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How Custom-Built Furniture Can Solve Problems in Your Home

Being visual people, our minds are always conjuring up ideas and visions. At bed time we often wish for an ‘OFF’ switch in order to fall asleep—after all, tomorrow is another day. But, some of our best ideas have come during those sleepless hours, and one idea for a client actually came in a dream, true story!

Custom furniture and designs basically fill two voids. Sometimes a custom piece is driven by function and other times by style. For example, you might have a need for a storage piece, but the room has awkward spaces or is broken up by windows. You search and search for the right piece to fit into one of those nooks, but nothing has the right scale or dimensions, or the look you are after. This is the perfect time to custom design something that solves that functional void. Other times customization may arise out of a desire for a totally unique design or wanting to match or compliment an existing piece or feature in your home, in other words, to capture a ‘style.’ When style is your goal, with no space restraints, your options are only limited by your imagination.

As a designer, coming up with the ‘right’ custom design has no set formula or laid out process. Literally you can walk into a room and immediately have an epiphany. The room or space just speaks to you and you know exactly what to do. That’s the upside, and also the one that can get us into trouble, which occasionally does happen (once in a blue moon). Clients often get the impression that is how it always works—not so much.

The reality is that it usually goes this way:

I walk into a room, the client says, “What do you envision for our custom built-ins?” Mind you, I have been in their room for 45 seconds and literally am just taking it all in. If I show my hand, and admit I have no vision yet, they might think I’m not a good designer or lack creative genius. So I tell them I have some thoughts, nothing concrete, and I need to mull it over. That’s where those sleepless nights come into play, the mind just won’t shut off! As I digest the space, visions start popping into my head. Not all of them are good, but as I continue to process them, I weed out the weakest and then it’s time to put pencil to paper. ALWAYS pencil, as going through erasers AND graphite in design and development is all part of a good process.

Below are a project's before, during and after photos for custom-designed, built-in wall units we completed for a client. Their only criteria was they did not want built-ins that were the typical shelves over closed-door cabinets on both sides of a fireplace which were so over used in the 80’s and 90’s.’ This is one case where I walked into their room and immediately had a vision of how I wanted to achieve that goal for them. Do not ask me how or why a quick epiphany happens, it just does sometimes. A side note I want to add… We are also fortunate to work with a very skilled and creative cabinet maker—Chuck Harnack, with whom we have worked for over 30 years. Chuck is able to decipher our visions and make them a reality. We never have to worry that our vision will be misinterpreted or worse, altered by a large ego.

BEFORE: My client had their fireplace refaced, but needed storage for their media and a place to display family photos and accessories collected on travels. They did not want typical built in shelves with cupboard doors below as they had just ripped those out.

DESIGN PHASE: This is my final drawing of my vision that I then handed off to my cabinet-maker to build. The up right supports are iron and the storage components are made from rift cut oak and stained to my specifications. Each unit is anchored to the wall at the top and secured to the floor as well.

AFTER: This was taken shortly after installation, so not accessorized yet. These custom built-ins not only provide great function, they add so much character and dimension to the room, drawing your eye up to take in the high ceilings. Although my client admits today they didn’t completely understand my vision from my drawing, somehow they trusted me enough to proceed. I have to say that alone was quite humbling. They also are absolutely thrilled with the end result. Nothing is more gratifying than clients who are truly excited about what we do for them.

If you have a chance to browse our website, you will see a category in our portfolio devoted to Custom furniture and designs. Some of these pieces were created because of space constraints and to solve a problem, and others to create something totally unique and special for our clients. In addition to creating wonderfully new pieces, we are also able to modify and alter existing built-ins or cabinets in our ever- changing world of big screen TVs.

Below is a before photo of a large media cabinet custom built in the mid 80’s for a client. Originally they wanted to scrap it and have something new made. Always exciting when we get to put our creative juices to work and design something new.

Well, unfortunately the husband had a strong attachment to this very large and dated media cabinet, and wanted me to figure out a way to salvage and reuse it. As you can see the entire thing was filled with giant sized speaker panels that were unsightly. I will admit at first I was very disappointed. I had no idea how I was going to transform this monster cabinet into something pretty, primarily because I wasn’t even sure what could or not be done as far as construction without sacrificing the integrity of the cabinet. So I will give much of the credit to the outcome of this project to our furniture maker Chuck Harnack. I had Chuck come out to assess the cabinet and advise me on what my options were.

With his knowledge and expertise, I was then able to start developing a plan of attack. Chuck suggested literally gutting the entire middle section! That opened the door to really making a difference. Below is the end result of our joint efforts. The rejuvenated cabinet now looks like a piece of furniture. We filled in the side speaker panels with wood panels. The new interior of the cabinet looks like a piece of furniture instead of speaker central. It provides the client with storage for media and shelves to display art and books. The linen fold panel doors speak to the English Tudor home. The reproduction antique brass hardware from House of Antique Hardware provides an authentic feel, making you think the cabinet was made a century ago.

Moral of the story: Don’t be quick to think you can’t teach (give) an old dog (cabinet) new tricks... (a beautiful new look!)

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