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9 MUST KNOW tips to save you time and money, when ordering custom or bespoke furniture in South Africa

Top 9 question on ordering custom order furniture - money saving tips from the experts at Vintage-etc
When it comes to ordering custom made furniture solutions or bespoke tables , desks, islands  or any custom solutions - these are the top 9 most frequently asked questions (and mistakes clients tend to make ) 
We get an expert to answer your questions .... - worth a read as you will be sure to save time and money. 

1. Now days - everything is digital. I am nervous to order online, how safe is it?

The most important part of ordering online is trusting the company that you are ordering from. Here's how you know that you can trust your supplier: 
a.  Choose and established business - trading for 5+ years.
b.  They must have an up to date website including galleries and client feedback
c.  Check their facebook and google ratings. 
d.   Check they have well maintained social media pages- read their interactions with clients. 
e. There must be a  phone a phone number, an email address, and actual people that you can speak to personally about you order - before, during and after .
Remember, time does not lie - if a company is dodgy, or has a bad track record, you will find it easily in the reviews - if you spend a bit of time checking them out. 

2. Why should I order custom made furniture - rather than buy from the big stores?

The most important part of ordering online is trusting the company that you are ordering from. Here's what to look for:
a.   To begin with, and probably the most obvious, ordering custom made means that you can design your furniture piece exactly how you want it. You decide on your sizing, type of wood, style - everything down to the final seals, tints and washes.  Ready to order furniture does not give you this opportunity, you have to buy it as it is, which can be limiting. 
b. South Africa has a weaker currency, meaning imports are often out of our price range.  Not everyone can afford to shop at the three or four major retailers that dominate the furniture market in SA and have mark ups of more than 200%. So why not customise something similar, as you want it, for yourself - at a more affordable fee? Seems like an obvious choice! 
c  Its a great way to support our local economy.  The hard working teams behind custom orders, are taking home their wages for school fees and feeding their families. As South Africa struggles with the effects of the pandemic, buying custom made furniture is providing local workers with a job, and children with an education. Not to mention that supporting local is far better for the environment due to the products traveling less air miles and having a lower carbon footprint on the environment. 

3. How do I know what size to order?

Take some box or masking tape and mark out a space on your floor of your ideal sized table/sofa or item. Remember that you will still need space for chairs or benches or for a walk way, to get to plugs for example.  
Then measure the L x B x H of the item you want, and provide that as part of your brief, along with your reference images.

4. How do I know what style to choose?

An established furniture company should have a portfolio of products that you can review on their website and social media. Or find a picture on Pinterest or from another furniture company that you like.   A reference image is a must.
In our business for example ( Vintage-etc)  you  can get inspiration from our Pinterest Inspiration collections, or from our picture gallery.  These both showcases a lot of the products we have made and maybe you will be inspired by an item there.  
Once you find what you like, make notes on what you want changed (e.g. the size, the wood type, or the style of the legs) and communicate that to your manufacturer.  Don't be afraid to say what you like, and what you don't like - about a reference image.   The clearer your brief, the better the outcome!
Time saver tip: 
Don't email a furniture company saying I want an office desk, or I want a 6 seater table. 
Include all critical information 
a.  reference image (that shows table top and legs) 
b.  dimensions (L x B x H)
c. plus ideal wood type" 

5. How thick should the table top be, and what legs do I choose?

When it comes to ordering tables, the thicker the table top, the more you will pay.  You could start at 25mm, 35mm, 40mm,  50mm, 70mm or 80mm top, you can decide on which size you want.  
Important to note, when you ask for a 50mm thick table, remember that you will be ordering 50mm in RAW wood, which is then planed and sanded down, so you will lose a few mm on the raw thickness on a finished item.   
Another option to save some money, is to ask your manufacturer, to use a "build up" on the table edge. This means that on the outer edge of the table, there is a double slab that gives the appearance of the whole table top being for example 70mm thick.   See the examples below. 
Built up edges on Oak and Pine tables mean you pay less when ordering custom or bestpoke dining tables . Vintage-etc makes custom order furniture like tables, desks, consols, media units, kitchen islands and even soft furnishings in our factories in Cape Town and Johannesburg. We use Oak, Meranti, Pine, Oregon and Veneer options.
There are so many leg options that you can choose between, for example, black metal legs, cross legs, straight legs, pin legs, block legs, powder coated metal legs or turned legs. Please see the pictures below for just a few high-level shapes and examples of each. 
When you order your tables, make sure you have thought about what table legs you like, so that the quote on labour and amount of material is realistic and true to what you have in your "mind's eye" 

Some options on metal legs include the following.  If you are planning on leaving a table with metal parts outdoors or at the sea side - galvanising prevents (to a point) rust from developing.   

