Beautiful interior spaces are products of time, thought and variety — time to acquire the right pieces and pull it all together, and thought to determine what a space can be, how it should look, the mood it should evoke. Variety, though, is tough to get right.
Warm, inviting, interesting decor often balances a mix of styles, colors, patterns and textures to create those lived-in yet stylish spaces where all the elements "go with" each other but don't necessarily "match."
Variety run amok results in a mishmash of elements that clash, which is why most homeowners not teamed up with an interior designer turn to "room collections" presented by home-furnishings catalogs and retailers. Typically developed by design professionals, these collections offer a shortcut to the decorator look.
Still, for those who want to balance a mix of furniture-store pieces with something truly unique, custom manufacturing is one solution. Antiques are also a great way to personalize a space, but finding the right piece, the right size, with the right finish, could take years.
And what if you're 6 feet 5 inches like me and can't find a sofa that's long enough to stretch out on for a nap? Or maybe you've got an awkward space to fill. Older city houses are often narrow, while new homes in the suburbs feature large, furniture-swallowing rooms.
To provide for stylistic and dimensional needs, a few area retailers offer custom services, and a handful of local furniture makers — who work mostly with design professionals — will also do business with homeowners to design and construct one-of-a-kind custom pieces.
Shoemaker Country in Ellicott City has been providing custom furniture solutions since 2002.
"People see things in magazines or catalogs and they love the concept, but it doesn't fit their space or has the wrong finish, so they get inspired to have a custom piece made," says owner John Shoemaker.
In Baltimore furniture makers and upholsters such as Bayne's Quality Custom Furniture, Fox Custom Upholstering, Gutierrez Studios, Ibello Upholstery, Luke Works, Mitchell Yanosky, Ultimate Upholstery and others offer consumers a 100 percent custom option.
Common requests include dining and occasional tables, chairs, entertainment centers, wall units, shelving and storage.
Another typical request is to replicate existing pieces. Say you inherited a set of four antique chairs but have a dining table that seats 10. A good furniture maker can build six more chairs that match the antiques right down to the finish and wear-marks.
No matter what the custom need, it's still more common for an interior designer to initiate such work, likely because the pros are more comfortable than homeowners with the process of specifying custom furnishings.
For that reason, Ed Yanosky, who runs Mitchell Yanosky with Brent Mitchell, recommends working with a design professional to help plan a custom piece.
"It is always best to work with a designer," he says. "Someone not in the design trade has a hard time verbalizing what they want. Designers will come with drawings, fabrics and renderings of the room, but with retail clients we're typically starting with a lot less information."
"Working with a designer will prevent mistakes in scale, finish, wood types, texture," says Yanosky. "Costly mistakes. With custom work, once it is finished you're stuck with it."
Still, approaching custom furniture as a consumer is not out of reach, and David Wiesand, owner of McLain Wiesand, which does custom work for designers and consumers throughout the area, even goes so far as to encourage it.
"I love having clients who are willing to take the chance to have something made," he says. "There is a definite leap of faith for them to go from a sketch of something to ordering the final piece."
For folks confident in their ability to spec out a custom piece without the go-between of an interior designer, good communication is key — the more the better. Ideas, sketches, magazine clippings, photographs of your space, fabric swatches and paint chips will all help the furniture maker understand what you want.
Shoemaker recommends making precise measurements.
"The process is much more efficient if you have good dimensions of the space and, for something like an entertainment cabinet, the dimensions of the TV and other electronics you want to put into the piece."
A trick Wiesand suggests that would work for any furniture purchase is to tape out the size of the piece on the floor where you plan to position it.
Just as communicating dimensions and stylistic preferences is necessary, it's also important to discuss cost early on. It's unrealistic to think a one-of-a-kind piece of handcrafted furniture with a custom finish is going to be competitively priced with mass-produced furniture store pieces. Still, Shoemaker says that the prices for many of the custom pieces produced by his company are competitive with comparably built American-made furniture.
What ultimately makes custom furnishings special is that they are different. Wiesand draws an analogy between furniture and clothing. Because of the copious sizes available today, there's really no reason to have your clothing custom-made. And yet, many men, for example, still treat themselves to custom suits, selecting the fabric, having the garments made exactly to their specifications. The result is a perfect fit, without designer labels or logos, that just looks great.
For people who value their home environment, custom furnishings achieve the same effect. While nothing specifically identifies the piece as custom, it is perfectly proportioned to the room and other furnishings. In other words, it just fits.
Dennis Hockman is the editor of Chesapeake Home magazine. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Custom furniture makers
Here are a few local resources for custom-designed furniture, but there are many more in the Baltimore region.
Mitchell Yanosky, 3537 Clipper Mill Road, Baltimore, 410-467-2211; mitchellyanosky.com
Shoemaker Country, 8095 Main St., Ellicott City, 410-461-5552; shoemakercountry.net
McLain Wiesand, 1013 Cathedral St., Baltimore, 410-539-4440; mclainwiesand.com