How to Qualify a Custom Workroom

Here at Circaphiles, we pride ourselves in our ability to deliver top-tier vendors and artisans for your projects, no matter where in the world they are located. From furnishings and architectural & renovation materials to otherwise hard-to-find service providers, we have compiled an unparalleled list of vetted brands, so you don’t have to forage endlessly for trustworthy resources. These artisans are far from the usual suspects to boot!

With ongoing research and referrals from designers we know and love, Circaphiles has this process of vetting vendors and custom workrooms down to a science! Read on for my top four tips to determine whether you should enter in business with a vendor or custom workroom and ensure the partnership is fair and fruitful for years to come.

Go see the vendor’s work in person! 

Don’t solely rely on photos or who they say is (or was previously) on their client roster. Have them take you on a tour of the home they built or sofa they are making in their workroom and ask specific questions about their process.

Ask for references AND actually call the references.  

Ask about the customer service experience with that vendor. Besides assessing the quality, answering that question will be crucial in determining whether this is someone with whom you would like to collaborate.I have found, in my experience, that designers don’t hold back when talking to like-minded peers. 

Pro-tip? If they can’t provide references, it may be a sign they don’t have the time or care to truly partner with you on this project.  Or it could mean that they haven’t had successful deliverables.

Inquire about what happens if something is made incorrectly, becomes damaged or goes wrong in the process.

I hate to say it, but if the custom piece is made wrong, take ownership that you should have caught that at final inspection at their workroom before it is delivered to the client’s house.  No excuse in the world will make up for the feeling you get when a sofa is placed in the client’s living room and it’s 3 feet too short.  

Is the vendor willing to fix their mistake on their dime because they care deeply about their work, righting the wrong and continuing their relationship with you? Or do they have an attitude that insinuates they’ll leave you holding the bag? (And that could mean you are out major moolah!)

If the product is semi or fully custom, inspect it at their workroom. 

Here is a quick little “lessons learned” checklist I use when inspecting custom upholstery:

  1. Bring your Purchase Order to reference.
  2. Measure the piece.  Does it match the plan and the CFA?
  3. Does the wood finish match the SFA or control sample?
  4. When you sit on the chair or sofa, does it make a noise like a click or rocking?
  5. How padded is the wood frame between the fabric?  
  6. Welting – is it neat or fraying?
  7. Sew in your custom company label to the interior decking.
  8. Take photos of problem areas…and beautiful areas!
  9. Is there extra fabric or trim you can take back with you so that it is on hand for future use?  Sometimes workrooms dispose of these fabrics after a short period of time.  

If you are not able to go (if the vendor is located out of town), have them send detailed photos or conduct a video call inspection with the production manager.  Pro-tip?  My purchase orders state that my firm must inspect the order before it is packed.  Many vendors may say, “oh, it’s already packed up.”  By having that term on my P.O., you have the backbone reinforcement to demand they unpack it, photograph it and await your approval.


From furnishings to architectural & renovation materials, our vendors and workrooms have been vetted to meet the top quality standards to meet your needs EVERY time!