Commissioning a piece of furniture for your home may sound extravagant, but there are plenty of practical reasons for doing so.
You can create an object like no other that perfectly suits your needs, tastes, lifestyle and environment. You have full control over the materials that are used, so you can select ones that are sustainable, meaningful and rare. It’s an opportunity to spend your money on a maker you believe in, backing an independent creative business rather than a mass manufacturer.
Beyond these cerebral considerations is a romantic one: a handcrafted object is more than the sum of its parts – each joint, curve and groove tells a story about a technique, skill or
material. And when that object is made especially for you, you become part of that story and the piece becomes part of yours – an heirloom to treasure and pass on through generations.
Here are six designer-makers across the UK, from Yorkshire to London, who can help you realise your vision.
Founded by Soroush Pourhashemi in 2012, Lozi makes minimal wooden furniture by hand at its workshop in east London, offering clients a tightly curated range of finishes and details. Pourhashemi is an evangelist for bespoke design. ‘A beautiful piece of bespoke furniture can completely change people’s daily lives,’ he says. ‘It can simplify their routines, giving them more time, mental space and energy for more fulfilling aspects of their lives.’
His favourite project to date was at a one-bedroom flat of less than 18 square metres, for which the studio created a central piece of furniture that combined a kitchen island, day bed and sofa, storage, dining table and shelving in one. ‘Making the most of floors pace was essential,’ Pourhashemi says. ‘This is a perfect example of how bespoke design can revolutionise a space in a way that ready-made furniture never could.’ Beyond that, he adds, a bespoke object just feels different: ‘It’s like an extension of your personality; it’s something you want to talk about and keep for years to come.’ lozidesigns.com
‘It’s comforting to know that you have a unique piece of furniture that is special in its material and narrative, that is designed carefully and made with the dexterity and wit of fine craftsmanship,’ says Matthew Galvin, co-founder with his brother, Andrew, of East Yorkshire-based Galvin Brothers.
Together they have built on their father’s six decades of joinery and cabinet-making experience. When working on a commission, he says, he thinks about the specific location that a piece of furniture might sit in, as well as the stories and memories embedded in a person’s home. The client can select the timber they like best and witness its transformation from a raw material into a finished piece. ‘It also allows us to design and create something that has its own unique language and a conceptual narrative that connects it to the client. Often, we select special, rare and beautiful timbers to create something very distinct,’ Galvin adds.
A project for interior designer Sophie Ashby for anew apartment building in Greenwich is a casein point. The brothers created a long dining table using boards from a local supply of Brocklesby ash and developed a flexible, modular seating system, including bespoke leather cushions and bolsters. Clever joinery allowed the work to be installed up tight staircases. galvinbrothers.co.uk
‘Some of my favourite commissions have been from tree to piece,’ says Alice Blogg, describing her process of working with customers’ own trees – felling, planking and waiting years for the wood to dry, before starting to transform it.
‘It’s a special story to use wood from their land and turn it into something that will last for generations.’ One example of this is ‘Found’, a 12-seater dining-room table made with holly, oak and beech from the client’s forest. Another was made for a client in London out of local field maple. ‘The grain and movement in the wood is beautiful,’ she says. ‘The pieces of yew and cast bronze handles show the field maple’s stunning grain even more.’
Communication is crucial to her process, helping her fully understand the client’s requirements. ‘I like to see the space where the piece will sit and what it will be used for, so I understand where the customer is coming from,’ she says. After that, a certain amount of faith is needed: ‘Let the designer-maker do their magic – we’ve done it before, so let us take you on a journey.’ aliceblogg.co.uk
Byron & Gómez
‘The great thing about commissioning is that the whole process can be tailored to suit the client,’ says María del Mar Gómez, who foundedSomerset-based Byron & Gómez with Charles Byron. The pair marry together traditional craft techniques with computer-modelling technology to give clients a clear idea of what their completed piece will look like. With commissioning, though, part of the magic is ending up with something that looks like nothing you’ve seen before. ‘No two trees are exactly the same – it would be a shame if they were,’ Gómez says. One of her favourite commissions had exactly this element of surprise. ‘We had worked with the client before, so we already had a good relationship. When he asked us to design a drinks trolley, we had the confidence to propose a few completely different things as well and he ended up choosing a sideboard with a curved tambour front, which fitted the brief but not in the way he was expecting,’ she says. ‘When you commission a piece of furniture, you end up with something that fits just right, that has a story and also stands the test of time.’ byronandgomez.co.uk
‘The moment of delivery is often nerve-wracking for me, but my client’s delight and awe at their unique, handcrafted item makes me grateful to be able to do what I do,’ says furniture designer-maker Namon Gaston, who is based near Edinburgh.
The big reveal is invariably exciting, but the most rewarding part of a bespoke commission for both him and the client is working together to bring an idea to life. ‘I enjoy sharing the process and inviting clients to the workshop, explaining the intricacies of their piece,’ he says.
For a whisky cabinet commissioned as a 50th birthday present, he made a fifth-scale working model to convey how it might look. The final object was made in a palette of Scottish materials, including sycamore, walnut and Durness marble.‘Using these rare materials added intensity to the piece,’ Gaston says. More than that, a bespoke item of furniture is the physical embodiment of a personal sentiment: ‘A commissioned piece will feel part of your life in a way something from a shop never could.’ namongaston.com
‘A maker can help you realise your dreams,’ says London-based Jan Hendzel, whose studio balances technical complexity with wit and humour. Its clients range from architects and interior designers looking for a unique way to furnish their projects to individuals who haven’t been able to find an off-the-peg solution – and it caters its service to the person involved, whether that means working from professional drawings or rough ideas jotted down on paper. ‘We encourage lots of conversation throughout the design process,’ he says.
The studio prides itself on its eco-credentials – it started out using reclaimed timbers found within the city and continues to source all its wood sustainably through British suppliers. It also uses special commissions as an opportunity to experiment – as it did with a series of valet stands for Birch, the members’ club and hotel in Hertfordshire. Ultimately, a commission represents the relationship between a client and a maker. ‘The more clients understand about the process, the more satisfied they will be,’ Hendzel says. janhendzel.com
How to commission your perfect bespoke piece
Every craftsperson has a distinctive aesthetic, so spend time trying to pinpoint a maker whose visual language you like. Social media, websites and word-of-mouth recommendations are a good place to start, but it’s always worth having a conversation to see if you click before committing to a piece.
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT
Work out what you need or the problem you’re trying to solve, as well as the aesthetics and ethics you’re seeking. A maker should clarify how much input you can have in the final design, how many times and when you can ask for changes, and how much these will cost.
KNOW YOUR BUDGET
Decide roughly how much you want to spend and have a realistic budget. Some designers will suggest various options to help you narrow down your choice, but anyone you work with should be transparent about costs, so there are no surprises. Shop around for a better understanding.
FIND A WAY TO COMMUNICATE
Your brief and the process can be as prescriptive or hands-off as you like, but be open about your expectations. Designers can use a mix of drawings, CAD, samples and progress photos to keep you informed and help you grapple with the options. Visiting a maker’s studio can be the most satisfying and effective way to understand each other.
RELY ON YOUR MAKER’S EXPERTISE
They have been involved in many projects and will have insights and ideas that will help bring your ideas to life in the best possible way. Make sure you trust who you work with, then keep an open mind.
This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration December 2020
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