/bɪˈspəʊk/ adjective made for a particular customer or user, customised.
Bespoke or customised furniture is made-to-order furniture, that meets the exact specifications and wishes of the customer. It truly reflects their style and fits perfectly into their home layout. If you are looking for something special and unique, that was made only for you then bespoke furniture is the way to go.
Bespoke furniture is also a great way to make perfect usage of a space, especially for storage. Odd corners and angles in a room can be used perfectly with something that precisely fits the space. This is especially useful in small and older houses like in Amsterdam.
Things you should know before you order bespoke furniture
Which room / space is it going into?
What are the dimensions supposed to be? Even having a rough idea at this point is a great place to start.
Do you have a preference in terms of material? What colours do you prefer, is there a particular type of wood you would like to use? Even just knowing light or dark wood helps the maker narrow the choices.
Is there a certain aesthetic style or design language you prefer? Maybe you don’t know how to describe it, do you have a picture of something you like? Bring it along to the discussion.
Is there existing furniture in your space that the new one should complement? It could be the way its built, elements like handles, or the wood type. Bring pictures along.
What kind of details are you looking for? If its a cabinet, should it have doors, drawers, or should it be open shelves?
What is the purpose of the furniture? If its a cabinet, what will you be storing in it? Often a maker will be able to help you with the exact layout better if she knows what needs to fit where.
Have you had similar furniture in the past? What did you like or dislike about it? This is a great way to flesh out exactly what the new one should or shouldn’t include.
What does Bespoke Furniture cost?
This is a question (usually the first) that I get asked very often. Unfortunately the answer to this question isn’t as straightforward as naming a price. Customised furniture means every project is new and different and there are many aspects to consider while calculating what it will cost.
The design & making cost
Since I am going to be making the furniture piece myself, the number of hours that I spend on it determine the design & making cost. This includes the planning of the project, making the drawings, ordering the materials, and researching the hardware . Ofcourse the actual making of the furniture in the workshop makes up about 90% of these costs. Consider that some materials take longer to process or certain finishes take longer to apply.
The Material cost
The furniture piece will obviously be made out of wood, include some sort of hardware and be finished with oil or lacquer. The material cost of the bespoke furniture includes all these aspects. As a customer you also pay for the delivery of the materials, other workshop materials like sandpaper or finishing accessories, and fasteners like screws that are used in the furniture.
The delivery & INSTALLATION cost
Once the furniture is ready in the workshop, it has to be delivered to the customer. The cost of delivery depends on the size and weight of the furniture piece. I sometimes hire an additional moving company to help with large items. The installation price of the piece can vary depending on how the furniture piece fits into the customers house. In case of a free standing sideboard it might be just an hour of unpacking, hanging the doors and installing the drawers. In case of a fitted storage solution or a staircase railing, it might even take multiple days.
My philosophy about Bespoke Furniture
I enjoy working with customers to design and find the perfect furniture solution to meet their needs. My education in furniture design, ergonomics and carpentry ensure I have the know-how to advise and help my customers make an informed decision. I try to find a balance between cost and quality. I believe that even though good quality costs more, it is worth the investment because it is sure to last longer and will create fewer problems in usage. According to me, quality materials, strong joinery and the right know-how build great furniture that stand the test of time.
Bespoke furniture is a sustainable solution to furniture production since there is minimum to no material wastage. The furniture is exactly what you want, so there is no compromise on the design and you are not tempted to throw it away to replace it with something better. My know-how as a professional carpenter means I build quality furniture that will last a lifetime and can be passed down from generation to generation.
I also provide customers with wood and finish samples for them to visualise it better. If needed, I order samples from my suppliers that customers can feel and touch, and take home to consider. I also make scaled drawings and 3D visualisations during the design phase. Realistic timelines and strict deadlines is what I offer my clients.
This post talks about a couple of joinery systems I use while building furniture of different types. These can be permanent glued joints or knock-down joints that can be reopened for easy transportation and moving. Each system has it’s own pros and cons and areas of application apart from being differently priced. Careful selection of the correct joinery system ensures strong furniture that is built to last. I have mentioned some use cases and examples of how I have used them in my work.
Lamello biscuits made of ca. 4mm thick Beech wood are elliptical in shape and come in different sizes. They can be used at intervals to connect 2 pieces of wood, using a lamello router to make the appropriate cuts in the material. They can be applied to join solid wood and wood based boards in simple butt joints or mitred joints. They add strength with additional glue area and help to align the workpieces forming an invisible, strong joint.
Domino dowels are a hybrid of round dowels and traditional wooden tenons. They are flattened pieces of beech wood in different thicknesses and lengths, to be used depending on the dimensions of the workpiece. They are used to join panels, but also for frames and wooden structures as a replacement for a tenon-and-mortise joint. It creates strong, invisible joints with the help of glue. The pockets for the domino dowels are made with a special Domino router machine.
I have used Domino dowels extensively in the base structure of the Ashwood Cabinets, as well as other projects like a staircase railing and balcony railing made out of solid wood.
