That said, just because you’ve had a positive encounter with one vendor doesn’t mean they should be your go-to option for all your custom needs. Runsewe points out that while some craftspeople might be well-versed in certain pieces or materials, they might not be as knowledgeable about others. “It’s important to have a network of people who are talented, and know both their strengths and their limitations,” she shares. “Even better if they can suggest a specialist when their skill set falls short.”
Speaking of which, here’s your sign to share your positive (or negative) vendor experiences with your community. Though keeping your sources close to the vest can seemingly give you a leg up on the competition, referring your favorite craftspeople is one pro move that’ll help you rack up some good karma in the industry.
Mistake #3: Prioritizing form over function
Everyone might want gorgeous custom furniture worthy of an AD Open Door visit, but designers should never lose sight of its function. “It’s quite easy to get carried away with a particular design, simply focusing on the ‘look’ of an item,” says Runsewe. “Designing anything custom without considering its intended use and context can result in a piece that just doesn’t help the space function as desired, let alone as needed.” Throughout the design process, remember to ask yourself if the latest iteration still serves its proposed function.
To strike the right balance of beauty and brains, Runsewe encourages pros to ask vendors for photo and video updates to track a piece’s progress. “You may think it drives some vendors mad, but many understand,” she shares. “They also want to be sure they’ve created something the clients will truly love.”
Mistake #4: Messing up the measurements
Since many designers choose custom to create furniture for a very specific area, you won’t want to fumble your figures. “Designers have to triple-check all dimensions and specifications when working on custom furniture and make sure that everything is very clearly outlined in the contract,” says Khouri. “In addition to a written scope, they should also confirm the details verbally, as some people don’t read proposals all the way through.”
Not only is it important to confirm all dimensions down to the millimeter, but Khouri also recommends double-checking the unit of measurement. “I once had an assistant from Spain who requested the dimensions of a chandelier in [meters] instead of inches,” she shares. “When the chandelier arrived, it was huge! Luckily, we were able to box it back up before they ever saw, but that was a close one.”
Mistake #5: Underestimating the lead time
Good things come to those who wait—and custom furniture is no exception. From sourcing the right materials to putting the piece together, the entire process can take months—and that’s before you factor in shipping delays or supply chain hiccups. That’s exactly why Runsewe says it’s important to relay a realistic timeline to your clients. “As a rule of thumb, I often double the amount of time I’m given by furniture vendors,” she says. “[It’s] far better for an item to surprisingly arrive early than having to go back to your clients repeatedly to explain delays.” While slowdowns are often out of a designer’s control, clear and honest communication will help manage your clients’ expectations.
Mistake #6: Charging your client for mistakes
Despite your best efforts, mistakes still happen. So, who should pay for them? Well, it depends on what went wrong. “The client should never pay for a mistake,” says Khouri. “It is usually between the designer and the manufacturer depending on the nature of the error that was made.”
For example, a vendor should foot the bill if they accidentally ordered the wrong wood species. But if the mishap happened on your watch, you’ll be financially responsible for the piece. “I once took incorrect measurements for drapes and had an entire set of custom drapes arrive two feet short,” Runsewe shares. “This was absolutely my miscalculation, so of course I covered the cost to have them remade.” For most small-business owners, an unexpected expense is less than ideal; however, it can double as a valuable lesson. Or as Runsewe puts it, “A costly mistake I luckily never made again!”