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How to Shop for and Buy Custom Furniture You Love

How to shop for and buy custom furniture graphic

So what happens when you shopped all your favorite furniture stores and then some and you still can't find the perfect piece? Or you already own a perfectly good piece of furniture but it no longer suits your style? Or better yet, you have a piece of furniture that represents a sentimental value but it's really rough and in need of a makeover?

If you’ve never ordered custom furniture (or if you have, but had a really bad experience), it can be a daunting idea. How do you find the right person for the job? How do you know you’ll get exactly what you want? How do you communicate what you're looking for if you're not really sure yourself?

Don’t worry, it’s not that hard. All you need is the right designer and the right mindset. And both are easy to find when you know how.

How to Find the Right Furniture Designer

The perfect piece starts with the perfect designer. You want someone in your area, with a style you like, and the willingness to work with you.

1. Find a Local Furniture Designer

You definitely want someone local. In the best case scenario it saves you a bunch on shipping. In a less-than-ideal scenario, you can work with the designer more easily if something goes wrong. Google Maps, Yelp, Facebook, Instagram, Nextdoor, and Pinterest are all good resources.

2. Scour Designers Portfolios

Of course, a good designer can cater to your style, but each designer will have his or her own style too. Getting the perfect custom piece is easier when you find someone who matches your style.

  • Make sure to check out their websites/online stores. In most cases a designer will showcase photos of their work and use it as a portfolio.

  • Another good idea is to check out their social media pages. Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest are all great places to see their work and see how they connect with people.

And don't be shy about asking to see photos of what you're looking for. If you need a coffee table, ask to see coffee tables. If you have a buffet that needs redesigning, ask to see buffets they’ve done, etc.

3. Ask About Their Process

Every designer is different, so make sure you know what you’re getting into. Some good questions to ask, for starters:

  • How does the designer prefer to communicate (text, email, phone calls, Facebook, etc.)?

  • How will you choose finishes, hardware, etc.?

  • How often does the designer update you on progress?

Knowing what to expect up-front makes communication a lot easier later on.

4. Ask About Custom Furniture Pricing

When you think you’ve found the right designer, ask for an estimate. Be sure to include the following in your request:

  • Pictures of your piece or references of pieces you like, if you’re asking for something new

  • Dimensions

  • Conditions/repairs to be made

  • A brief description of what you would like done to the piece. i.e. "painted dark gray with a light stained top"

If you’ve narrowed down your search to two designers, an estimate might be a deal breaker in favor of one over the other. You should avoid gather estimates from a larger pool of designers, especially if you’re talking to entrepreneurs. Requesting an estimate from someone you’re probably not going to work with anyway, just wastes valuable time and may make you even more confused.

What you can expect to hear:

  • Timeframes - Redesigning an existing piece should take about two to four weeks once your project starts. Everyone’s schedule is different, however, so ask about lead times. Currently, my turn around time is appropriately eight to10 weeks. If your favorite designer is very busy, there may be a longer wait time.

  • Price - (Not including price of furniture, if the designer is finding/buying a piece to start with) Here are some averages for a basic one color paint finish:

Average side table = $150

Average buffet = $565

Average medium dresser = $400

Average small 5 piece dining set = $795

There is a lot of variance here. In order to compare pricing, as in the retail furniture world, you might need to get out and view some designers' work in person. And remember, you want to choose someone with not only experience and style, but someone who values their time and talents. Like everything else, the "cheapest" is not always your best bet in the end. Look to see if they have reviews. What do their past customers say about their experience with the designer?

How to Work with a Furniture Designer

The designer is working for you, but technically working for himself. You’re excited, but don’t want to nag — or you’re extremely patient, but don’t want to get put on a back burner. Here are some tips for working with the perfect designer once you’ve found her.

Respect the Given Time Frames You’re excited, but try not to pester. On the other hand, it's absolutely okay to hold the designer accountable to time frames you agreed on. If you were told that you would get photos of the progress sent to you every week but you haven’t, speak up.

Respond to Questions as Quickly as Possible

Designers don’t expect you to be on-call, but if they need to pause work for a few days while they wait to hear from you, it can affect the schedule and delay the completion date. Delays aren't always the designer’s fault. A good designer wants to stick to the schedule and will do everything they can to avoid delays. We want your experience to be great, so help us.

Be Completely Honest

When the designer asks about finishes, colors, hardware, etc., please answer honestly. Even if you don’t like what the designer likes. You will not hurt the designer’s feelings. He or she wants you to love your piece.

If you have ideas, share them. Designers know they’re not the only creative people in the world. Even if it’s a new idea, half-way through a process, be sure to communicate your thoughts. Of course, keep in mind that changes may cause an adjustment to a quoted finish, adding cost and time to the finished design. A good designer will give you any cost adjustment before making the changed, but it's not a bad thing to ask. Again, designers want you to love your piece.

Pay for in a Timely Manner

The designer worked hard. Be fair about payment.

Leave a Good Review

If you’re happy with the work, leave a good review on whichever platform the designer prefers/uses most. (And if you’re not sure which one that is — ask. He or she would LOVE for you to ask.) Include a picture of the piece in your home. Include details about how much you love it. Don’t leave anonymous comments - names and faces validate your review for other shoppers, and make the review much more beneficial for your designer.

Get the Perfect Piece of Custom Furniture

Sometimes a custom piece of furniture is the only thing that works! So if it comes down to purchasing a custom piece, start with finding the right designer and knowing how to work with him or her in order to get exactly what you want. Now it's time to do a Google search for "custom furniture" to see who is in your area and start looking at pictures!


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