05 Apr 21

Custom making is not for everybody, but if you're not everybody...

Nobody says "I want to custom make furniture" at the beginning of their furniture sourcing journey. For one, you don't know what you're looking for. You are likely to start off visiting a mall or a familiar brand you know and then call it a day. But for some homeowners, the sourcing goes beyond that.

Sam Davis is a writer who recently redecorated her room and is fresh off her furniture experience while Ashley Choo guides folks like Sam with custom made furniture. 

Sam Davis: I don't know anyone who've gone down the route of custom making. Whoever I know are happy making do with whatever is in the market and (there is a lot of options in the market!). It also didn't seem difficult to find something I like. So I'm curious, who are the people who custom make furniture like? 

Ashley Choo: The furniture selection available in the market solves the problems of most homeowners. It's only when you need a certain permutation of features in a furniture that you realise, "hey this is tough, I can't find anything that works for me." Custom made furniture is often perceived as an aesthetic solution - oh it's luxurious, exclusive, bespoke, unique, one of a kind. But many of our customers come to us wanting to solve issues as mundane as dimensions. They could be singles, newly wed couples and families, the demographic is varied but they face similar problems with furniture.

SD: Wait, then what about a Pinterest-obsessed generation that’s all about design and making spaces “Insta-worthy”? Aren’t they your customers as well?

AC: They are. Their starting point may be different - they want a certain look, style or colour but they end up having that discussion about dimensions because they also want their furniture to feel good and fit their space. This is the generation that not only wants a cake and eat it, that cake better be pretty too.

Pretty cake - storage sofa upholstered in 3 different upholstery for the frame, back cushion and piping detail

SD: How much would that cake cost? When I was sourcing for furniture, I always find price a challenge. I always use Ikea as a benchmark.

AC: Many people do. Ikea is such a pervasive brand in the furniture industry and I get why it has top of mind awareness. But if you're going to use Ikea as a benchmark, custom making as a service will be in a price bracket that you're not going to be interested in. Because everything is made from scratch, materials are ordered only when we need them, we cannot take advantage of economies of scale. What we can do is to offer variety and resources to solve pain points that Ikea products can't. As a consumer, you can also control what materials that'll make you happy and that you can budget for - which means, to a certain extent you can control the pricing of that cake.

SD: You're suggesting a lot of considerations when it comes to customising furniture. Not everybody wants to go through decision fatigue. Some would even think it’s a daunting process that’s way too overwhelming.

With aging parents, opt for a higher seat height so they can get off it easily (Photo by OA.K Studio Interiors)

AC: The process isn't for everybody. I've had customers walk out on us because, like you described, there were too many considerations. But the process is important. We want to know how much space you have, where you're going to put your furniture, how you intend to use it. Let’s say you live near the sea, I'm going to tell you to avoid metal accents otherwise you are going to deal with rust and patina. You have a cat, I'm going to recommend a scratch resistant textile. Your aging parents are going to be living with you, I'd advice you to go for a higher seat height so they can get off the sofa easily. We want to pick up on things you might not have thought about and we want to make sure your new piece of furniture works for you in the long run. Let's take you for an example, tell me about your search for a bed.

SD: My perfect bed... it would have the bells and whistles like a phone holder, a space for my charger, a mini built in bookshelf, drawers below. I also want to be able to fully maximise storage. For colours, I like to keep it conservative using metal, maybe dark wood? 

AC: With those requirements, I would check if you have sufficient space to accommodate extra thickness for the headboard. Would you be able to pull open your drawers conveniently to access your stored items? What are you thinking of storing under your bed to maximise storage? 

SD: Uh... do I really need to think about this? I guess I have to...

AC: So the long process isn't everybody's cup of tea but I think it's a good journey to get on before you make a purchase decision - especially when you're buying bulky and potentially expensive items like furniture. This long questioning to and fro process is natural to the custom making process. You want your pretty cake and eat it, you've got to know if you have the stomach for it too.