Bespoke furniture can help enhance a home and make it stand out from the rest.
By Tanya A. Yacina and Newport Beach Magazine Staff
A home’s design is a reflection of personal taste and style. Whether you are creating the aesthetic from the ground up or selecting furniture and decor to suit the size or look of an already established space, custom pieces can add an extra layer of sophistication and individuality. Far from the cookie-cutter items that can be found in big-box stores, tailor-made furniture is handcrafted to a client’s exact specifications.
Anna Shay, principal at Solanna Design & Development, is one of a few local designers who make one-of-a-kind furniture. “I don’t want to reproduce what anyone else is doing,” Shay says. “I love the process of creating a new piece—something that’s completely unique.”
Clients can be proud to display these custom items and treasure them for years to come.
“It’s a wonderful gift to be able take some rough bits of lumber and turn them into something that means so much to someone, that was made specifically for them, that they will own for decades and maybe even pass down to their kids,” says Newport Beach furniture maker Max Isles.
Design On Demand
Isles has joined forces with his wife’s interior design business, Isles Interiors. He began lending his talents to the firm when his wife, Maria, began needing custom furniture for her projects.
Often, interior designers and other customers have an idea of what they want, or see something in a store or catalog, but their desired piece doesn’t come in the size or number needed for their project, he says. For example, a client may have found an antique chair and wants eight of them to go around a dining table, but they aren’t mass-produced or the right size for the table. This is where Isles come in to either design a new furniture piece or re-create an item that fits the area, as well as the personal taste of the client.
“Usually, by the time I get involved in this, the designer or customer has already decided they want a custom piece and have a general idea of what they want it to look like and where they want it to fit,” Isles says.
Notably, in the last couple of years, demand for custom furniture has spiked due to supply chain issues that have reduced stock and increased wait times at traditional furniture stores.
“During and since the start of COVID, the lead time to get furniture supplied has become long and created shortages, which has also propelled the custom business,” Isles says.
However, Isles says he believes that most furniture makers are “not doing it to get rich.”
“It’s a passion. It’s a challenge,” he says. “You are always learning and improving. There’s great sense of achievement and, when a client cries because they love what you have quite literally put blood, sweat and, very nearly, tears into, there is no price you can put on that.”
He recalls a client who did cry when he delivered a walnut dining table that was reminiscent of a piece by George Nakashima. At first, Isles thought the client didn’t like the table, but soon realized these were tears of joy. After much time discussing plans for the details of this table—the design, dimensions, thickness of the legs, table top and finishes—it was exactly as she had envisioned, and this was just what she needed during the chaos of an extensive home remodel.
“The table was delivered and what had been an empty space was now, in her opinion, the perfect space to gather with family and friends in her new house. The table pulled it all together,” Isles says.
Down to the Details
Isles prefers to use fairly natural materials—he doesn’t “mess around” with the wood too much, and the furniture he creates isn’t super modern or even midcentury modern. He describes his creations as clean and straightforward with a contemporary twist on cottage or farmhouse style. Often, he allows the grain of the wood to shine through and, sometimes, he’ll make a live-edge table, preserving the natural edge of the piece of wood and showcasing the tree’s beauty.
Shay makes it a point to design and create pieces that are symbiotic with the environment, often opting for a bruised or naturally aged finish or choosing a type of wood that’s more conducive to the place where it will be used, rather than heavily lacquering the furniture as she may have done on custom pieces in the 1990s.
And when it comes to turning the material into a cherished bedframe, armoire or table, she works with the client to bring their vision to life. Even if the client isn’t exactly sure what they want, she’s able to pull inspiration from their likes and dislikes.
“When I get the feeling someone wants to express themselves, I become the conduit for that and help them create something that reflects them,” Shay explains. “Be it their style, unique requirements or even their personal family history, custom furnishings give a client a piece [that’s] unique for their project. Everything I produce reflects the client and what they have been brave enough to share with me about themselves.
“In an era of HGTV over-worked fads, being able to provide a look that is defined by the client, and not by mass media, is what has fueled me for over 30 years. I tell clients all the time, ‘Don’t come to me if you want to copy something you see everyday on HGTV. We won’t be a good fit.’ The enjoyment of this journey is something that produces a meaningful and beautiful project.”
Shay combines accents from her clients’ personal culture and history into her design, like symbols from their childhood, materials relative to where they grew up or personal details that tell their story. She also says that sometimes the request for custom furniture is more practical—she can’t get a piece in the right size or finish and an alternative has to be created.
Isles also works closely with his customers to come up with the perfect solution. Ultimately, a lot of planning and craftsmanship goes into custom-built home furnishings, which tend to cost more than items manufactured by a traditional company due to the time and artistry involved.
“I take time to sit down with the client or [interior] designer, draw up … plans and determine the correct size needed for the space,” he says. “I get an idea of what they want and offer insight on what can be produced while we develop an idea.”
Whether it’s a unique creation or a reproduction made to fit a certain space, choosing custom furniture means opting for high-quality pieces that stand the test of time and can even become family heirlooms, passed down for children to enjoy in their own homes.
Made to Order
A few local stores also offer customizable furniture, from made-to-measure bookshelves to chairs and sofas draped in your choice of fabric.
Based in Istanbul and founded more than a century ago, the Lazzoni company opened a showroom this past spring at SOCO in Costa Mesa. From sleek, modern furniture to effortlessly elegant pieces, Lazzoni offers items that are uniquely designed with professional guidance and expert craftsmanship—not to mention seemingly endless customization options. Choose from bedroom furniture to sofas, entertainment centers, desks and bookshelves that can be tailor-made to fit in your space, even wrapping around corners if needed.
For truly one-of-a-kind items designed from the ground up, sometimes a minimum number must be ordered, but there’s no minimum required to customize products within the collection. For example, a customer could change the dimensions, seat fill or leg style of the brand’s Mix sofa.
“We tell our clients that they can think of Lazzoni as their personal artisan atelier, with the know-how of 125 years of experience and 500,000 square feet of manufacturing facility,” says Os Berke Kababulut, a fourth-generation owner of Lazzoni and the company’s U.S. coordinator.
Another SoCo store, Gather Home Furnishings offers made-to-order services for most of its upholstery with more than 500 fabric options. The business is also developing a new line of casegoods that will be customizable. And all of these custom pieces are made in the greater LA/Orange County area.
Also at SoCo, Room & Board has collections that can be customized, from cabinets available in a wide range of sizes with materials from white oak to cherry wood or maple with a charcoal stain to sectionals with more than 250 fabrics and 30 leather options as well as multiple leg styles and finishes. Customers may also choose the size, color and pile height of rugs as well as the size, shape and frame color of mirrors for unique decor to pair with custom furniture and create a space that’s as unique as you are.
Let There Be Light
In addition to her work with custom-built furniture, Anna Shay, principal at Solanna Design & Development, is currently developing a line of lighting that utilizes traditional materials like leather. Inspired by the braiding and handwork on saddlery, her lighting uses large-scale braiding in the design.
Shay’s concepts tend to be large and she’s always looking for custom fabricators who are passionate about their trade and want to create these types of pieces. She feels strongly that “development of all arts is a significant barometer of a society’s health and growth” and the support of craftspeople is key “if our creative culture as a nation is to survive.”
“… Elevated civilizations produce art—it’s an indication of a rising culture,” she adds. “It’s important that people who have dedicated their lives to art be supported. Custom furniture, lighting and the decorative arts is a meaningful way for people, who can afford to, to give back through commissions with artists who create these pieces.”