Tips for Having Furniture Custom Made

Yesterday, I took my readers through the journey of how I ended up with our dining table, the bumps along the way and how custom can actually be less expensive in many cases.

Have you had any custom (by custom I mean made just for you, according to your needs) furniture made?

Below is a photo of a custom sofa table that we had made recently.   It can be a stressful process, especially if it’s a project that will be very visible in your home.

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If custom work can be less expensive, why isn’t everyone doing it?

- Well, there aren’t any returns, like with pre-made furniture bought at retail stores.

I usually encourage people not to be afraid to try things.  You can almost always return the item.  Know the store’s return policy, keep the tags on and mark your calendar with a date where you have to decide or return.  But, with custom made pieces, once you accept the piece and pay, there are no returns.

- Time.  You have to work closely with the artisan.  There will be time spent on the phone, in person and on emails getting everything just right.

- If you like immediate gratification or need something fast, this may not be the best thing for you.  It may take as little as a week, or as much as a few months.


Of course, there are many reasons that custom is great – you get exactly what you want, you can design the piece to fit your space, you can have input on the design, you can dictate the finish, etc.

Tips Before You Start the Process

- Be sure to look at examples of their work.  Are they putting a protective top coat on?  Is the stain or paint smooth and well done?  Are the joints tight?

- Ask if you can you talk to a past customer to hear how the process was for them.

- Is the artisan more of a designer or truly into custom work?   What do you need?

The difference between a designer (who makes their own stuff according to their own measurements) and true custom work is that custom work is done to meet the client’s requirements and vision, not the artisan’s vision.  However, the artisan is the expert and is there to advise.  For instance, there may need to be a measurement change to insure better structural stability.  Clients wanting custom pieces usually want custom pieces in order to get a specific look or fit a specific space.  Either way, the details are very important to them.   And, they usually have a concrete vision.  Otherwise, they’d order something the artisan has already designed and made in the past.

Make sure the artisan is on board with this.  Be clear about your vision.

- Be sure the person or company that you are choosing to work with is available by phone and email.  Ideally, they will return a call or email within the same business day.  Ask what their policy is with this and let them know your expectations.

- Are they willing to send photos along the way?

This is important because it’s way better to know there is a problem during the process rather than after it is delivered.  The customer not only needs to sign off on all measurements, but they also need to see photos in case any changes need to be made or a stain/ paint color is wrong.  Of course, the more information up front, written out, drawn out, and agreed on, the better.

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Other items from The Lake Nest, the etsy shop that made my sofa table.  Awesome to work with!

- How do they deliver a project – in pieces and install on site or as a finished product?  Will it fit through your door or into the room?

- Do they require a deposit?  Is it refundable if the table is not delivered or not as agreed upon?  Can this be put in writing?

The first dining table builder that I worked with did not require a deposit.  It was off of Craigslist and I think he knew that without a legit website and all, no one is going to put money down.  The second artisan did.  I went through etsy and paypal so that I could easily dispute any issues and made sure it’d be delivered within the timeframe that they allow disputes (45 days).   This builder happened to also have an etsy shop so all of that was possible.  That is the only reason I agreed to put a deposit down though I had found them on Craigslist.  I also made sure I had their name, home address, etsy shop name, email and phone number.  (Of course, they now have a website.)  Protect yourself and your deposit.

- How are they about customer service?  Can they give examples?  Who handles it?  Is there a way to write a review on their work?

- Do they deliver?  How will you get the piece into your home?

- Do they maintain, guarantee or service the item in any way?  This won’t apply to all things.

Tips During the Process

- Communicate!  Be sure to talk along the way about measurements, stains or paint colors, and so on.

- Have measurements talked through prior to work being started.  A great example is the custom office we had put in at our AZ home.  Here is the drawing we were sent.


Such a drawing made sure we were on the same page, eliminated a need for future changes as well as possible misunderstandings!   All measurements were on it (I do mean all) and because it was drawn out, we could see how it will look once completed.  If the measurements look good to everyone, all parties should sign off on them at this point and building can begin.  An artisan can be very good at what they do, but if you are on different pages about the vision, the outcome can be nothing like what you wanted.  That is frustrating for you and the artisan.

With a drawing and clear measurements, the finished product can be compared to the original specs.

- Insist on this information (measurements).  Do not feel like you are being demanding or a pest.   It is very important and will help you avoid issues down the road.   Plus… remember, there is no returning it once you accept the delivery.  You don’t want to regret a purchase and the artisan doesn’t want an order to not be accepted.  So, make sure it’s on track and you have all information.

Google Sketch Up is a great program for creating these drawings, but they can also be done by hand, like the one above, as long as the measurements are seen by all and agreed on by all prior to work being done.

-  If you are having a table done, but sure to pay attention to where the legs/ feet sit in relation to where the chairs will need to be placed, and if there are any obstructions to placing the chairs where you need them.  In addition, take into account the size of the chairs and space needed between each one, as well as where knees will be hitting when guests are seated.

- Don’t be afraid to insist on photos.  Sometimes you just need to see the process to really make sure you are on the same page.  Better to know during rather than after!  And, well, it’s fun to see it being made!  Go visit the piece as it’s being made if possible.

- Don’t accept it and pay for it if it’s not according to your specs.  If it didn’t meet your expectations and the artisan changed specs without your approval, then don’t accept it and pay.  It isn’t the product agreed upon.  Get your deposit back if there was one.

- Insist on felt being placed on the bottom of the furniture item so the piece doesn’t scratch your floor.


And, don’t only leave feedback on the negative.  If all goes well, be willing to leave a good review, write a positive blog post, or give a shout out on Facebook!

I hope this helps those of you who are considering custom work in your home.



  1. I make my husband do our custom work and just yell at him if it isn’t right or if he doesn’t finish it fast enough. I’m kidding, of course. Sort of. :P

  2. I think more people don’t do it because they don’t know what they want. A lot of people add to their house when they stumble across something that fits. Custom work is very common when working with a decorator and when your budget is healthy. Ann

  3. Great blog Kristy!!

    I love that you used your blog as a platform for addressing the issue of buying things custom made. It’s a confusing, often foreign concept for many people full of misconceptions, primarily that it’s what “rich people do”. The tips you offer are spot on and very helpful for consumers.

    We’d love to use this as a guest blog article on our site at, have you seen it? We bring makers of custom goods and customers together on a safe and trusted platform. Please check it out and I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at at your convenience. Thanks so much and again, great blog!

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