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2014 CustomMade scholarship recipient:
Raghda Maaliki
Rhode Island School of Design, Class of 2016

Why Custom Made Furniture is the Better Option

In my bedroom stands a three-legged asymmetrical coffee table.

A strong divide of color is present in this piece; part of the table is dyed black while the other portion remains the natural oak color. As a result, one of the table legs is black, another the natural beige tone of the wood, and the third is two laminated pieces from each color. This divide between the two tones wraps around the entire table in a clear, distinct line, showing through in the tabletop, stretchers and legs. No two pieces of wood in the table are the same; the tabletop is composed of two trapezoids where one is larger than the other while the stretchers are all different lengths and the legs are all cut at different angles. The edges present are chamfered, including the edge between the two adjoining pieces in the tabletop. This edge treatment provides a softer edge to feel and grab onto, and creates a visual break in the sharpness of the piece.

I custom made this table about a year ago as a sophomore in the furniture design program at the Rhode Island School of Design to fit within the parameters of my bedroom; the trapezoids in the tabletop reflect the shapes of my walls due to my extremely slanted ceilings and the table is low to the ground, making it more portable and applicable to different parts of the room. While I was in the process of making it, I had an epiphany: if my table were to be a product instead of a custom made piece, I would have to change the design dramatically to increase efficiency and lower cost of production. In doing this, the table would lose its uniqueness that sets it so far apart from mainstream furniture. I have made several pieces since then and the importance of handmade pieces has sunk in more and more with each one I produce. I realized early on that with mass-produced furniture, uniqueness is not at all a factor; the premise behind such products is that they are simple in appearance and in construction so that it’s easier for these pieces to work alongside others in a space and so as to be able to manufacture plenty of them. This brings the cost of the product down and it is therefore available to a larger group of people. But unique, handmade pieces of furniture have the potential to be custom made for specific spaces, adding to their sense of belonging and permanence versus the temporary furniture of today that is made to break. Furniture that is custom made is more durable and has a better chance of being useful for a longer period of time due to the sentimental value it acquires, not just in its obtainment but also the memories it will attain over the years. Additionally, buying furnishings from a maker supports their work and their passions and in turn sustains the “other” kind of furniture that breaks away from typical, mass-produced furniture. A maker is also present to satisfy a client’s individual needs, whereas buying furniture online or at a store does not provide so much attention to the customer.

Having pieces made to one’s specific needs is possibly the most attractive reason to buy custom furniture. Rather than buying ready-made pieces, a furniture maker can build furnishings that are particular to a space or to house specific objects, adding a certain level of comfort to the buyer’s home or workspace. They can also solve problems a client may have through building a piece in a certain way, such as a dining table that can comfortably sit a certain number of people or a coffee table that is just the right length. Most importantly, furniture makers are incredibly knowledgeable in their own respective fields, much more so than designers who purely design and do not make. They have not only been through training, but have most likely been apprentices at some point in their lives and have worked under a maker who is older and wiser. In this way, the tricks of the trade are passed down through learning and building. As a result, furniture makers are well versed in how to best build a piece, what material to use, what joinery is the strongest and most appropriate, etc. due to the fact that they are likely to have much more experience in building furniture. Although designers may have initially been through similar training, they are often out of practice in the process of physically making furniture and this can hinder the durability of their designs. Other than this, the materials that “common” furniture utilizes are different than what makers use in that they are often cheaper to produce and will deteriorate quicker.

Furniture that is custom made is more likely to last longer. More often than not, mass-produced furniture cannot stand the test of time due to the quick and efficient manner in which the individual parts are put together. Custom made pieces are handled with specialized and individual care, providing a setup for quality pieces that are resilient. As a result, a handmade piece is less likely to be thrown out and has a higher chance of being passed down through generations, becoming a platform for memories and tradition within a family. This creates a sentimental attachment to a piece, versus the potentially indifferent feelings that can be had towards a piece of furniture that was made in another country and shipped to the local department store.

Buying this type of furniture also supports small businesses and craftsmen in their trades. True craft is an art, and as it goes with most art, craft is hard to fund and make a proper living off of. Through buying from a small business, one fuels future creativity and passion for unique furnishings in a world of mass-produced, “common” furniture. This type of making deviates from a certain commonality in furniture that is omnipresent; the rectangular coffee table on four legs made from cardboard composites, the knock-off Eames plastic mold chair, etc. A maker is passionate and experienced in their craft, and this will always show through in their work. By purchasing a custom made piece, a buyer is able to share another’s passion and let it radiate within a home or workspace as a piece that they can truly be proud of.

It is understandable why many would look to furniture stores to furnish their lives; costs and simplicity can be very big factors in deciding which furniture to buy for a space. However, this type of purchase helps keep a certain level of variety in what furniture looks like today and in the future, especially with the overwhelming emergence and expansion of cheap, mass-produced furniture. Additionally, supporting furniture makers by purchasing custom made pieces provides a platform for personalized, exclusive pieces. I often feel a sense of pride when I look at my coffee table and realize how well it works in the space it resides in and I feel confident in the fact that I can pass it down to my children. Most importantly, I understand that I would never be able to find another piece of furniture that would fit the space better; this custom made piece was the perfect fit.