Furniture Photo Credit: Courtesy Kate Duncan

3 Things to Know Before Ordering Custom Furniture

Furniture designer Kate Duncan shares some secret and some not-so-secret (move your shoes!) advice for custom design and installation.

Sure, Ikea is cool, but there’s nothing like ordering custom-designed, one-of-a-kind furniture to give your space some extra spunk (whether it’s a single piece or a living room full of unique products). So we’re more than a little excited about our next WL Design Talks event, “True Confessions of a Furniture Maker,” where we’ll be learning all about the custom-design process from three Vancouver makers: Kate Duncan, Toby Barratt and Brent Comber. We’ll be live-Tweeting throughout the night, but if you can’t wait until Monday (January 29), read on for Duncan’s (our 2017 Furniture Designer of the Year!) top tips, from inspiration through installation.

Kate Duncan’s Shelley chair

1. On Inspiration: You Bake, She Ices

Duncan’s favourite part of custom design is harmonizing her client’s aesthetic vision with her woodworking know-how. She says that during a meeting with a client, she’s always thinking, “How is this actually going to get manufactured? What techniques am I going to use to make this joint or this design so it makes sense from a woodworking perspective?” Duncan loves when clients come in with an idea for a piece that she can adjust and add to. Working together is a major component of custom design: “It’s like they’ve got the cake, and I’m going to go in and ice it for them.”

Brent Combers’ Shattered console

2. On Manufacturing: Furniture Designers are People, Too

The biggest assumption clients make about custom furniture design? “They think it’s going to go fast…and it’s not going to go fast!” admits Duncan. “Everybody wants to know what day [the piece will be done], but because it is all handcrafted and one-of-a-kind, it’s really hard to say.” Clients will often forget about certain aspects of the process (like gathering lumber and hardware materials, finding storage space and the actual woodwork), but it’s important to remember that beautiful custom work doesn’t appear out of thin air—each part of the design process takes time.

Propellor Design’s Pia desk

3. On Installation: Move Your Shoes!

Just like the manufacturing process, there are parts of the installation process that clients often forget about. Moving and assembly can take time, and gathering equipment can be a lengthy and inconvenient task. Duncan talks about recently having to make three trips to install one cabinet: “In my woodshop I’ve got buckets and buckets of different bolts, but when I’m on site, the bolt I need is at [the hardware store].” Another important reminder from Duncan: move your shoes out of the way. “I have my two movers, me and my assistant…that’s four bodies plus a giant piece of furniture!” she says. Make room for the new piece and scan the space for tripping hazards, please and thanks!

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