How to Commission Furniture Built For You
You need a display cabinet for your prized art-work? Or you want the same desk that your brother inherited? An elegant bed or a one of a kind music stand? It’s possible to have furniture built to meet your specific needs.
It is not inexpensive, and can take some time, but the finished product – furniture built to meet your exact needs – is well worth the effort. It involves a bit of searching and questioning, good communication and faith.
First, you’ll want to seek out a furniture maker whose designs and style you share. Do you prefer Arts & Crafts, California modern, Queen Anne, Shaker, or something more whimsical? Explore CustomMade.com, search the internet and visit craft shows and exhibits.
Meeting someone face to face at a craft show or in their studio has obvious advantages. It allows you to see and touch and really check the workmanship. But often the person you decide on may be farther away. With e-mail and good communication that shouldn’t be a problem. Even at a distance you can check your craftsman’s web site and ask for references. See if there is any of his or her work in your area and if it is possible to view it.
Either way, look at the pieces and/or photos and ask questions. Does this person use plywood and veneer or solid wood? Are the dovetails hand-cut or routed? Do drawers slide smoothly? Does the craftsman build the piece or do employees? Are sharp edges sanded, bottoms smooth and backs presentable? Is quality hardware used? Is wood movement taken into account and allowed for? Are personal touches like carved monograms or secret compartments offered?
Once you’ve selected and are comfortable with an artist, the business details need to be worked out. Most woodworkers will give free estimates, but charge for drawings. The charge is usually waived if you decide to commission the piece. Remember that changes are easy on paper, but once a drawing is approved, and work starts, changes will affect the price. A down payment of about 50% is pretty standard, to cover the cost of materials before building commences. Ask about the expected completion time, and any crating, shipping or delivery charges.
With good references and good communication you’ll end up with a work of art to enjoy each time you use it. More often than not, it is also the start of a long and mutually beneficial relationship with your very own furniture maker.
About Chris Becksvoort
Chris Becksvoort has over 40 years of experience in wood technology, joinery, design and restoration. Each piece is individually built by Chris Becksvoort in his shop in New Gloucester, Maine, using sustainably harvested cherry and the finest hardware. Featuring hand-cut dovetails, carved monograms and secret compartments, to make each piece a “one of a kind”. He has been a contributing editor for Fine Woodworking magazine for over 20 years, and has been honored to do restoration work for the last active Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake, ME.