Maybe you’ve spent months browsing designer showrooms and luxury home magazines looking for the perfect table without success. Perhaps you can’t tolerate the thought of finding your sofa in a neighbor’s home. Or you’ve just always wanted a custom-made piece of furniture and can finally afford one.
To help make your venture into custom furniture a success, I talked to David Nashif, a San Francisco Bay area designer who builds one-of-a-kind statement tables for his clients. He generously offered advice about how to prepare for your initial consultation with a custom furniture maker as well as how to optimize your overall experience.
1. Arrive to a custom furniture design consultation with a vision, not a blueprint of the piece you want created.
“It is important that a client have a general sense of what they are looking for and at what price point, to best initiate the process,” Nashif says. And it helps if clients share images of furniture they like or design concepts that inspire them.
But you should also come prepared to engage in a creative process, not simply dictate instructions.
“It is the exploration and customization process itself that makes the experience unique. Some clients may know exactly what they are looking for, but I see it as my role to work with the client to understand requirements and desires and then help translate those into a truly one-of-a-kind product.”
2. Choose a designer with the right portfolio – and personality – for you.
It’s important that you trust a designer. The designer’s previous work and customer testimonials should inspire confidence. But have some discussions with a potential designer to see if you’re a good fit.
And know that custom designers are interested in a partnership with their clients – they are not order takers, Nashif says.
“It is important that there be a mutual appreciation for a style of design that should be at the core of every designer’s portfolio,” says Nashif. Don’t ask a contemporary designer to create a rustic piece unless he’s interested in making the transition.
When you find a designer whose style you appreciate, “there is still a great deal of room for discovery and customization, while staying true to a core design philosophy. A good designer will seek to understand, and possibly influence, supporting design elements as part of the process” such as the selection of chairs, lighting and artwork.
3. Consider the aesthetics when combining materials in a custom-made piece.
“It is important to choose a wood that works with the design aesthetic of the room in which it will function, Nashif says. When it comes to tables, pairing a top and base are critical. “This is where I firmly believe that the custom table can really transition from a utilitarian piece of furniture to a work of art and statement piece.”
Nashif uses high quality hardwoods, particularly Claro Walnut, for the custom table tops he creates, and all come from naturally felled trees. Pairing a wood slab with a uniquely designed base is where the artistic extension comes in. He uses materials such as glass, plexi-glass and stone and also repurposes vintage, mid-century table bases from Milo Baughman and Roger Sprunger and other timeless designers.
4. Consider the function of the room, not just its size when choosing custom tables and other furniture.
A “living edge” table top may not work as well as a beveled one in a dining room, particularly one used by small children. And the weight as well as the dimensions of a piece of furniture are important factors. If you are replacing a glass-top table with one made of a wood slab and stone base, you may want to choose something smaller.
“It is important to consider the sheer physical presence a slab table creates and not ‘overdo’ it when sizing a custom table project (including weight!). If going with a live edge, one must also consider the irregularity of the shape and how that will work in a space, for example with one or both ends of the table being slightly wider than the center. In the case of a dining table, that will also influence the decision on what chairs work best,” Nashif says.
A table “works,” he says when the balance of the table base and top work without one overpowering the other and when the table enhances both the style and scale of the room.
5. Understand that time management is a shared responsibility in custom-made furniture.
Nashif’s background in business consulting makes him a project manager at heart. He says most of his projects can be completed in four to six weeks.
Timelines can stretch if you are slow in responding to questions, change your mind frequently or have a short attention span for a project.
Engage a designer whose work and communication style are compatible with yours.
“I work with each client to develop a plan that includes iterative design and fabrication checkpoints to ensure the project is tracking to plan and meeting or exceeding the client’s expectations” Nashif says.
Problems arise when there is a disconnect between client and designer about desired outcome. A designer may give a ballpark estimate of price based on an initial discussion and a client may think it’s a firm price even after expanding the scope of a project.
“It is important that both elements are aligned as early as possible to avoid setbacks,” Nashif says.
6. Avoid disappointment by evaluating your readiness for custom design.
Nashif says he likes to think that everyone appreciates and benefits from the experience of working with a custom-made designer, but knows it is not for everyone.
“The process really suits those who do appreciate the quality and beauty of the product, enjoy the process of interacting with the designer, and ultimately appreciate the end result as a one-of-a-kind outcome that is unique to them and their taste.”