In our March-April issue’s “Trend Alert” we explored the growing trend toward local geographic and cultural influences in place of standardized design approaches not only for hotels and restaurants, but also corporate offices and retail locations. This movement is largely driven by a desire to create unique spaces that set companies apart from the competition in the search to find and retain customers, talent and tenants.
To create these one-of-a-kind spaces, design professionals in the commercial interiors sector are tasked with delivering unique designs, often using bespoke products and furnishings rather than off-the-shelf merchandise to achieve the desired aesthetic. As such, the demand for suppliers who make it effortless to specify custom furniture, fixtures and finishes is growing.
In fact, many manufacturers believe as much as 90 percent of the products they ship will be customized in some way in the not-so-distant future, according to Cliff Brown in Digital Patterning. “The demand for custom furniture is on the rise, and the ability to deliver made-to-order pieces is becoming a major point of differentiation between brands,” he notes.
There are several key factors driving the need for customization, as well as benefits and drawbacks to one-off solutions that design and building professionals ought to consider when specifying tailor-made products for an interiors project.
Three Factors Driving More Customization
To be clear: Customization is not a new concept. Manufacturers have historically offered customers the ability to modify standard products, but large minimums and higher costs made it somewhat prohibitive. Today, advances in technology and manufacturing, a desire for personalization and authenticity, as well as competitive advantage, are driving customization of products—from consumer goods to interior furnishings and finishes.
Technology: Thanks to web-based applications, digital printing and 3D configuration tools, suppliers can now manufacture products on-demand while housing less inventory and putting the power of choice in customers’ hands. According to a report from McKinsey, “Online configuration technologies that can easily and cost-effectively assemble customers’ preferences and 3D digital modeling that lets shoppers envision the final product are becoming increasingly affordable and scalable. In manufacturing, dynamically programmable robotic systems can switch between models and variants with little loss of efficiency.”
These technology solutions have made it easier than ever for designers to introduce distinctive products tailored to their clients’ needs. Whether it’s changing basic elements, such as the size and dimensions of furniture, different materials or color, companies are giving specifiers the ability to co-create products to achieve a unique solution and aesthetic.
Authenticity: “Expert designers begin to feel that if they’re not customizing aspects of their designs, the overall effect is somehow less authentic,” writes textile designer Stacy Garcia in a recent article. With mass-produced objects, she says there is a greater chance multiple designers will be using the same products in their work. As a result, Garcia notes there has been retaliation against that “because as designers, it is always important to have our own stamp on things. Our unique voice and vision is ultimately what we are selling to our clients,” she explains.
“Clients nowadays are much more interested in how their interior spaces look, so I think unique solutions or anything custom that really helps them create a one-of-a-kind look that no one else has is key,” observes Gisselle Amador, senior interior designer at IA Interior Architects. “It’s also a way to express their brand and their culture authentically.”
For example, IA Interior Architects worked on a project for its client Virgin Voyages with no visual reference of what the cruise line’s new ship would ultimately look like. Taking cues from the cruise industry, the design team custom-fabricated a reception desk that mimicked the forms and shapes one would find in ship and yacht design, Amador recalls.
“Clients really want you to feel who they are when you walk into their space,” she says. “Those custom elements and products—it can be in the flooring or in the carpet or any material basically—can really help achieve that.”
Competition: Callie Reid, associate at CallisonRTKL, suggests clients may not always think to ask for custom solutions directly, but they are definitely looking for unique spaces to help recruit and retain new hires in a very competitive market. “They really want their workspace to look fun and unique and keep their employees happy, so their workspace needs to be top notch, and it needs to have all the amenities the other companies have,” she says. “I think that in itself warrants the need for these custom-designed elements.”
PHOTOS: ROBIN HILL