Tags: custom

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.

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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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Items from The Lake Nest where I got my custom sofa table.  

- 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.

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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.

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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.

kristysig

A Custom Made Dining Table – The Journey

Here are all the nitty gritty details of the journey to having our beautiful new custom dining table (pictured below) today, including our bumps and bruises!

It’s a little long, so grab a cup of coffee and a seat.

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Let’s just start by quickly addressing the elephant in the room.  You are probably thinking, doesn’t “custom” mean expensive?  It doesn’t have to…  and surely does not in my case.  It was actually a way to get a look I wanted for less.  Read on.

Old Table

Our last dining table (pictured below) had been damaged in the move from AZ to TX.  Thankfully, we were able to get a claim check from the moving company since we had insurance.  That meant we needed to replace it for the claim amount.

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Though I loved that table, it was fine with me since I wanted to eliminate my black furniture anyway and go for an overall lighter look at the new house.  But, that meant we had a budget and needed to find a new one in that price range.

On a bit of a side track, our old dining room in AZ was really the dining and breakfast area all in one.  There weren’t two separate spaces.  But, here in TX, we have a breakfast room and separate formal dining space as well.  The breakfast room is below.

And, our separate dining space.  It’s pretty blank…  This is prior to us receiving the new table.

In this photo, the footprint of the table is marked off with painters tape.

Inspiration

What style should we go for?  I love mixing rustic with chic and knew I wanted a rustic farmhouse style table.  Yet, not anything too trendy.

Of course, the tables that I loved cost way too much.  I really fell in love with this one at Restoration Hardware.   It is not only is it a cool design, but it’s classic and can be paired with so many things.

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But, at $2995 for a 9 ft table, that was way out  of my budget.  Way out.

Custom Table for Less

The next thing I knew, I saw this table on our local Craigslist for a fraction of the price.

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Pretty similar, right?  I ordered it to be made.

Stain Issues

He made it in a week (fast), but put the wrong stain on it and it turned out pretty purple.  Not at all what I wanted.  He created his own custom stain.  Well, once you stain something, it’s tough to undo.  So, you’re safer trying it on a scrap piece of wood first if it’s new to you, and then getting the customer’s approval.

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Needless to say, we turned that table down.  I’ve learned not to compromise if it’s going to always bother you and it’s not what you ordered.

He tried to remedy the stain by essentially painting it a tan color and put it up for sale.  He then came by with a table, so we could see how it would fit in our dining room.  Never hurts to double check measurements and all.  Looks pretty good in the space.   We gave him the green light to start fresh on a new table.  We’re on board, as long as the stain is right.

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He left, and as usual, was very hard to reach by phone or email.   (Nice guy, though.)  When having custom work done, you need to be sure to work with people who are available and easy to contact (more tips later).   Unexpectedly, a few days later, he informed me that he was not going to build it.  No real reasons. Great.  So, back to the drawing board.

All of that long back story to show you how we got to where we are…

Finding a New Table Maker

I saw the table below on Craigslist and asked this artisan if they could make one more similar to our inspiration table from Restoration Hardware.   I love the general design below, but had my heart set on the other style.

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They said of course they can!   Yay.  Best thing about it?   It’d cost less than a third of what the inspiration table costs.  Custom can be less expensive and make your vision possible!  How?  They have a lot less overhead than a larger manufacturer (offices, warehouses, trucks, transport, machinery, workers).  And, a store isn’t tacking on an additional cost on top of it.

One thing I loved about the table above and wanted to keep was the detail like the bolts and brackets – the hardware that shows.  Great little touches.

We met them in person, looked at their work and agreed to start a custom project together.   They are an absolutely adorable young couple!  They own Mason’s Woodwork.  Check their website out.  It’s a new small business and I love supporting small businesses, especially if they do good work, have good prices, and their customer service impresses me – then I’m very loyal.

Measurements and Details

I sent them my inspiration photo and the measurements that I wanted.

It was the beginning of April and with their work schedule at their regular jobs and travel, it’d be mid-June before the table was ready.  Not as fast as the other table, but that was fine with me.

I could tell they’d be much more responsive than the other guy which was comforting, as that had been a headache.  When doing anything custom, it requires a lot of communication, agreeing on measurements and photos along the way.  Both parties need to be available to one another.

We wanted a table that could fit up to 10 people if necessary, that fit in our dining room well, and that was wide enough that we could easily put a centerpiece or food in the middle while place settings are on the table.

Here is a diagram of approximately what we wanted.

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But, I also wanted to more often just seat 8 with plenty of space, sort of like this table, but ours would be longer by 9 inches.

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Width – 43.75 inches -  I told them my ideal width.  They advised the exact width and in the end, we went with their advice, as it made sense and we agreed.

The top of the table is constructed with wood planks and that means the width of the planks dictate the possible widths of the table.  Each plank is a little over 9 inches, so you could do 37 inches across or 46.  Well, 46 was pretty wide. So, we chose to do three wider planks and two more narrow planks between, with a border, making it 43.75 inches across in total.

