Customize Your Home Furnishings
Meet several Chicago custom furniture makers who can take your imagination and some raw materials, then turn them into the furnishings of your dreams. Plus get tips on how to work best with a designer.
Know your style
The best place to start when launching into the custom furniture process is exploring your own style. Look around your living space and the homes of people whose décor you admire and make notes on what appeals to you.
"It's comforting for the client to know what works for them first," says Paul Schulman of Paul Schulman Design, a custom furniture and millwork firm. "Then, I can nail down their look from seeing their space."
Making yourself at home in showrooms is an important first step, advises Paul Zurowski, president of Sawbridge Studios - and not just his.
"Find inspiration that you can bring to the table," he says. "People who are design confident get it." He is referring to those who know what they like when they see it without second guessing themselves.
Dale Meiners of Trimline Custom Design feels it's time for a potential client to go custom when their taste outgrows what's available in the marketplace.
"Custom furniture can change the dynamics of the entire house," he says. "It opens up a new world of opportunities."
Do your homework
Once inspiration as been gathered, seek out design samples in magazines and catalogs to share with the furniture designer. Julie Tiknis, design associate at Lee Weitzman Furniture, encourages clients to come in to the showroom to discuss the project.
"Communication is key and visuals help to articulate a customer's ideas," she says. "It's just as important to know what you don't like as it is to know what you do."
It's also imperative to consider how the new piece will fit into your life and your home. Custom furniture is an investment that will last for years to come.
"The timeless quality of these pieces fit into any environment and are meant to be used and enjoyed throughout the customer's life," says Kevin Troxall, the Chicago showroom manager for Thos. Moser Furniture.
As Sawbridge's Zurowski adds, "This is not disposable furniture; it's the ultimate green statement."
Price can be a misconception when starting the custom process, so it's best to research a wide range of furniture lines and be up front about your budget.
Pictured above right: Ciello Executive Desk avaiable at Lee Weitzman Furniture.
Pick the materials
Most custom furniture companies offer a vast array of the world's finest woods and other building materials, such as metals and glass, as well as specialized veneers, finishes and accessories. An essential part of the process is the knowledge that everything - from the design to the wood to the finishes - are chosen especially for you.
"You can trick your piece out with whatever you want," Schulman says. "You don't have to settle for anything."
Mix and match
While considering your design and materials, it's helpful to note that you don't have to be reigned in by one particular era or genre.
"Our style is a mix of styles," says Zurowski of Sawbridge Studio's approach. "We mix and match to give our customers a breadth of possibilities." Do the same in your home, he advises.
"You should feel free to mix materials, textures and finishes to add interest," Zurowski says. "You don't want to live in a museum."
Explore every option
There are different levels of custom work to consider. The first option is picking an existing item from the company's portfolio and having it made especially for you.
The second level is choosing an inventory piece, but with some modifications, such as a different type of wood or a specific size or dimensions.
The final and most work-intensive type of custom project is working hand-in hand with a craftsman to develop a piece from scratch. The process varies for each company, but it's inevitably a highly personalized journey.
"I visit a client's space 80 percent of the time," Trimline's Meiners says. "I prefer to design together with my clients. I inspire them and broaden their horizons, and then we arrive at the perfect plan."
Think of the custom furniture process as a creative journey, not a typical retail experience.
"My clients see furniture as they would a painting. They want something that no one else has, and they don't want to make allowances," says Joshua Height, owner of Brickermade, a custom furniture and functional art company known for such innovative pieces as the Sofa Train, Piano Chaise and Elevator Chair.
Schulman's background in the world of sculpture and metalsmithing brings an attention to detail not commonly found in retail furniture.
"Good designers are very good at being chameleons," Schulman says. "I try to understand the spirit of a space and base my work on that, from traditional to modern approaches."
◊ November 2007
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