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Small Businesses on Etsy Are Making Custom Furniture More Attainable

Ryan Smith

You know you’ve reached a certain point in your adult life when you’re ready to graduate from the pieces you accumulated for your dorm room to more long-term furniture options like an investment piece from West Elm. But did you ever consider going bespoke? No, we’re not talking about a $20,000 George Nakashima dining table—but rather a whole subset of smaller, boutique craftsmen who make the big-box options look like they're giving you very little bang for your considerable buck.

After shopping around for a new media console—searching endlessly through websites and in-store at places like Crate & Barrel, CB2 et al—I decided to take a different route: I went to Etsy. Not only did I find a number of vintage options, but also a surprising selection of high-quality, locally sourced and produced furniture at prices that rivaled what I had seen from the big-box retailers. I had never considered it because I didn't think I could afford handmade furniture.

We doubt this is the kind of sideboard you had in your college days. The Designs To Live By piece has plenty of storage and adjustable shelving, plus its incredibly good midcentury-modern design.
Photo: Courtesy of Designs To Live By

I ended up buying from designer Jerry Abramovich, who runs an Etsy marketplace under the name Designs To Live By as well as on his website Bowery & Grand, and got three unexpected perks from the deal: I was able to negotiate the price (try doing that at West Elm!), have it delivered by the craftsmen two days later (for free!), and they were able to make any adjustments like having holes cut in the back for cables or additional holes drilled in to raise shelf height.

I found that going through a company like Etsy was the perfect intermediary between the West Elms and Crate & Barrels of the world and the truly high-end bespoke pieces that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Not only was I able to get a unique piece at a big-box price, I dealt with an actual person on the design of the product, and it was even brought to my door by the designer himself.

Jerry saw the growing demand for high-quality, handmade furniture and soon turned his hobby of restoring antique and vintage mid-century pieces into a business. “I wanted my pieces to reflect the amazing craftsmanship of the vintage designs, ensuring no corners were cut so that they could be enjoyed for years to come,” he explains. Jerry sources the walnut and oak wood used to create his mid-century inspired pieces, like his best-selling Z chair, from the Northeast and has workshops in Europe to help keep up with the demand across the globe.

The popular Z chair comes in a range of beautiful, rich colors from olive to bright orange to a brilliant purple.
Photo: Courtesy of Designs To Live By

He’s seen a shift in his clientele too. “Younger people are becoming more aware of sustainability and quality,” he says. “[They’re] understanding that buying something that is mass-produced doesn't necessarily focus on the details needed that will allow the piece to last for years.”

Jerry, who says he sells around 10 to 15 of his mid-century credenzas and Z-chairs per month on Etsy, isn’t alone in turning to the website to help find a new audience for quality handmade furniture.

Henry Jara, who makes furniture under the name Casara Modern, produces mid-century style tables and chairs in a variety of fabrics from his workshop in Orange County, California. Meanwhile, Indiana-based Hedge House Furniture, a family-owned workshop, aims to create furniture “that becomes an integral part of your daily life and home” and wants its pieces to become heirloom items that are passed down from generation to generation. It’s this devotion to quality that seems to have more and more young people turning to the site to find pieces that will last a lifetime but don’t require a lifetime of saving up for.

Casara's Percy sofa is inspired by the designs of Adrian Pearsall. We love the extensive offerings of fabrics that are stain repellent, hypoallergenic, and kid- and pet-friendly.
Photo: Courtesy of Casara Modern Shop
Hedge House's Hayward dresser is sleek, sturdy, and built to order.
Photo: Courtesy of HedgeHouse

Etsy’s trend expert, Dayna Isom Johnson, says that the site has seen an increase in those looking for more bespoke furniture. “In an increasingly automated world, the value of craftsmanship has become even more significant and shoppers are turning to Etsy to discover handmade items that can’t be found anywhere else,” she says. Consumers with truly special needs might benefit from Etsy in different ways too, Dayna says. For example, taller shoppers can work directly with sellers to extend the length of their bed frames for a better fit.

Jerry says he’s been approached by a few of the big names to sell his furniture on their websites, but he’s reluctant to sacrifice the quality that would inevitably come with mass-producing his products in favor of staying more local and direct. “For me, the focus has always been to grow my brand organically. And I'd like to keep it that way,” he says. In the meantime, you know where to find him.

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Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest