5 KEY Tips to Learn before designing a custom piece of furniture

Embarking on the journey of crafting custom furniture is not one we take lightly here at Circaphiles. One piece of custom furniture can take a space from ordinary to extraordinary, so it is essential to master the skills to make sure you get the design just right.

Today, we are unraveling the truth behind custom furniture, debunking the myth that it always comes with a hefty price tag. Join us to learn the long-term value and cost-effectiveness of investing in bespoke pieces that stand the test of time, far surpassing the need for replacing mass-produced items every few years.

We chatted about these tips and learned about so many more in our member Key Call in April.  Haven’t joined us yet for a call?  Save your seat for the next Key Call and book a virtual meeting with me today to explore how Circaphiles can alleviate your pain points!

Custom does not always mean “more expensive.”  

It certainly means there is more value in the quality and could be costlier up front, but when you consider, for example, that the sofa will last for 30+ years, and you will take it from house to house, the cost spread over that (life)time is far less than spending $5,000 on a big box manufacturer sofa every few years.  

Articulating the value is key in these conversations with clients, especially when you are working with first time homeowners and/or the younger generation, who may not have realized the value of their grandmother’s sofa all those years.


One of the biggest reasons a custom order may go wrong:  vague specifications!


  1. Right off the top, few details leave so much room for error.  When beginning to work with a new custom vendor, don’t give too much liberty to someone who knows nothing about your design standards, your project or your client.  
  2. I always recommend talking through the provided specifications (like how tall the client is) when finalizing the measurement for the depth of a sofa.  
  3. Some examples of how detailed you need to get:  Did you note on your Purchase Order how high your rug pile height is to account for the sofa skirt drop? Does your dining table have an apron height that will dictate the height of your dining chair arms? There are dozens of details about surrounding items and the architecture that are important for your custom workroom to know when fabricating your piece.  Nearly all of those details are prompted for you in Circaphiles’ Purchase Order Specification Templates.
  4. Best case scenario for the designer is to provide an inspiration image or CAD drawing.  The vendor would then produce their own, likely more detailed CAD 2D or 3D DFA (drawing for approval).  

By following these steps, you will be sure to have a smooth, successful collaboration and the piece you envisioned!


We tapped into the minds of two of our certified Circaphiles vendors for their best tips!

  1. Knit-back every fabric you send to an upholstery workroom.  Without this structural support for a fabric, feathers pass through the ticking envelope and the fabric, the longevity of the fabric decreases and it doesn’t upholster as smoothly.  Pro-tip: Sometimes thick mohairs are strong and dense enough on their own and don’t need knit-backing.
  2. The down to feather ratio for cushion fills should be stated with the down percentage first, followed by the feather percentage.  For example, 25/75 means 25% down and 75% feather content.  Pro-tip: A 10/90 ratio is Grant’s “workhorse” level for a more budget-friendly project; 25/75 is his “happy-medium” range that most clients like; 50/50 is his “luxury” range for a discerning client.
  1. Oak is the most durable wood for a dining table.  The strong wood will hold up best with daily use, especially with kids, and frequent entertaining.  There are many finishes oak can take on to fit modern and traditional projects.
  2. A “bar top” finish will withstand the most use.  A French polish finish can take up to 4 weeks to dry, so please consider that in your timeline prior to packing and transporting to the project.  A Classic wax finish enhances the wood with a soft, satin sheen and protects against stains.  


And finally… the KEY benchmarks in a custom order!


  1. Send RFQ (request for quote) to the vendor with as many details as possible, images, sketches, floor plan/elevations, etc.  
  2. Receive formal quote.
  3. Place order and include all supporting documents: room plans/elevations, images, fabric cuttings, control samples
  4. DFA and SFA(s) approval: Add approval dates to your P.O., sign and photograph the samples.  At this time, check that all pieces fit through clearances where you are installing (freight elevator, doorways, balcony, etc.)
  5. Perform raw frame or prototype (if multiples in order) inspection prior to (muslin) upholstery or finish application.
  6. Perform final inspection before packing for shipment or delivering to client’s house.  Pro-tip:  Always double and triple check the dimensions, even if you’ve been working with this vendor for many years.  We are all human!



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