Furnishing 101: Should You Go Custom or Buy Retail?

Learn the pros and cons to shopping for furniture vs. having items made exactly to your specifications.

Updated on June 21, 2017 8:06 am

Camille Besinga

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Whether you’re renovating or simply moving into a new home, you’ll eventually need to decide if you should have your furnishings custom-made, or sourced from retail. There are many pros and cons to each option, and we discuss them at length below.

Retail Furniture: Pros

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• With a wide array of retail optionswhether in stores or onlineyou can choose uniquely designed furnishings following the theme or style for your interiors.

• Since most retail options are mass-produced, you normally won’t have to wait long to get the item or items you want to purchase. They may already be available in stock at the store, or may usually be reserved from the warehouse.

• You can choose from a variety of price points, too, as retail options span from the very low-cost to the extremely high-end.

Nov 3 Seater Sofa, $1,130, Cromly Shop

• Many retail brands (e.g., Ikea) consider the cost efficiencies and timeliness of distribution, that’s why some opt to have their wares flat-packed for much quicker delivery to and assembly by the customer. This makes most retail options much cheaper than custom furniture.

• Some brands or stores also have customisable options, like different upholstery fabrics for sofas or chairs, a variety of wood stains for tables, or the addition of detailwork, like nailheads or trimming.

Retail Furniture: Cons

• The downside to buying retail is that you cannot choose the size of your items. Most retail options are often sold at an “as is, where is” basis, which means that you get what you see and pay for at the store.

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• Because of mass production, some retail options may not be of quality make.

• Customisable options in retail are still limited to the materials they have available in stock. If you prefer to provide your own material, such as upholstery for an armchair in store, some stores may not allow it or suggest you to refurbish their item on your own. If they do allow you to provide your own materials, it will be considered a custom-made order, and may cost more than the retail price as well as take longer to manufacture and deliver to you.

Custom Furniture: Pros

• When you have furnishings custom-made, a manufacturer will follow the exact specifications you provide, so you get exactly what you want.

• Cabinetry and closets also benefit from customisation, as you can request for certain details like small holes or shallow shelves to place odd items, or create specific racks for particular belongings, like bags, belts, or shoes.

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• Unique spaces like yachts almost often require custom furnishings, as these often do not follow standard size. Going the custom route means you can dictate the size of the item you need for the kind of space you have.

• Most custom-made furnishings are often of high quality make. Some furniture makers even provide certificates of their expertise, showing years of craftsmanship experience.

Custom Furniture: Cons

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• Custom-made furniture takes longer to manufacture, and you will have to wait considerably before your item is delivered. The bigger and more customised your item, the longer it will take to make.

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• Unlike retail options, you cannot get a clear visual of what the finished product will look like.

• As customisation may require furniture makers to create new designs or do something they haven’t before, it is almost always more costly upfront than retail. In the long-term, however, it will end up much more cost-efficient. Because the item is already tailored to fit into your exact space requirements and function, you won’t need to spend more to make it suitable to its location (unlike retail options).


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