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Top tips on how to successfully order custom furniture in SA

Changing up the interior of your home is an extremely exciting process, but it can easily be ruined by feelings of overwhelm, especially if you are undertaking the task without an interior consultant to guide you on specifications and sizes. This article should help though... 

As a company that has been in business since 2013 - we know what the most frequently asked questions are and where things can potentially go wrong.  We want you to enjoy your interior design journey as much as possible, and to get your specification briefs right so you don't waste time or money.  

Here are the most frequently raised queries when it comes to finding custom solutions for your home or workspace. 


1.   There are so many big furniture companies to choose from - why order custom made?

Ordering custom made furniture comes with loads of advantages, but there are three in particular that are worth highlighting:

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  A big part of why our business introduced custom made furniture into our model, is because we want to do our absolute best to support 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. 

2.  I'm 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 what to look for:

a.  An established business that has been trading for at least 5 years - they have experience. 

b.  Well maintained social media pages with a track record and positive client ratings - eg. in their Facebook ratings

c.  Check the Google Reviews for the business 

d.  Make sure they have an up-to-date website, including galleries and client feedback

e. Their business should have phone numbers, email addresses and humans that you can actually speak to about your order.  
Pick up the phone, get a feel for the person managing your order.  You should expect to be kept posted about your order, as it progresses and ask for progress photos at the half-way mark.  Remember, time does not lie - if company is dodgy, or has a bad track record, you will find it in the reviews, if you take the time to research.  

3.  How do I know what to ask for when ordering custom order items? 

a. Choosing the right style:
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. 
On 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 !  

b. Choosing the right size: 
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.

c.  What NOT to say to your furniture manufacturer: 
Gosh, we can't tell you how often we get these requests - DAILY!  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. When you build a house or even an extension, you give the builder a plan, so he knows what to quote for.  
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 - 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.
As you can see from the sample of products below, a table style (and thus the costing thereof) is greatly affected by the brief and specs.  
On the left is an Oregon cross leg table, on the right is an Oak turned leg table - and the price points depend on specs, cost of raw material and labour.  

d. Choosing a table top and style of legs 
When it comes to ordering tables, you can choose a 25mm, 35mm, 40mm,  50mm, 70mm or 80mm top, you can decide on which size you want - but of course this affects the quote and how the table is built.
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.  
There are so many leg options that you can choose between, for example, black metal legs, cross legs, straight legs, or turned legs. Please see the pictures below for just four high-level shapes and examples of each. 

e. Choosing your timber
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 we can use 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. 
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. 

f. Choosing your finish:
We promote the use of UV protectant sealants, 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. 
When you receive your newly sealed item, keep it totally dry for at least 5 days to let the seal cure.  

7. 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.

8.  How do payments work, what is the refund policy 
We can't speak for other manufacturers, but for our business, we have the following policies. For orders under R25000, we require a full payment.  This is because our margins are low, and if clients default, we can't recover the costs.
For orders over R25000, we mandate a 70% deposit - the balance is paid once we send you progress photos, and is due at least 5 working days before we dispatch your items.   Items are owned by Vintage-etc until fully paid, and we don't offer partial refunds for any items that are cancelled once they have been started, or once materials are ordered - items will be sold to recover all costs if not paid for within 14 calendar days of being invoiced. 
Please see our full delivery and returns policy.

8.  How long will it take to arrive?
Most good furniture manufacturers take  20-30 working days from receiving a signed mandate and payment to manufacture, or from sign off of technical drawings; and then a few days for transport. Lead times can vary if the workshop is at full capacity, if it is peak season, or when processing a special or  bulk order. Your lead time will be confirmed when you order your product. Make sure to ask for this and confirm the expected due date before you pay your manufacturer.    

9. Does Vintage-etc offer trade discounts? 
We do a lot of bulk orders on custom made furniture (for restaurants, delis, bed and breakfasts, offices and hotels)   For custom orders and bulk orders, we can certainly offer competitive trade rates for orders over R50000-  please see our full trade policy.

10.   Is Vintage-etc only a only Cape Town based business? 
Good news is that 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. 

12. Do you offer soft furnishings as well ?
Absolutely we do - YES! We just need a short brief to quote: 

a.  Find a reference image of what you need us to make.  

b.  Send us the dimensions (length x breadth x height )

c. Tell us what type of finishes and fabrics you want.  It helps us to have a visual reference 

d. It helps to go to a fabric house like Hertex, Mavromac - or any other, and note the name and brand of the fabric you like, we can source it for you (look on the back of the sample and write down the fabric reference) - or order your own fabric if you know the amount you need. 

e. Contact us via email at info@vintage-etc.com for a free, no obligation estimate.

f. Once you have sent us a brief, if we feel it is necessary to meet on a more complex project  - we will make such arrangements with you directly.  

g.  We offer trade rates for clients who qualify. Read more about trade here 

h.  Lead times are approx 5-7 weeks on soft furnishings, as the fabric often has to be shipped to us which can take at least 10-14 days.



11. How do I go about ordering timber furniture ? 
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
I hope all that is helpful,  certainly if put into practise, it will be a great springboard to your successful decorating and self - furnishing experience. 
That is its for today ! 

Stay Safe, Stay Positive, Be Kind 

 Best Wishes

Amanda Stergianos and the team @ Vintage-etc.com

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