More and more homeowners are turning their backs on off-the-shelf items in favour of hand-crafted bespoke pieces to fill their lovingly restored homes, says Gillian Upton
“JUST ONE BEAUTIFUL BESPOKE ITEM CAN MAKE A ROOM LIGHT UP, SEVERAL CAN BE JAWDROPPING”
An on-site chippie can turn his hand to most carpentry jobs when an off-the-shelf item doesn’t perfectly fill an awkward sized gap in a kitchen or bedroom, so common in Victorian and Edwardian homes where walls are often not quite straight.
“Returns in Victorian homes on either side of the fireplace don’t always match,” observes Vicki Wharton of Balance Designs, “and very often there isn’t a product on the market in non-standard sizes, but a carpenter can create cost effective wardrobes on-site.” And so the bespoke market was spawned, with the builders’ project scope listing various odd-shaped voids to be filled with kitchen cabinets, kitchen islands, bookshelves, wardrobes, under stairs cupboards and desks.
Half of renovations company Red Box jobs include bespoke joinery. “It’s usually bathroom cabinets, kitchen islands and bedroom wardrobes when a bespoke space has to be filled, or a bespoke finish is required such as grooves or patterns,” explains MD Barny Robinson. “Nothing’s straight in a Victorian house but then that’s much more fun than a new build,” he adds.
“NOTHING’S STRAIGHT IN A VICTORIAN HOUSE BUT THEN THAT’S MUCH MORE FUN THAN A NEW BUILD”
Doing an IKEA-hack is one thing but the top end of the market has responded differently to bespoke. Here, demand is for top craftspeople to create beautiful items that shout quality through and through. It might be one-off pieces of solid wood furniture, stunningly-veined marble tables to sit 20 diners, vast walk-in dressing rooms carved from beautiful chocolate-coloured walnut, glitzy, back-lit bars, stand-alone broken-plan room dividers that double as media walls, and so on. The sky’s the limit, and so is the budget needed to create them.
FURNITURE – GOING BESPOKE
Compare your furniture buying to clothes shopping:
- High street: For convenience, value, trend and volume. Great when you need fast delivery but higher value items like sofas and beds are often made to order and take longer.
- Designer: When you feel like treating yourself to a beautifully designed product or a classic design icon.
- Tailor-made: When you’ve seen a product range by a designer, retailer or bespoke furniture maker that you would like made-to-measure by the vendor who holds the copyright.
- Bespoke: For those who appreciate the creativity that bespoke designers can offer by producing a statement piece of furniture akin to art. And for when you crave the functionality and practicality that bespoke storage solutions offer.
No longer just for hotels and celebrities, bespoke kitchens, cabinetry and furniture is a burgeoning trend.
Why go bespoke?
- Originality: one-of-a-kind pieces.
- Flexibility: unconstrained design parameters, extensive choice of materials, colours and finishes.
- Space optimisation: made-to-measure solutions – both fitted and free-standing – save space and look sleeker.
- Furnitecture: interesting pieces that combine architecture and furniture eg. room dividers and bedheads.
- Craftsmanship: hand-picked, hand-made materials always look and feel better.
Source: By Ensoul
“Anything bespoke is generally more expensive,” says Kenelm Cornwall-Legh of Run Projects. “But if the budget isn’t there clients can fit something less expensive and replace it later when they’re in a position to do so.”
What’s key is that bespoke often requires
a different skillset. “You may need a cabinetmaker; it’s horses for courses,” says Vicki. Fitting a one-off piece of Cararramarble from Tuscany is very different to laying a tiled surface.
Such is the demand for bespoke that many companies are launching bespoke individual pieces. Stanza Interior Design, for example, produces marble coffee tables with wooden bases and delicate hairpin legs in any size. “There’s an element of wanting items Made In Britain but bespoke gets you the perfect fit, plus people don’t want anything that everyone else has,” says Thea Ingrams, Director of Stanza Interior Design. Stanza has recently made cupboards with hanging files in a basement study in a Fulham townhouse and, for the same client, a lacquered desk with tapered legs to match the wall colour of the room, the warm, dark grey tones of Farrow & Ball’s Mole’s Breath. In a house south of the river there are banquettes in the kitchen with storage underneath.
