Your home is an extension of your personal style, which means it can be tricky to find precisely what you’re looking for in a store sometimes. Designing and ordering custom furniture can provide you with a piece you’ll cherish for years (decades even!) to come and ultimately, help you to make your home feel more distinctly you. But where to begin?
For Fred Kukelhaus and Ben Young, founders of design firm Hugo & Hoby, customization is the key to designing a space that feels more special for its inhabitants. By working with local craftspeople, the duo also prioritizes sustainability, small businesses, and high-quality design—basically, they know how to optimize your customization.
Considering adding a one-of-a-kind piece to your home? Follow their advice for planning your custom project, how to balance its trade-offs, and why buying less furniture is actually a good thing.
Figure Out What to Customize
It’s likely you already have an idea of what your home needs, but when it comes to custom-made pieces specifically, Young and Kukelhaus tend to recommend a few key pieces. “It’s a personal decision, but there are certain areas where people congregate the most, and it depends on the layout of the home. For a living room, people are congregating around the coffee table. In a dining room, the dining table is the key feature where you’re entertaining,” Young says. “Elements that are focal points within the home are some of the best places to customize because those pieces can be real statement pieces.”
Since custom-made furniture requires an investment of time and money, it’s best that those pieces get plenty of use once they’re finished. That’s exactly why the duo suggests putting a little extra design work into places where either guests are entertained or where you spend a significant amount of time.
“A bed is another piece that I think makes a lot of sense to customize,” adds Kukelhaus. “There are so many mattress companies that promise this and that, but the actual bed should be aesthetically pleasing and do what you want it to do whether that revolves around storage or comfort or a certain height or angle. We don’t always think of it as a design piece, but I think it merits it, and you can get a lot of value from it.”
Consider the Trade-Offs
Everything comes at a price, though it might not always be financial. “There are always trade-offs between quality, cost, and time,” says Kukelhaus. “I think as you’re considering what you want to make, you’re really trying to maximize at least one of those things.”
When you’re working directly with a fabricator, you have the option to negotiate price, material, and timing, which can shift the cost (monetary, quality, or time) of your final product. “If you don’t have a huge budget but you want something that is really high quality, it might make sense to give yourself a long timeline where you’re working with a fabricator who you’ve asked, ‘Here’s what I want it—it doesn’t matter how long it takes to make it, just please try to fit it into your schedule if that’s going to help drop the price,’” Kukelhaus says.
The most expensive material might not be necessary to bring your project to fruition, and an extra-complicated design doesn’t always yield a better piece than a simpler option. When you strategize what’s important to you and discuss it with an expert, you can end up with an ideal output. “Really think about what is the most important,” he adds. “Is it getting a piece quickly? Is it getting [a] piece that maximizes the materials and the style? Or is it getting a piece that hits a certain price point?”
Plan the Scope of the Project
Another way to reduce the cost of a custom project? Don’t feel pressured to customize a piece from start to finish.“If you have a good idea of a piece that is very similar and is already conveyed by a fabricator that you really like and just want to make minor tweaks, that can be a really great way to save money,” says Young. “While you are getting a custom piece, you’re really only refining minor elements—a lot of the design work has already been done to make sure that it is functionally stable.”
Like a coffee table but wish its legs were just slightly different shapes? In need of an extra-long dining table but found a shorter one you’d like to base it off? Not a problem—custom projects like these can be easier (and cheaper) to tackle.
Go Local When You Can
In their commercial and residential work, Young and Kukelhaus hire local makers to craft the custom pieces they design, enabling them to oversee their projects step-by-step. But you don’t have to be a designer yourself to seek out this kind of help, in fact, there are likely plenty of carpenters, fabricators, and craftspeople of all kind wherever you live, and they can bring your ideas to fruition. “There are lots of amazing furniture makers all over the U.S., but there is a big advantage to working with a fabricator who is local to where someone lives because it gives the opportunity to potentially go to their shop and hear from them, learn from them, talk about the materials, and see the design in person,” says Young. “Also, to hear the amazing stories that some of these amazing furniture makers have is a great opportunity—I’d definitely recommend that.”
Buy Less All Around
The most surprising advice Young and Kukelhaus have to offer has nothing to do with customizing your furniture, but it does apply to your home at large: Buy fewer things. “When you are thoughtful about buying a quality custom or non-custom piece, the simplicity and beauty of that piece comes alive by having less things around it,” says Young. “I think it really helps people focus on that piece and creates a zen environment.”
Buying less doesn’t necessarily mean abiding by a minimalist style. You can still be a maximalist with fewer pieces of furniture when each piece in your home makes a statement that you love. When you love everything you own, your furniture will last for years.
“When you buy less, you can give yourself the opportunity to buy higher quality, he adds. “Our company, Hugo & Hoby, is named after our grandfathers, who were both furniture makers in their life. One of their philosophies is the idea that when you build a piece of furniture, you are building a piece that is going to last throughout a lifetime, so you had to really build it with such great quality that you can live and grow up with it, and then eventually maybe even pass down to a family member. The only way to do that is to focus on quality, be thoughtful, and to buy less, and when you do that, you ultimately get a space that has more.”
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