there is a sense that only collectors or people with a special interest in design commission bespoke furniture.
After all, there is plenty of choice on the high street. All sorts of shapes, sizes, styles and prices. And commissioning a bespoke piece will require more input and more time (possibly: how long would you spend going around shopping centres and shops trying to find the right piece?)
On the other hand, commissioning a bespoke piece allows you to be part of the process of creating something, of making a piece of furniture that is not only functional but that has a history and a meaning.
All that it requires from you is an interest in your environment and your life. It’s about exploring what you need and what you like, what has heart and meaning for you and working together to find a solution that matches you, your life, the space you live in.
On several occasions people have said to me: “Oh, we’d love to commission something but it’s too expensive...” This is a common misconception. While it is true that having a piece specially made for you is going to cost more than buying a mass produced piece on the high street, I believe that fine furniture does not need to be prohibitively expensive. After all, your budget will be one of the constraints that we put into the brief (just like sizes and choices of timber, etc) and that will shape the process and the end result.
What is bespoke furniture?
I find that sometimes there is some confusion between the terms ‘bespoke’ and ‘made to measure’.
The terms are borrowed from the textile industry. They were originally about the choices faced when having a suit made. “Made to measure” means that it is made to pre-set patterns, modified to fit your requirements, whereas ‘bespoke’ means that there is no set pattern. It’s designed to fit you. The same it’s true of furniture
A bespoke piece is not just “made to measure”. It does not simply fit a physical space - it is designed to fit you as a person, your life and your world.
When we work together to design a piece, I don’t make any assumptions. I want to know what you really want and I will design with that in mind. It’s not just about deciding which handles and which details to fit to a pre-made carcass.
It’s about creating something that is as unique as you.
The commissioning process
People are often nervous about approaching a maker to talk about a possible project. Many of the enquiries I receive begin almost apologetically, with “I don’t know if you do this sort of thing…” or “I’m not sure if this is feasible…”, so let me reassure you.
I love the variety of projects that my job allows me to tackle. I love the process of talking with potential clients and getting clear about what exactly they want. Yes, there is satisfaction in making a dazzling piece that really makes a statement in a room. But there is just as much satisfaction on coming up with a simple solution that allows you to utilize that recess in the wall that seems always just too narrow to fit a ‘normal’ piece of furniture.
If you have never commisioned a piece you might also wonder about how the process unfolds. While no two projects are the same, the following brief outline, will offer you some indication of what to expect.
It usually starts with a phone call or an email; occasionally with a conversation at a show: “We were thinking about having a table, such and such. Is it something you could do?” The result of the conversation is normally to arrange a meeting.
First meeting – clarifying the brief
Ideally this meeting takes place at the client’s house or at the location where the piece of furniture will be located, so that I can get an idea of how it fits with your lifestyle. We will talk about sizes, shapes, details. I usually bring some samples of the woods I use most commonly. We will look and discuss images of pieces that inspire you. The purpose is for me to understand as thoroughly as possible what you want, how it will be used, and how it will fit with your lifestyle. At this stage we will also discuss timescale and budget. People are often nervous about the subject of money but it’s an important parameter of the brief, like colour or size. During the meeting I take detailed notes and occasionaly take pictures of the space.
Developing the design
I normally start with a sketchbook and a pencil. And I start drawing possible answers to the brief. I take inspiration from architecture, from geometry but often also simply from doodling, playing with lines and shapes. I then usually pick a few ideas that seem to have potential and I turn them into more detailed drawings – thinking about how I would make them and making sure they fit the criteria we discussed, usually working on the computer – and send them to the clients – with a rough ideas of the costs involved.
Refining the design
Sometimes, out of my drawings, the clients are able to pick one straight away and to say “let’s go with that one”. But most of the times the design goes through a process of revision… can we make the top thicker? More drawers? Change the handles?... This conversation is essential to make sure that we develop the piece that is just right for you. Occasionally the drawings are not clear enough in which case I might make a scale model or a mock-up, a full scale version of a particular detail like the moulding on an edge or the shape of the handle… (Depending on the project, there might be a charge for this). Again, there is no set process: sometimes we will have the whole conversation on the phone and via email, other times meeting in person. Sometimes it just takes one revision and sometimes several.
Finalising the design
The conclusion of this conversation will be a final drawing that incorporates all the decisions we have discussed. I will also have a clear idea of the materials and work that will be required and will be able to give you a firm quote to make the piece. At this stage I ask for a first stage payment (usually about 50% to 60% of the total amount) as a confirmation of the commission. Depending on the size of the job there might be more stage payments or simply a final payment when the piece is delivered
Making the piece
Once I start making your piece, I will keep you informed on the progress. I tend to send images as the work progresses and you are welcome to visit the workshop to see your furniture take shape.