This is not a short article. However, if you are truly passionate about the interior design and domestic furniture industry I promise you it is worth the time.
What we are launching today will prove to fundamentally change the idea of custom furniture and working directly with a workshop or factory.
Let’s start at the beginning of how our internal observations led us to this idea.
The word “custom” has a weird stature in our industry. It seems to mean lots of different things to different people – but after the large retailers started using it when referring to, well, very non-custom furniture, the word seemed to detach from any accepted definition entirely.
To me (aka Buildlane, Hi Founder Frank here), custom means you, the designer, are working directly with a workshop or factory and your design options are completely defined by you.
When I started Buildlane I decided that we’d give designers a completely blank slate. In the absolute truest definition of custom, you tell us every detail of what you want built.
After thousands of custom builds, what have we learned?
Sometimes Custom Is Too Custom
We have learned that what you most often need in your space is a simple piece that is well established in the design library, but you need to mold it to fit your project; use specific fabric, fit the space plan perfectly, and/or be conscious of your unique client’s size in the proportions.
The benefits of custom were still a top priority; lead times, communication, supporting domestic, complete freedom, and that reaction when your clients see their finished piece inside an actual factory setting. But having to start from scratch on every design was actually taking too much time (and Buildlane is all about saving time right?).
Difficulty With A Blank Slate
Creating a custom piece with little guidance can also be intimidating if you’ve never done it before. Even our most experienced designers tend to learn something new with every bench-made, from scratch build.
There is certainly some education and guidance to be desired when left to come up with a full design on your own.
Behind the walls of Buildlane are incredibly talented people with a vast array of knowledge about custom furniture – but currently much of that knowledge transfer doesn’t happen until you’re in the production phase of a project.
So the solution seemed to be a library of expertly defined templates to start you on your creative process.
The next step was to figure out how we would determine what templates to create.
Research And Development
To lead the R&D side of the Templates project we turned to Hunter Scanlon, who I jokingly call our “furniture academic”. Of which he absolutely is – holding a Masters Degree in Furniture Design from the University of Cincinnati.
Hunter’s undertaking was not only something that hadn’t been done before, but involved all of the following elements, each with their own complexities:
- Picking the styles that designers wanted
- Determining the best practices for build specifics
- Bringing these styles to life for the Templates gallery
- Creating an efficient process that could produce additional Templates quickly
To figure out what Templates we would build we leaned on three things – history, a small private data set, and a large public data set.
History of course is the history of furniture design. Hunter, and many of our staff who help identify potential Templates, have a wealth of knowledge on what has come before. Furniture, like every design discipline, relies heavily on the past.
The small data set (relatively speaking) is our own data, what styles our designers have requested over the years. Like most companies with a strong technology component, we are very data-driven. We catalog everything that comes through our doors. It is then only a matter of recognizing patterns.
The large data set is basically every public furniture offering we could get our hands on. This includes large ecommerce stores and trade manufacturers alike. What styles do they think are important? What styles are common among a large group of retailers?
Using this data we are already able to determine much of what the proper and common specifications are for each template. Especially our own data where every piece also included a detailed shop drawing.
Of course we also have the unique resource of a network of some of the best furniture makers in the world. They are the final test to show a template and get their feedback. And any spec they might do differently we’d always ask, “why?” And those notes then get incorporated into the template – making it even better.
Bringing Templates To Life
The previous two steps bring us a detailed shop drawing. But we know that these Templates will find their way to client presentations so they needed a way to represent them in a way that was familiar.
For this we had each template modeled in 3d. Each piece is rendered in a common wood finish and with upholstery a simple off-white fabric.
At this time there was a discussion of how far we’d need to make the visual match the exact thing a designer was specifying. For example, if the template was a sofa eight feet long with three seat cushions and the designer was creating something with a patterned fabric at twelve feet long with four cushions, did we need to show that?
Looking back at our conversations with designers this isn’t how they work. A sofa shape with the materials pinned next to it is quite enough to let the imagination fill in the rest.
An Efficient Process For Creating New Templates
This all seems like a lot of work and it truly is. We named Templates as such because they are meant to represent the zeitgeist of furniture design.
What we’re creating are not “lines”. We don’t have lines at Buildlane, this is your playground. As such, the value and power of Templates grows only as the library gets bigger. We can’t wait to see where you take Templates.
It is important that we can add new Templates every single week. Thus, the internal process was built to accommodate that.
Bringing Templates to the Buildlane Ecosystem
Once we had 50 Templates ready to go it was up to our Head of Product, George Gearhart, to incorporate them into the workflow of our designers – many of whom have been using Buildlane for years.
Ultimately the functionality required for Templates (and for some future features in the works) meant we’d need to transform the Buildlane — originally designed to work with certain basic inputs — and expand it to an engine that could take practically an infinite amount of inputs.
Not to get too into the weeds, but imagine a typical ecommerce furniture website where you’re given a few options, maybe fabric, defined sizes, and legs. Those three options on their own create a large number of possible combinations. Now imagine forty different options across thirty different types of pieces, and every options is as distinct as fabric and wood. That’s where we are headed — true custom — but in a structured form to allow infinite creativity with expert recommendations.
Let’s See the Templates Already!
Fair enough. If you are already a Buildlane designer you can simply visit your new dashboard. If you don’t have a Buildlane account, no problem, you can create one in under a minute using this sign up form. You’ll have access to Templates and the rest of Buildlane instantly.
Here is what the new Templates gallery looks like.
You can then click on each Template to get a preview of the details and multiple views of the piece.
And finally, you have the freedom to fully customize the piece to your hearts content. Anything goes!
This is just the beginning of Templates. We have a lot more in the works to expand on what this concept means and what it means to be a Template. I’m sure you’re already starting to see the possibilities.
But I don’t want to give away too much just yet.
In the meantime, if you have questions or want a live demo of Templates and the rest of Buildlane reach out to your account manager. If you don’t have one or know who it is you can always email us at [email protected].
If you have ideas for Templates or want to talk about the future of custom, I’m always available as well – [email protected].