The search for more personal homes and a growing interest in craftsmanship and handmade goods underpin the renewed interest in custom furniture. The proliferation of small local workshops in our streets is another symptom that attests to the fact that small manufacturing is gaining weight in the design industry. But what are the advantages of custom-made furniture, and are bespoke furniture incompatible with industrial furniture? We talked to three experts about all these issues.
A new way of designing and consuming. Mechanization and industrialization allowed a reduction in costs, proper, but it also created standard pieces. This is explained by Laura Donada, co-founder of Picapino Carpintería/Ebanistería, a workshop in Madrid that works in wood and only to measure:
"Homes have the same furniture that we all identify the first time around. However, I think the market has become saturated, and we are moving into another phase of balance where people want something different," Laura reflects, drawing on those manufacturers and brands that advocate handmade.
The San Sebastian workshop of handcrafted wood and iron furniture Bois et Fer was founded in 2012, and sales have not stopped growing: "In addition, the opening this year of a store in Madrid is helping us to reach more people," explains its founder, Gary de la Fuente.
"There is more and more conscious consumption, people who give value to both the quality and durability of the product," confirms Adriana Pardo from the Galician artisan workshop Wood Feelings.
The recovery of traditional craftsmanship has an influence, as Adriana perceives in her daily contact with her customers: "I notice that they see beyond the design itself and appreciate the time and care with which each corner of the furniture they have chosen has been made," she says.
Exclusivity and standardization. A custom-made piece is unique and exclusive, i.e., "something that not everyone has, a jewel," in the words of Gary, from Bois et Fer:
"In San Sebastian, a perfumery from 1908 needed a piece to store its collection of samples and perfumes. It is a shelf that is out of sight, it will not advertise us, but we are proud that one of the few remaining stores with history in San Sebastian has chosen us for such an important piece," he explains proudly.
However, customization and standardization are not incompatible concepts; they meet different needs. Laura from Picapino explains:
"We're here to help if you can't find anything in the stores that you like; if you have a precise idea of the furniture you want; or if you need to fit it into a particular space in your home," he lists.
Customer and workshop: each piece of furniture is a team effort. The objective of a custom design is to satisfy the actual requirements of a specific user, as opposed to the general needs of the market. A task that is not easy to achieve and involves intense interaction with the customer in the design and manufacturing process. In short, it is teamwork:
"The starting point is to understand what the client is looking for, their needs and even the decoration or style of their home. Normally, they usually have a preconceived idea, but they also look for us to surprise them with proposals that have the essence and philosophy of our brand," Adriana explains.
Pacino says that clients usually arrive with clear ideas: "They send us a photo, an idea or a drawing. From there, we give them advice and give them an initial budget. Then, if they accept it, we go to their home and look at measurements, details, materials, and finishes," says Laura.
A la carte materials. Wood is usually an ideal material due to its versatility, mobility, and resistance, but more economical options include MDF, iron, or laminated boards.
"Customers base their choice more on an aesthetic than a practical issue: whether they prefer more or less grain or the shade of the wood. For outdoor projects or wet areas, however, you have to take into account the material's properties and resistance levels," Adriana reminds us.
Timeless and durable designs. In order of this type, clients usually look for furniture that will last and not go out of style. These are pieces that last over time that passes from generation to generation," says Adriana. In addition, we always look for timeless designs that can fit into any home, whatever its style."
To achieve this, attention must be paid to the design, detail, and quality of materials. 'Slow design' versus 'ready to go'. Delivery times require a little more patience on the part of the client: about four weeks: "Cabinetmaking has its times: the glue has to dry, then you have to sand when the sawdust comes down from the air, varnish, and the varnish also needs its drying time...", details Laura, from Picapino.
Is it an affordable luxury to have a custom-made piece of furniture? Spending on a piece of made-to-measure furniture should be seen as an investment that will be amortized over the useful life of the piece of furniture: "We, the manufacturers of made-to-measure furniture, are committed to quality and product customization rather than to large-scale production of inexpensive furniture of medium or low quality," Laura explains.
Still, there are many ways to adapt to each customer's needs and budget. One is by simplifying the design and assembly of the part. Another, with the choice of the material itself. It is not the same to make a piece of furniture in thick solid oak wood as in plasticized wood.
Gary of Bois et Fer qualifies that a piece of furniture does not have to be more expensive simply because it is custom-made. "Offering competitive prices is part of our philosophy. As we don't have huge productions, we don't need a warehouse, staff shifts or a large workforce. We have no middlemen and work with tiny margins," he says.