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Why Spend More Money On Custom Made? Part 1

Part One: When did furniture become a disposable consumer product? Why spend extra money on custom-made? Nearly everyone I serve in this business grapples with this question at some time. It's a matter of making an informed choice, not about which choice is Right or Wrong. This will be the first of a four part discussion exploring different aspects of it.

Part One: When did furniture become a disposable consumer product?

Someone recently contacted me to consider doing a small home-office furniture wall unit. They sent me a picture of a set they liked from a reputable home furnishings chain, and said they wanted something similar. The budget they had in mind wasn't enough to do the job they wanted. I explained the difference between a custom made and factory made product, and said I'd be glad to meet and give them some ideas and options. They said yes, and we have a meeting scheduled. And it really got me thinking about the whole question.

Custom-made cabinets and furniture typically cost from 60% to 100% more than their mass-produced counterparts. I'm referring to items found at specialty retailers here, as opposed to the big-box discount stores. Do a search on the web and you'll find all kinds of information from custom cabinetmakers, contractors and home improvement experts about the difference in the products, so I won't go into that here. The whole price=quality equation is really a question of value more than it is one of how many dollars we spend. We all have our limits of what we can afford or are willing to spend for something, so each of us has to decide if what we're getting is worth it based on; how well it works, how it looks, and how long it will last.

It's actually this last qualifier that got me thinking the most. We have become a society who accepts the reality of limited life consumer products. With automobiles, consumer electronics, etc., suddenly being joined by furniture, and even the homes we live in. When did that happen? Custom-made furniture, as well as higher end manufactured wood furniture last many times longer than factory made furniture made from MDF or particleboard. An indicator of what we consider durable is how the EPA defines it. The EPA defines durable goods as those having a life span of greater than three years. So a piece of furniture that gets discarded after four years is durable? Statistically speaking, yes. According to reports conducted by the EPA, furniture accounts for over 9 million tons of waste in our landfills. Conventional furniture takes advantage of cheap materials such as particleboard and medium-density fiberboard (MDF), which allow manufacturers to cut costs, but also create a downward spiral for our landfills and the furniture stacking up within them. An essential ingredient of Green, sustainable building and goods production is durability, which is a combination of how long something lasts, how easy it is to repair, and how often it needs to be repaired or replaced. I'm extremely concerned about the amount of waste we generate in the process of doing projects for our customers. As a part of doing our projects we recycle everything possible, and donate as much as possible to the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. Using non-toxic and sustainable materials is standard practice for us, and really costs little more than quality materials which are not.

So back to the question of value, a product that lasts three to four times longer, costing 60% more represents a much better value and a good investment. Furniture and cabinetry, in my opinion should be considered an investment as much as one's own home. That's how it was considered, before it became disposable.

The question: ‘Why spend more money on custom-made’ has a lot of facets to it and I'll be exploring the issues of the other two qualifiers mentioned; how well it works, and how good it looks in posts to come.