Monthly Archives: July 2013

“Can you design and make two custom bookcases for me?”

“I only need them to be about 6’ tall, 4’wide, and um, say about 12” – 14” deep. I want it made using that thick “dark, cool looking wood”, and it has to have 5 shelves. Can you make it so that the shelves are adjustable? Also, I want some doors, those cool sliding ones that slow down when you close them. I don’t have much of a budget and am only looking to spend about $300 – $400. Can you have them to me in about a week?”

A custom-made media installation from bke designs

This was similar to a conversation that I had with a person that recently contacted me because they were interested in having some “custom” work done. While some of you reading this may not find the humor in the story above, it is conversations like this that is a bit frustrating for not only furniture designers, but creatives in general.

The material alone to buy the “dark, cool looking wood” would cost somewhere in the range of $250 – $1000, depending on what “dark, cool looking wood” our potential client was referring to. Let’s say they chose the $250 material, and I charged them the top end of their budget; $400. That leaves $150 for the slo-motion sliding door hardware, adhesive, fasteners, finishing materials, labor to design, labor to fabricate, and oh, my profit. See the humor?

There was a time where the skills of an artesian was understood and respected to a higher degree that the Crate & Barrel and Ikea age we now live in. I believe a lot of has to do with the client not fully understanding what it takes for a human being (not a CNC machine that can crank out 500 units a day) to not only conceive a unique idea, but also make it… in a week.

Orbit Chandelier designed, produced, and installed by bke designs

I have been designing and fabricating custom wood furniture, lighting, and components for clients for the past 15+ years, and have learned to become more patient with regard to educating my clients in what is involved with commissioning a designer to make a custom piece. I explain to them the time involved in the design process, the costs of materials, and the costs of labor (both design and fabrication). I help them understand that a custom piece is actually not expensive; it is though an investment that is made with the end result being an item that was conceived and fabricated especially for them.

I have found that in engaging this “education process” a true client will make the investment. The others will end up at Ikea, or with a “custom piece” at a “cheap price” that they will never be happy with.

As designers, we have a responsibility to educate our clients, create beautiful unique products for them at the highest quality possible, charge a fair price, while making a living in the process. So designers, create, have fun, and even make some money, but most of all educate your client. You owe it to yourselves; you owe it to your clients. For the audience of potential clients out there, please know that our labors for you are truly labors of love BUT we can’t just give it away…

BK Ellison – bke designs

BK Ellison is an architect, designer, and an Unbranded Designs manufacturer. BK produces the ISA Chair and R2 Coffee Table for our customers as well as a number of custom pieces for local Chicago clients. 

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Dwelling on the Extraordinary Simplicity

This is a guest post from designer Phillip Royster. Phillip created the R2 Coffee Table which is now available at If you would like to also contribute a guest blog, email us at

dwellOver the past weekend, many professionals and design fanatics convened at the Los Angeles Convention Center for the Dwell on Design where designers showcased their creations. It showcased everything from furniture to flooring to prefabricated homes. Since this is my very first design conference and I just started designing furniture, I am developing my own story about how I design my furniture. So naturally I love hearing the stories behind designs and ascents into the design world from my peers. I met one designer that caught my eye beyond the others.

In a world where specialization has become commonplace and designs are simply shipped out to a separate manufacturer, a company called Rich Brilliant Willing (RBW) has changed this. RBW paired design with manufacturing and, in the process, captured a higher level of authorship. Sometimes, designers are paired with manufacturers, marketing agents, and other specialized agents and lose a lot of their initial ideas in the process. RBW takes the story about how their hands on approach to making things translated from college to their studio. This gives RBW an opportunity to design every little connection and detail. It even allows them to learn from the manufacturing process, which improves their design process. This company has only existed since 2007 and I would be willing to bet that it will only improve and grow from here.


Quart Table from Rich Brilliant Willing

Now, sometimes you are only impressed with the story and not the product. In this case, that’s not true. The language of RBW products pairs wood and metal in geometrically reduced form that captures the contemporary lifestyle beautifully. One product in specific that caught my attention was the Fawn End Table Oak. The way that it transitions from the sharply defined surface to the legs is effortless and reveals how the lateral forces in the legs are captured. Even the naming of their furniture describes the intentions perfectly. These artists from Rhode Island School of Design have taken their education and created more than furniture; they created a lifestyle.

I think that going to design conventions is similar to the design process. When I make something, I don’t know what it will be, but I know the story will evolve as I discover through creation. When I went to Dwell on Design, I didn’t go with an agenda of what I want to see, but I always hope to discover a story that inspires me. If you haven’t gone to one of these events before, I highly encourage it! Go and dwell on the extraordinary that exists in beautiful simplicity.

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