6. What timber do I choose?

Certain woods have different grain patterns and the longevity can differ.   For the clients who want a more rustic and affordable option, we generally work in Rustic Pine - which has knots and it can be stained various finishes - it really is not "yellow" as now-days, the tinted sealants available are wonderful.
Another cost effective option for shelving and desk top options, is laminated Birch Ply.  The reason it is affordable is that suppliers give it to us already planed and ready to use.  The edges are as noted in the image below. It is a super flexible timber - increasingly popular and a trending finishing edge. 

For a more upgraded, clean finish, we recommend Oak. We normally work in Grade A Oak, or Rustic Oak -  which has some variations in tones and also can be sealed in a variety of seals.
If you want no knots in your wood, the price per square meter goes up drastically for raw materials. PRIME Oak, is much more expensive (more than double in price)  as it Prime Oak essentially means you are guaranteed very few knots,  meaning the slabs are made out of knot free wood, which is super expensive selected slabs of timber (a lot of timber is cut and wasted, to make prime timber) .

Other timbers are available, which we can quote on per item - Prime Oak, Teak, Meranti, Beech, Mahogany or reclaimed Oregon; Veneer options, the choice is yours - but you should know that the pricing can differ from R5000 per square meter, to R50000 per square meter, depending on the timber choice.
Teak and Mahogany are the best options for outdoor "exposed"  usage as they weather better outdoors. 


7. What finishes can I choose ?

UV protective sealants Vintage-etc uses to seal our custom orders abd bespoke furniture . Tables, desks, media units, ildndas, dining tables.    This prevents stains and marks

We promote the use of UV protectant sealants, to prevent stains and to limit the bleaching of the items that are exposed to light. Sealants (which is not a varnish) will also protect from spills and has a matt finish. The bonus is that they allow you to change the hue of the wood, if you want it darker or whiter.  Most reputable providers can offer you various tints and seals to your product to give a certain finish -  but remember that the sealant AND wood type, is what determines the final finish. 
Ask to see samples of finishes and pick the one you like most. 
When you first receive your newly sealed item, keep it totally dry for at least 5 days to let the seal cure (ideally cover it with a blanket or towels to keep condensation off your table with changes in temperature at night - for the first few days)   

8. What is powder coated metal?

As you can see from the example below, the left has a more matte texture and that is because it is powder coated. For our business, this process requires us to send your items to a third party to be powder coated, so there is a charge for this service.   In-house we offer a spray finish.
Powder coating is the superior choice, because the matte finish hides any bumps and imperfections in the metal at the joins, and also it just looks more expensive. 

9. What NOT to say to your furniture manufacturer:

 Do not email a custom order manufacturer and say something like: 
"Please quote  an 8 seater table from Oak"
- or  
"Please quote an L-shape Sofa in grey".   
This is much too vague, and will result in a lot of clarifying correspondence which takes up your time, and also your provider's time - and is generally frustrating for all.
When you build a house or even an extension, you give the builder a plan, so he knows what to quote for.   The same would apply for your custom furniture.  If you don't have drawings, then print the photo you like, and write the dimensions on your picture, or do a simple line drawing of your ideal item. 
When it comes to making tables - the thickness of wood of the table top will vary, the width of the table will also vary; and one persons "8 seater " is not the same for other 8 seaters, as it depends on the size of the chairs.
When it comes to sofas, the depth and height of the sofa will affect the cost, as will the choice and "pull" of the fabric, as will the inners (feathers vs foam for example).
Take the time to put a proper brief together before you fire off requests for quotes - to save you both to and fro and to get accurate costings back.  
Yes, you should expect your manufacturer to be professional,  but know that their pricing and revert, is only as accurate as YOUR brief.
We hope that was a helpful overview of the do's and don'ts when ordering custom or bespoke furniture.  



Want to know more about us ?

We are based in Cape Town and Johannesburg

We are pleased to have expanded into Johannesburg in early 2021, and now can service our Johannesburg clientele (and surrounding areas) without the hefty transport fees from our Cape Town workshop.  We also deliver nationwide, as far as Namibia and surrounding countries for special orders. 

We also offer an upholstery service and can quote you on any soft furnishings you require. 


For our business, our clients need to fill out a custom order form - or email info@vintage-etc with your detailed brief.  

 We ask that our clients give us
a.  L X B X H dimensions
b.  Include a reference image (or description)
c.  It is even better if you can provide us with a high level sketch of your ideas, to make sure that we fully understand your brief. 
d.  Specify your wood type
For even more inspiration, take a look at our Pinterest boards - Kitchen Dining for the Modern Family & Beautiful Kitchen Inspiration 

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Email queries - info@vintage-etc.com

WhatsApp: 0729025386


Stay Safe, Stay Positive, Be Kind 

 Best Wishes

Amanda Stergianos and the team @ Vintage-etc.com