Thea reckons that once you start down the bespoke route it’s tricky to mix and match but that, “even if you aren’t a money no-object client it’s still affordable to get one
Ensoul has just launched a new company, By Ensoul, to deliver bespoke cabinetry and furniture to clients. Bookcases, benches, kitchens, furniture, cabinetry, wardrobes, storage space and headboards are among items made to date, with kitchens by far the biggest area of demand, says owner Viki Lander.
Recent orders have included a handmade kitchen, integrated dog beds in a utility room, a marble staircase, a freestanding storage and desk unit, solid onyx bar, a 3.5m-long marble table, a tree-shaped bookcase in a master bedroom, a handpicked marble splashback in a kitchen, and a formal sitting room incorporating an electric fire with a video of flames and soundtrack of crackle to make it feel, sound and look real. Yes, really.
“Kitchen companies can be so restrictive,” says Viki. “They use a colour palette exclusive to their company so it means that clients wanting to bring one colour through a space can’t achieve that with an off-the-shelf kitchen. “They also restrict door design and finishes. Clients don’t necessarily want a spray lacquer finish, they want more flexibility – of materials, of colour and of sizes.”
Clients often want a top-end kitchen but the budget doesn’t quite stretch, so this is when bespoke can pay homage to the same look without the sting in the pocket. Viki also stresses that bespoke doesn’t automatically mean fitted. For wardrobes and storage may be, where the need is for a sleek appearance and to maximise space, but she recently designed a stand-alone, blackened armoire for coats in a client’s hallway and a free-standing combined storage and desk unit.
“DEMAND IS HIGH FOR MEDIA WALLS, TO CONCEAL THE TVS AND OTHER MEDIA EQUIPMENT”
Handcrafted metal furniture and lighting is the specialism of local firm Blackbird London, which has witnessed a growing trend for key pieces in the home. “We have seen a greater demand for console and coffee tables over the last six months,” says Founder and Creative Director Maggie Calmels. “Customers can make their purchases individual by choosing metal textures, unusual surface finishes and table tops.”
Aside from free-standing items, bespoke storage is where most carpenters and cabinetmakers spend most of their time. “Clients are always looking to use those nooks and crannies, every inch of space, for storage,” says Kenelm. His favourite solution is drawers that slide under the stairs, making good use of otherwise dead space. He also cites the void over a loft staircase – a space he used in his own home to create a drinks cabinet – and banquette seating in a kitchen/dining room as other useful storage spaces.
“Expect to pay anything from £1,000 to £2,500 + VAT per linear metre of fitted furniture across a wall, depending on the quality, design, spec, materials and configuration, and the brand of a supplier”
Barbara Genda Bespoke Furniture
Bespoke media walls are gaining in popularity too; somewhere to store a TV, all the ugly cables, a sound system, space for a display area and with hidden lighting to add drama. “They are really in demand now,” says Gary Worth of GW Cabinetry. Bridging the gap between carpentry and interior design, his company combines traditional carpentry and joinery techniques with cutting-edge design technology, “and my own spin on things,” he explains. Extra details might be extra moulding or door knob detail.
Bellevue Bespoke also build ‘special’ carpentry items when, “off the shelf options are not suitable.” Demand is high for media walls, “to conceal the TVs and other media equipment”, as well as modern Shaker-style kitchens.
There are an increasing number of bespoke suppliers, including architects who are extending their remit to meet demand. RDA Architects’ Associate James Henderson explains: “We think this is definitely becoming more of a trend in the private house market, with clients less likely to go to showrooms and pick off-the-shelf items. We find we’re sourcing more and more products from overseas now too, (particularly Italy, Germany, Portugal and Demark), in order to give a more unique feel, whereas the handcrafted items and skills are sourced locally.”
RDA is not beyond hacking IKEA wardrobes and kitchens, but spend a lot of time finding the right door handles and lights, down to sanitary ware and WC flush plates. “A more extreme project we’re working on just now has bespoke precast concrete walls, staircases, glass roofs, swimming pool, lifts…though this is an example with a large budget.”
Just one beautiful bespoke item can make a room light up, several can be jaw-dropping. They are investment pieces built to last, wherever you may move to next.
“BESPOKE STORAGE IS WHERE MOST CARPENTERS AND CABINETMAKERS SPEND MOST OF THEIR TIME. CLIENTS ARE ALWAYS LOOKING TO USE THOSE NOOKS AND CRANNIES, EVERY INCH OF SPACE, FOR STORAGE”