Clamex connectors are similarly shaped to wooden Lamellos, but are made of plastic with a small lever on the male part to lock the two. The two components can be closed and opened multiple times, making the clamex a great connector for knock-down furniture. The lever is accessed through an almost invisible 6mm hole. Clamex connectors can be used on wooden boards for butt joints as well as mitre joints and are extremely useful while gluing mitre joints due to their immense strength. The groove for the Clamex connectors is made using a special Clamex router by hand or on a CNC machine.
I often use Clamex connectors when assembling large mitred cabinets like the Sideboard, or for ease of dismantling like in the CD Shelf. Clamex connectors can also be used to join 2 parts of a furniture like I did in the Tea Cabinet.
Joinery systems developed by industry leaders help cabinet makers speed up processes making furniture more affordable and accessible to everyone. Traditional joinery techniques take longer to produce and sometimes do not have applications like being knock down. There are many other methods and hardware that have been developed, the ones above are the systems I have experience with and trust. They make for strong, reliable joints that create furniture that will last a lifetime and can be passed down from generation to generation.
The images below show examples of how I have used this joinery.
Most of my ideas and concepts usually begin with a simple sketch. If I am excited by it, I explore variations in proportions, size and composition. I include details and find the best way to join two or more materials. I flesh out the joinery and the sizes of cross sections of various elements like legs or aprons.
I can play with adding colour, or using multiple types of wood in one piece. I sketch out ideas for hardware that I would like to use or the placement of handles and hinges. I also analyse all the use cases and see if the piece is functional.
CAD Drawing & 3D Model
Once I am happy with how the piece is going to look and what details to add, I make a CAD drawing using a computer software. This helps me iron out the proportions, the functioning of moving parts, flesh out details and play with colours and finishes.
In addition I have a working drawing to reference while building the piece and can calculate material needs and costs. When working with a client, the 3D model and drawing make it easier to explain the project, and for the client to imagine the piece.
Wood is a natural material and has beautiful nuances and differences to its appearance. No two pieces of wood are the same, and the art of wood selection lies in choosing the perfect raw material to fit your furniture.
The best way is to actually go to the lumber yard and look at what is available. As far as possible, I try to choose material that comes from sustainable and responsible sources.
Full Scale Drawing
A full scale drawing always helps to understand proportions and allows tweaking while seeing real life thicknesses of materials and referencing textures.
Here I drew both cabinets side by side on a piece of cardboard. This helped me feel confident about the proportions I had chosen on the drawing software. I could compare how the two cabinets related to each other and whether they work as a set.
Breaking Down Larger Panels & Logs
Once the raw material that I had selected at the lumber yard was delivered, I had to break down the large sheets and solid wood planks into usable sizes. This is when the cutlist I had prepared in the design phase comes in handy.
At this phase it is crucial to pay attention to the wood grain for both veneered panel as well as solid wood. I cut my panels for the doors and carcass with extreme attention to how the final grain layout would look later. In case of waterfall edges, the cut pieces must be marked to avoid confusion. For the solid wood I used on the legs, I made sure I had the right orientation of rift vs quatersawn so that I had a more delicate grain showing on the outside. Structurally, the grain also plays a huge role while laying out joinery.
I also made solidwood 5mm edge banding that I would use to seal the edges of the plywood.
After the veneered boards were cut to final size, the 5mm thick solid ash edge banding is applied to protect and seal the plywood edges. This is done with wood glue and tape, working fast and pulling the tape extremely tight to avoid unsightly gaps between board and edgeband. The aim is to have a seamless, even board as an end product.
The glue is left to dry for atleast 24 hours before the edgebanding can be trimmed to the thickness of the board. There are multiple ways and methods of doing this, I use a table router with a flush trim bit, and do the last 0,5mm by hand with a card scraper. This gives me more control and I have a perfect finish.
Cutting Mitres & Testing Waterfall Woodgrain
After trimming the edgebanding, it’s time to cut the 45 degree mitred corners of both the cabinets. I had to take care to cut precisely and carefullly to achieve a nice clean edge after gluing up.
Mitred edges are perfect to show off grain, and I made sure to have a continuous ‘Waterfall’ grain around around every corner.
I also marked out and routed the joinery for the central divider at this point, since the machine would not be able to fit into the interior of the cabinet once it was glued together.
I wanted to use simple black butt hinges for the cabinets since they were easy to install and had a very simple look. I liked how the black bar broke the pale yellow of the Ash. I first did a test fit on some spare offcuts to see how they worked and how deep I had to cut into the sides to fit them perfectly.
In order to rout the pockets that would house the hinges, I made myself a plywood jig that I could clamp onto the side and use a router with a copy ring set to the correct depth to rout the pocket.
Testing Different Stains
I wanted to experiment with contrasting the pale yellow of the Ash on the outside with a strong black stain on the inside. In order to find the perfect product, I tried out many different samples until I was happy with the result.
