Custom Handmade Furniture

Commission an artisanal piece that fits your space—and style—to a T.

August 2016

Tour the immaculate, museum-quality loft of a certain New York City art philanthropist and glass sculptor, and you will undoubtedly be dazzled by the clever display of fragile art that spans centuries. Housing such a delicate collection in an industrial loft is no easy feat, so the sculptor turned to a number of local resources to construct custom cabinets with lighted interiors, an open kitchen and a massive dining table—made of precious woods and inlaid with a spectacular glass top—to fill a tricky space. 

Whether you are looking to house a collection, add a single piece to a not-so-standard spot or have a creative idea you’d love to see executed, custom furniture is a great way to go, and there are more resources than ever to help realize your vision.

But finding the right maker or craftsperson requires research. Some of the best custom furniture organizations house literally thousands of craftspeople working in a variety of styles and with materials that range from rare reclaimed wood to rehabilitated historic pieces and industrial metals. But you may need someone whose talents lie in guiding you through the process or simply bringing your sketch to life. 

The Furniture Society, an educational nonprofit founded in 1996, is one of the best resources for those seeking an incredible craftsperson. As Alfred Sharp, a former board member and past president of the society, notes, studio furniture makers “are equipped to use concepts, techniques and materials unavailable or impractical for large manufacturers.” Plus, custom work is often no more expensive than mass furniture. Sharp advises that you first decide on what level of commitment you’re comfortable starting with: Would you rather commission a small piece to see how the process goes, or spring for a major project right off the bat? Next, search the Furniture Society’s online directory of hundreds of makers and designers, both domestic and abroad, to see whose aesthetic works with yours. 

Sharp recommends that if it’s geographically feasible, you request a studio visit with potential candidates, or they can come to your home. The initial consultation should be free. Narrow your prospects, then ask one or more makers to develop a drawing and proposal, including price and an estimated timeline. When you’ve settled on design, cost and delivery, you should both sign a contract. Expect to pay a deposit of 25 to 50 percent; large projects may require progress payments. 

Another resource, Custom Made, not only specializes in connecting customers with designers but also helps to narrow matches by style, offering category collections that include Reclaimed, Farmhouse and Industrial. You can even begin the design process on your own by describing your idea and/or uploading photos. The result should be a finely crafted, one-of-a-kind piece of furniture that will last a lifetime—and its provenance will be much more personal than a trip to the store.