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18th-27th August 2018

Commissioning Piece - A Guide

Celebration of Craftsmanship & Design


18th - 27th August 2018


Commissioning Piece - A Guide

We are grateful to the eminent furniture designer/maker Andrew Varah for this practical guide to commissioning work.  Clients and makers new to the commissioning procedure will find it an invaluable common sense approach to what can be a most enjoyable experience

1.      Once the prospective client has been recommended to a furniture maker, or perhaps seen the maker’s work, the client will generally contact the maker.  If the maker is personally recommended then he or she may make the initial approach.

2.      The client should clearly outline a general description of the piece which is to be commissioned.  If possible the client should state the style of the piece, for example contemporary, traditional, classic, Art Deco, etc. as the maker may feel unable to design in a particular style.

3.      The maker, once having established that the style required is within his ability, should ask the client a number of questions.

Has this piece of furniture to match any detail of existing room furniture or architectural style of the house.

The maker should establish the function and purpose of the piece, although it may sound obvious, some pieces may be designed externally to disguise what is contained internally.       

Is there a specific time factor?  This is important because if the maker is committed for six months and the client can not accept delay, there is no point in asking detailed questions.  The maker should recommend a choice of alternative makers so that the client’s requirements could be met.

4.      At this point a visit to a client’s house to see the actual room in which the piece is to be situated should be arranged.  This first meeting should allow the client to see samples of polished timber and their price variations.  The maker will observe access and door widths where applicable.  He will ask the client for as much information as possible including the client’s likes and dislikes.  The client will expect alternative suggestions and alternative views on possible details and he should sketch in perspective to allow the client to visualise more easily.  The maker should not expect the client to resolve any technical details or expect the client to give, at this stage,  a final decision as to the finish of the piece.  This initial meeting should also establish a relationship with the client and maker, both must feel comfortable about the initial discussions.

5.      The maker will ask the client if a specific budget has been allocated.  If the client has no idea or prefers not to restrict the scope of the design by financial constraints, then it would be sensible for the maker, when submitting a written quotation, to perhaps offer a range of price options which would not necessarily compromise the piece.

6.      The client may expect this initial meeting not to involve any cost.  Generally, but not always (and this must be established when the meeting is arranged) the majority of makers will not charge for the first meeting, nor do many charge for the initial concept drawings.  If subsequent drawings, visits or scale models are required the maker must inform the client of any costs before any further work is undertaken.

7.      The client should ask the maker when the initial or proposed drawings are to be sent, and the maker may well ask how soon a response could be expected once the initial drawings have been received.

8.      The maker should normally write immediately after the initial meeting, stating clearly the main points of the meeting and confirm the time factor for the presentation of the drawings, perhaps even suggesting a date for the next meeting.

9.      Once the client has received the proposed design of the piece of commissioned furniture a second meeting should take place, to resolve any details which require changing, to make a final selection of woods, (handles, knobs, hinges, stays, etc.) and to agree the cost of the piece.  The maker generally asks for an initial deposit, which can be between 25% and 40% with the balance paid either on delivery or within one week of delivery.  If the commission is large stage payments are sometimes requested.

10.  The maker, having been verbally commissioned to produce a piece of work should immediately confirm the discussion in writing, stating clearly as much detail as possible.  State agreed price and enclose an invoice for the initial deposit.  The delivery date, or time frame agreed should also be established.

11.  The clients, before actually commissioning this piece, should satisfy themselves that the maker was professional in his dealings so far, and that any design doubts have been resolved.  They should ask about the effects of ultra-violet light on the woods they have chosen and the maker’s policy for rectifying any problems in the future.  Many makers are happy to give references to the client so that the clients can reassure themselves that previous commissions have gone well.

12.  The maker, once commissioned may wish to invite the client to observe the selection of the woods to be used and possibly show the client around the workshop to observe other commissioned pieces being made.

13.  One the piece is commissioned there is not only a financial commitment between client and maker, but a need for both parties to feel thoroughly involved.  It is the maker who must at every stage ensure that any changes required to the piece, as it evolves, are thoroughly discussed and agreed with the client.

14.  The client has a responsibility to ensure that delivery arrangements and the final stage payments are in accordance with the initial agreement

15.  The maker’s final responsibility is to advise the client on how to maintain the piece and the dangers of excessive heat and rapid change of temperature.  He must advise on types of polishes that the client may wish to apply.  His concern at this point will be that the whole commissioning experience will have been a thoroughly rewarding one for the client.

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