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Custom vs ready-made furniture: 6 things to consider before making a decision

Consider these factors when deciding whether to get store-bought or custom-made furniture for your home.

Text by Louisa Clare Lim

When it comes to designing and furnishing your space, there is no right or wrong in deciding whether to buy or go bespoke. It’s a matter of discerning what suits you best based on certain conditions. The obvious advantage, with custom-made designs, is that you not only get to infuse your personality into a design, but you have complete control over all aspects of it, such as proportions, material finishes, budget and even the production timeline. And these days, you can get almost anything tailor-made for a perfect fit, including built-in carpentry for wardrobes and kitchens, as well as loose furniture pieces that can dramatically enhance your interiors.

custom vs ready made furniture - design by Joey Khu ID (2)

Design by Joey Khu ID

Store-bought furniture also has its plus points. Whether it’s a sofa, desk or bed, or even modular storage systems, it’s generally ‘low-risk’ – what you see is what you get. There is also a plethora of tried-and-tested options in the market, from antique store finds to heritage classics and designer pieces. So if an item you want is readily available for purchase, there’s no reason to hesitate getting it. But there are other factors to consider, too, in coming to a conclusion. We speak with several interior designers to find out more.

#1 Form and function

custom vs ready made furniture - design by Design Intervention

Design by Design Intervention

For a particular look or style, or even function, if it’s something really specific that you seek, you might have to go bespoke. But also because ideas and trends travel across the world instantly, and one can easily get anything and everything one desires, it is more challenging to be and stay unique. This has seen exclusivity becoming the new luxury, says Nikki Hunt, founder of Design Intervention. “What can be more exclusive than a bespoke or artisan-made item? We can not only select the colours and materials, but can also ensure the optimum size, shape and proportion to complement the scale of each space. Furthermore, the issue of comfort is a personal one, and a bespoke piece will afford a palette of options so you can create a piece that is perfect for you,” she says.

#2 Speed/lead time

custom vs ready made furniture - design by Cameron Woo Design (2)

Design by Cameron Woo Design

Do you require the item in a hurry or can you wait? Usually, furniture not from current stock at retail stores requires an eight to 12-week delivery schedule. “For local manufacture of furniture, the item can be fabricated in six to eight weeks, depending on the materials and finishes specified,” says Cameron, founder of Cameron Woo Design. Therefore, if you have a short lead time and there’s nothing in stock you like, custom-made furniture can help speed up the process.

#3 Quality

custom vs ready made furniture - design by Elliot James Interior (2)

Design by Elliot James Interior

If you opt for custom-made, ensure that you find the best craftsmen and do your quality checks on the materials and finishes. “Many places offer bespoke or custom-made, but then misinterpret a design or style and you end up with a poor imitation of what you really wanted,” says Elliot Barratt, managing director of Elliot James Interiors. “But when buying off-the-shelf, you are guaranteed to get exactly what you pay for. However, if the store-bought piece is cheaply made, you run the risk of it falling apart on you. “Ready-made furniture is often made using mass production materials. They do not have the same quality and durability as a custom piece, although because of their composition, they are also more lightweight and therefore easier to move around,” says Joey Khu, founder of Joey Khu ID.

#4 Affordability

custom vs ready made furniture - design by Cameron Woo Design

Design by Cameron Woo Design

“For the most part, store-bought furniture is easier to replace, and typically costs less than bespoke pieces; although, not necessarily by as much as you might think,” says Joey. “Because factored into the price you pay for ready-made furniture are the cost of materials, running the factories, transportation and profits. Taking these things into account, you may find that having a custom-designed piece, of higher durability and quality, is not that much more expensive after all.” And when it comes to luxury furniture, retail prices in Singapore can be 30 to 100 per cent more than equivalent bespoke pieces designed and supplied by interior designers, says Cameron. “This is why many showflats are fitted out with predominantly custom-designed furniture with a few retail pieces to stretch the budget,” he adds.

#5 Space planning

custom vs ready made furniture - design by Joey Khu ID

Design by Joey Khu ID

Irregular shaped rooms, awkward corners and small spaces especially benefit from customised designs. “A custom-made fit-out conforms exactly to any spatial requirements and maximise the potential use of space in an area,” says Joey. On the other hand, with the many modular design options in the market – be it sofas or display shelving –  it’s not to say that you would not be able to find something that might fit your space decently, too.

#6 Sustainability

custom vs ready made furniture - design by Elliot James Interior

Design by Elliot James Interior

“Those who have a preference for purchasing sustainable, environmentally responsible pieces should consider retail brands that are certified,” advises Cameron. An increasing number of brands are implementing sustainable processes and techniques, as well as making use of eco-friendly materials, as part of their company policies – as opposed to the nature of fabricating a one-off design. “Also, if you buy from a well-known brand, it is likely that you can sell your furniture in the future if you wish,” says Elliot, so it can have a new lease of life with someone else. If sustainability is important to you, he offers an idea: purchase antique pieces and give them an overhaul with new fabrics or update certain features, to get a classic icon with a personalised, contemporary edge.

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