With space at a premium in Sara Colburn-Alsop’s New Whiteland, Ind., home, the Angie’s List member turned to highly rated Shoemaker’s Custom Carpentry of Speedway, Ind., to design a creative solution for her small home office.
The Indiana custom furniture maker built a single, long desk to replace the separate desks and filing cabinet that was eating up space, condensing four bookshelves and two desks into a compact workspace for Colburn-Alsop and her husband. Shoemaker’s also built a line of bookshelves around the entire length of the ceiling in the room, so the pair of professors could keep their mountain of books while freeing up floor space.
“It’s probably been one of the neatest things we’ve done to our home, plus it’s a selling point,” Colburn-Alsop says. “There’s plenty of space for us to work, and for our books.”
Sometimes a home’s space or homeowner’s personal taste calls for something that can’t be mass produced. Whether it’s a one-of-a-kind dining room table or a built-in entertainment center decked out with perfectly sized slots for every piece of A/V equipment in your collection, custom furniture designers can translate your idea into your ideal piece.
“Usually they can’t find the style and size they want or are not happy with the quality they can find in box stores,” says Aaron Dickinson of highly rated Dickinson Custom Furniture, based in Greenfield, Ind. “Typically, people don’t have a firm idea what they want. Usually, they have a space they know they want something to go into, but they ask you fill in the blanks. I tell them the options.”
Dickinson learned to build custom furniture from his parents: his mother worked as a furniture upholsterer and his father enjoyed woodworking as a hobby. He says the type of furniture that’s popular in any year varies, but Angie’s List customers most commonly request entertainment centers. His custom woodworking pieces typically take four weeks to complete, and depending on the time of year, he can be scheduled out as far as six months in advance working on unique furniture pieces.
“It’s usually two to four times more expensive [than an off-the-shelf furniture store] because it’s not made in China,” he says. “It’s made in a quantity of one, not 2,000.”
Designers also build each piece of unique furniture to last, says Craig Mann, owner of highly rated Paradigm Furniture Design Studio in Brownsburg, Ind.
“People are so used to buying disposable furniture now,” Mann says. “They don’t understand if they buy quality stuff if it’s made right the first time, they shouldn’t have to buy one again.”
Mann recently completed a project designing and building a Nakashima-style custom dining room table for Northeastside members Mark and Shelley Blakely. The style, named after the late woodworker and mid-century furniture designer George Nakashima, involves a table top with natural, unfinished edges made by joining two slabs of black walnut cut sequentially from the same tree. The slabs are held together with small wood butterfly keys, and the base comprising five pieces of wood that fit together like a timber frame without any glue. Mann says the custom table, including material and labor, cost about $4,000 and took more than three months to complete.
“The customer’s been following along and deciding things as we go along,” Mann says. “The whole deal with custom furniture is it allows you that kind of flexibility.”
Angie’s List member Patricia Schatz of New Palestine, Ind., holds a special appreciation for custom furniture makers because her late husband, Ron, designed and built unique wood furniture. When she wanted a coffee table to match the end tables her husband made, she turned to Dickinson after seeing his work at a local craft show.
“We designed it together,” she says of Dickinson, who built the custom furniture piece for about $450 to work with the limited size of the room. “He made it exactly like I described.”
Their collaboration resulted in a simple table of beauty and craftsmanship that she says would’ve met her husband’s approval.
“I’m going to pass this on to my daughter,” Schatz says. “Something like this, that’s handmade, you keep it forever and pass it on to your children. It goes on and on.”