Solid Wood Base
The cabinets stand on a base made from square sections of solid Ash wood. They also have a small slatted tray at the bottom to keep various items like magazines or books, or simply just cushions.
I cut the pieces to length and marked the places where I would cut the joinery. I cut all the joinery making sure to check for correct grain orientation. For the tray I prefinished the slats before gluing it up. As for the legs, I first glued up the entire frame and then applied the oil. This has mainly to do with accessibility of smaller parts and making sure the joinery and finishing are neat and clean.
As part of the design principle of contrast and asymmetry one of the slats is wider, and would also be stained black to emphasize this irregularity.
At this stage I temporarily put the entire piece together (called a dry fit, due to lack of glue used) to make sure everything fit, and also to get a better picture of what the final cabinet would look like.
There is always a possibility to change a detail at this stage, or correct a mistake. Trying to do so after finishing is extremely difficulty, not to mention the lost time of having finished something that doesn’t fit together, or that you are not happy with.
I also wanted to test fit the cabinet to make sure that I liked the idea of having a black interior and light exterior. After this I could dismantle everything and move on to the first round of finishing.
Staining & Finishing the Insides
I could then finally sand and prepare all the necessary material for the first round of staining and finishing. This included the inside of the cabinets and the slatted tray at the bottom of the leg frame. The rest would be sanded and finished in a later stage.
In order to avoid getting black stain on the outside of the cabinet, I had to protect it by sticking paper on it with tape. This is again a time consuming process, but definitely extremely important to be able to finish the insides in a timely manner. Edges that will later receive glue have to be covered with tape as well, as seen here the mitre edges.
The surfaces were stained twice and oiled once, or oiled twice if they were to stay the natural Ash colour.
Once the oil has dried and hardened on the various components, they can be glued up in their final assemblies. In some cases, it takes place in multiple steps like with the base of the cabinet. Here I first glued up the tray at the bottom and the cross ties that support the cabinet. As a second step I connected these two parts by gluing the 4 legs to them.
Care has to be taken to glue up in the correct order and orientation and cauls are used to protect the furniture from pressure marks from the clamps. Cauls also evenly distribute the pressure from the clamps. Corners are checked to see if the structure is at 90 degrees, and any excess glue squeeze out is cleaned up.
Fitting Doors & Shelves
Once the carcass of the cabinets was ready, the glue having dried for atleast 24 hours, I could start fitting the doors.
The hinge pockets on the doors had been routed along with the pockets on the sides of the cabinet. I could now fit hinges to both cabinet and door and then work on removing material on the doors until they fit perfectly.
Fitting the doors essentially entails making sure the doors have an even reveal (gap) on all sides, towards the carcass as well as towards each other. And ensuring that they open and closed well. In my case, this was a 3mm gap, which I checked with a 3mm spacer.
This is quite a time consuming task, and requires a lot of back and forth until the desired result is achieved.
Once the doors were running smoothly, I cut the shelves that go into the cabinet to size and fitted them as well.
Handcut Dovetail Drawers
The last feature of the Ash cabinets was one handcut dovetailed drawer for each cabinet. For this I measured the exact dimensions of the available space and prepared my 12mm solid Ash stock.
The dovetails are scribed onto the sides of the drawers, first sawn by hand, and then the material is removed with a sharp chisel. These dovetails are then referenced onto the corresponding front and back of the drawer and then cut out as well.
The entire box is then carefully fitted together, removing material wherever needed. Dovetails are a very strong method of making a corner joint, and no hardware is needed. A slot or rebate is made at the bottom to fit a base into the drawer.
Once the individual pieces are sanded and oiled, the drawers can be glued together with the help of clamps. Again, care must be taken that all corners are perfectly square.
For this project, I wanted to make handles for the drawer and doors myself. I wanted to experiment using a new material and decided to use black leather.
To keep the minimalist harmony of the black hinges, I made the door handle in the same look and size by wrapping the leather around a 6mm wooden dowel. An extra length was then attached to the side of the door. I only made one handle per cabinet.
For the drawers I just made a simple long tug of leather that is attached to the interior of the drawer.
Final Finishing & Assembly
The last step was to disassemble all the doors, handles and shelves, and do one last round of sanding.
I then finished all surfaces with two coats of Osmo Hardwax Oil, making sure to really rub the oil into the surface to get a nice smooth finish.
I then reassembled the cabinets, doors and handles. And finally I could attach the cabinet to the base.
I enjoy staging and taking pictures of my products quite a lot. I use a simple set up of a white paper or HPL sheet as a back drop and natural lighting from a window.
I use accessories like books, bowls, cups, glasses or alcohol bottles to add life and colour into the images. These objects also help to illustrate the functionality and size of the piece.
In order to showcase the Ash cabinets, I took lots of pictures of the various details and features, but also of the two cabinets side by side.
You can see final images of the Ashwood Cabinets, view the Portfolio Page The Ashwood Cabinets are available for sale, for more Info visit my Webshop