Handmade, Custom-Made, and Made-to-Order: Why You Deserve All Three

Consider a walnut dining set made by a master furniture maker. Walnut is dramatic, bold, andrich, with colors ranging from light yellow to deep brown with an androgynous appeal. This wood is suitable for dainty and feminine furniture, as well as robust and masculine pieces. It is versatile and, considering the market price of walnut furniture in general, intrinsically valuable.

What gives this walnut dining set the most value, however, is not its appearance or price tag but rather that an artist made it specifically for a buyer. In short, the dining set is valuable because it is custom made, possibly handmade by the artisan, and was made-to-order.

These are three things that automatically add value to furniture. Unfortunately, today, many use these terms loosely when describing the process of making furniture. Some manufacturers use them interchangeably even though their meanings are very much distinguishable from one another.

Avoid misleading marketing tactics that take liberties with these terms by learning what they truly mean.

Defining Furniture Terms: Handmade, Custom Made, Made-to-Order

1. Handmade

Definition: made by hand or by a hand process

Handmade furniture is exactly how it sounds: built and assembled using one’s hands. Buyers place more value in handmade furniture — or any handmade item for that matter — by this virtue alone, for two reasons. First, it implies that more effort went into the creation of that item; and second, that each one is unique.

While that may be true, you should also be aware that the term “handmade” also applies to furniture with mass-produced parts that are literally assembled by hand. The perceived values of uniqueness and applied skills of an artisan are no longer in the equation. This usage reduces “handmade” to a superficial stage in a production process designed more for efficiency and less for art.

2. Custom-Made

Definition: made to individual specifications

Custom-made furniture refers to pieces that craftsmen build according to the customer’s specifications. It allows you to decide on the color, type of material used, finish, and design, among other things. Moreover, it still qualifies as “custom-made” furniture even if you only get to decide on one or two of these things.

With the market brimming with standardized product parts,many get the opportunity to inject their style and taste in the making of their cookie-cutter furniture, too. This illusion of choice allows manufacturers to stretch the meaning of the term “custom-made.”

Clearly, the term that is used to distinguish the line between mass-produced and customized is now blurred. Through technology and the Internet, manufacturers can mass-produce furniture and at the same time incorporate their customers’ input into the standard design. It doesn’t matter if the customization is limited only to color choices or material. Technically speaking, the product still falls into this category.

To be clear, mass-production is not a bad thing. It is, after all, the reason why so many of the things we enjoy are available at affordable prices. It’s just that in furniture making, mass-production often comes at the expense of unique craftsmanship.

3. Made-to-Order

Definition: produced to supply a special or an individual demand

Furniture is made-to-order if production begins only when a customer orders it. For example, Unruh Furniture only makes made-to-order furniture; we don’t pre-make or keep an inventory of finished pieces.

The term “made-to-order,” used as a descriptor for furniture, implies exclusivity and, often, luxury. It gives furniture a certain prestige, given that others can’t buy the same thing anywhere else.

Technically, any manufacturer can declare made-to-order status withany product under their brand—even if they use the exact process that other manufacturers use in creating a similar product. It is this type of marketing and branding that sometimes dilutes the meaning and significance of “made-to-order.” Buyers need to do their research before purchasing furniture that labels itself as such.

One reason why these terms are used interchangeably is that these processes often work in tandem, creating a manufacturing overlap. For instance, it’s possible to customize handmade furniture, customize made-to-order furniture,andmake handmade furniture made-to-order.

At Unruh Furniture, we apply all three terms to our furniture making process. But more importantly, we don’t use these descriptors simply as part of our marketing or branding strategy. We work hard to embody all the values —perceived and actual — that these termsrepresent. We believe you deserve nothing less.

The Unruh Process: Putting Heart in Made-to-Order Furniture

What sets Unruh apart is our meticulous planning and creative process that always involves you, our customers.
We don’t simply let you pick a few characteristic elements like color or wood type just to call our service customizable. Neither do we assemble mass-produced furniture parts by hand just to validate calling our products handmade. Unruh puts heart in the made-to-order furniture business.

Our process begins with a visit from our clients. We will present 142 unique furniture styles for you to draw inspiration from and for us to use as a foundation for building your furniture.

What follows is the application of practical elements into an otherwise creative collaboration. We’ll ask questions regarding product specifications, such as “How wide is your dining room and how large would you prefer your dining table to be?” and “Your choice of bed frame is tasteful, but will it fit in your bedroom?” Count on us to consider the nuances of the room or space that you want us to furnish.

We offer you six different wood species to choose from: Walnut, Oak, Maple, Hickory, Cherry, and Alder. Furthermore, we provide several beautiful options for finishes so that you can make your furnishing your own.

Your choice of wood and finish can transform the look of your furniture. If this is your first time making these major decisions for custom furniture, don’t worry; we will gladly help you choose combinations that will achieve the look and feel you desire.

A Balance of Quality and Art

Furniture that reflects artistry and hard work — theseare the elementsthat speak to any devoted homemaker. The knowledge that a lot of hard work and skillwent into creating a piece of furniture evokes a high level of sentiment. Also, these types of furniture promise quality and stylistic timelessness. These are the ones that stayin the family for years, evengenerations, to come.

At Unruh Furniture, we take pride in our ability to produce the highest quality wooden furniture that suits the style, preferences, and living space of each client.

Contact us to schedule a showroom visit.

By Sam Unruh

I started Unruh Furniture in my garage in 2012 when my wife was pregnant with our first. Today I have 4 kids, 20 employees, and plenty of fires to put out every day. It's a great life and I am a happy man.