Length – 107 inches – The length was determined by the number of people we wanted to seat and the space.  We wanted to not go too long so you could still easily walk around a chair if it was pulled out away from the table.

Height – 30 inches is standard for a dining table.

The other measurements that are important are the legs.  How far between the  table legs?

How wide are the legs is important for this design.   We knew we wanted their width to be proportional to the top of the table.  Similar to the inspiration table in proportion, yet of course, a tad wider due to our tabletop being a tad wider than the inspiration table.  If they are too narrow, the table will appear to be top heavy.

Communication Breakdown and Tweaks

This is where communication began to break down a little.  I asked how wide the legs would be, twice.  No precise information, just “trust us.”  As I decorator, I hate that phrase because my vision and what I had in mind may be different than their version of what works well.   It’s not to say they are not trustworthy or good at what they do, we just all have different ideas and visions in mind and it’s not until it’s put to paper that we see if we are on the same page.

It is important to spell out every aspect of a custom design out.   Discuss every measurement and then have all parties sign off on it before anything is actually executed.

This process may even result in you finding that their plan and idea is much better than yours, like on the table top when they suggested the wider boards mixed with the narrower boards!

When I got the next update on the table, it included a photo.  I realized that the legs were already built without going over any measurements!   Eek.

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You can see the disproportion in the photos that were sent at that stage.  Up until then, all measurements had been agreed upon prior to work being done and photos sent along the way.   They had done a superb job.

Though the table looked great in general, the legs were a little too narrow for the top.

It was at this point that I called Restoration Hardware to get their measurements so I can check their proportion and compare.

Their general measurements were:  108 L x 42 W x 30 H

Close to ours.  Very close.  Ours are 107 L x 43.75 W x 30 H

The width of their legs?  38 inches.

So, their legs were two inches shy of the edge of the top on each side.  That means that though our table was 1.75 inches wider than the RH table on the top, our legs were 4.25 inches narrower than theirs.  See, proportion problem.  Though the width of our table increased from the inspiration photo, the width of the legs decreased.  That would have to be remedied, especially since these dimensions were not discussed ahead of time.

We ran the math and concluded that in order to be the same proportion as the inspiration table from RH, our legs needed to be 39-40 inches wide at the bottom.  We decided to be as gracious as possible and just ask that the actual horizontal feet be replaced at a wider width.

After getting actual leg measurements post leg build, we sent this diagram to illustrate our point and show exactly what we wanted, and ask that the feet be redone now that we’ve discussed measurements.

Sometimes things are best explained in images.  And, it’s probably better to over-communicate in this scenario.

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Lengthening the bottom foot should do the trick.

Just to make certain we communicated clearly, we also did a really rough photoshop rendering to show the difference the change would make.   The first image is the new longer feet versus the original size in the second image.

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They agreed to the changes for the foot and set out to remake that one portion of the table.  Yay!!  What a relief.  You never know how people will respond and how great their customer service will be.

Another Bump in the Road, But Turned Out to be Good

At this time, we also got the actual measurement of the width between the table legs.  Come to find out, the finished measurement was 67 inches, rather than the 70 inches that we all agreed upon.  It had been changed, but not told to us.  Eek.

Now, really, that was a good thing.  Why?  Well, when I rechecked that measurement, I realized that I wanted them closer.   In fact, 65-70 inches apart would have worked, in different ways.   I think 67 inches may be ideal.  So, that turned out to be a good thing, since I wouldn’t have felt right changing agreed upon measurements once work had begun.  But, this is why you work together and tweak things based on your needs/ desires and their expertise.

If you are thinking about using them, don’t let this dissuade you.  I just want to be transparent about the process, but I think we all learned a few things along the way and I always think that each project I do makes me better.  I think the same is true for them!

Stain

Next decision?  The stain!  What color?  I purchased and tried out a few stains on scrap wood that we got from them.  That way, we could see exactly how it would look on the table.

In the end, we went with the stain seen below (Early American).  It’s sometimes easier to just go with something they have done before than something new.  That way, the end result is more predictable for all of us.

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Almost Done!

The next update photo I got was with the new feet, the stain and the fun hardware!

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Looking good!   And, a few days later, here it is in our home!

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Aren’t we glad we didn’t end up with the one we almost got?!

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Conclusions

Overall, it turned out great.  I like it so much better than the other table that we almost got.  It’s such a close match to the Restoration Hardware table that acted as our inspiration, yet unique.

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Ours is also 1.75 inches wider on the top.  The Restoration Hardware table has a brass sheet with a zinc finish on the top.  Ours is all wood and has the metal brackets and bolts.

Turns out, we stayed in our budget and got a look-alike for a lot less, that fits our new house better than a square table would have!

Check out their website and consider ordering a table from Mason’s Woodwork!  Check them out on Facebook as well.

Now to actually decorate the formal dining room.

What do you think of the table and process?   We’re excited to have a dining room table again.  We love it!  Have you ever had a custom table made?  Would you ever?  Tomorrow I will share some tips for having custom pieces made.

kristysig