One-off pieces help buyers stand out from the crowd

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 August, 2011, 12:00am


For design-savvy homeowners who dread the thought of spending large amounts of money on a couch, lamp or coffee table only to see the same piece at a friend's place, customisation is important.

This is especially the case in compact cities such as Hong Kong, where it is often the same interior designers making the rounds and plumbing the same resources.

Which is why Bespoke Global, a company that opened a few months ago in New York, is already seeing a huge amount of interest, much of it from Asia. The company is, after all, dedicated to helping people who love design find that perfect, customised, one-off piece, acting as something of a design concierge, curator and facilitator and then shipping the pieces around the globe.

Co-founder Gwen Carlton has been custom-designing lighting from her New York studio for the past decade. Her playful, whimsical creations - think chandeliers that resemble a medley of enamelled twigs and branches - hang in the palaces of Saudi royalty as well as in the relatively more modest dwellings of actress Kirsten Dunst and director Sofia Coppola. With a background in creating 'couture' pieces, she wanted to give other designers the same opportunity and help clients from all over the world to find within one company all the items they wanted.

'I wanted to bring everyone together under one umbrella, and provide clients with access to people whose work was amazing,' she said.

Potential clients can visit and check out the 20 pedigreed designers whose work is on offer; this can be the eclectic tableware and sculptures of Brooklyn-based Kiln Design Studio (who have designed for Bergdorf Goodman and Calvin Klein), or Maki Yamamoto's dramatic textiles (she's worked for Chanel and Dior), or British-based master craftsman Sean Feeney, who specialises in inlay and marquetry. Other designers offer rugs, candelabra and glassware.

If a customer likes the look of something, say, Reeta Gyamlani's camel bone and brass rosette chest, but wants a different colour or size or type of ornamentation, Carlton and her co-founder, Pippa McArdle, introduce them to the designer and facilitate the customisation process, keeping on top of sketches and samples, payments and deliveries.

The partners are in talks with another 32 designers, says McArdle, to add them to the collective. She reckons that by the second year of business, Bespoke Global will have some 300 hand-picked designers from all over the world. In selecting the sort of creative companies to add to the mix, the founders arrange site visits, talk to previous clients, and try to understand the designer's creative process and the finesse with which they can handle customised jobs.

'We're not going to add designers just for the sake of adding them,' said McArdle. 'We are very conscious of making sure that every person we add makes sense, and is really the best-in-class.'

The founders say time saved between a client - and even the client's interior decorator - and a designer working on a custom piece is priceless; there is no chasing up for specs and samples, no complaining about late deliveries or orders gone wrong.

One of the first things a client might be asked is: 'Tell me what you love.'

Then, McArdle said, 'we stay with them every step of the way ... We tease out the elements they are drawn to - colour, material, the shape of a leg. From there, the artist can take those reference points and interpret them into their own design.'

The designers offer just about anything needed to fully outfit a home - everything from pillows to console tables. Prices start at about US$94 for a customised Gregg Hessel hand-forged copper candlestick, but can be tens of thousands of dollars and beyond. It can take anywhere from one to four months - or even longer, depending on the complexity of the item - to design, produce and deliver a piece.

So far the founders are fielding requests that range from extending a table by 60cm to creating something completely from scratch.

Michael Coffey, a Massachusetts-based master woodworker whose sculptural, architectural pieces generate high bidding prices at international auctions and routinely have waiting lists, said that being part of Bespoke Global allowed him to work on customised pieces he may never have been able to otherwise. A Bespoke Global client ordered a pair of side tables reflecting the same detail as an existing cabinet Coffey had in his studio.

'Although I have done side tables in the past, the idea of creating two new pieces to complement another is something that I haven't done before,' he said. 'I had always wondered what it would be like to create pieces that were more art and pure form, but since that is a completely different field, I didn't have a marketing outlet prepared for this and thought my contacts in the furniture industry would most likely not be as interested. What I saw as a challenge, Bespoke Global saw as an opportunity. They encouraged me to create these pieces and allowed for everything to fall into place.'

From his perspective, coming under the Bespoke aegis means he can focus on the actual crafting of the pieces, rather than having to fuss with marketing and promotion. 'As artisans and designers, our time is better used creating and designing rather than dealing with the marketing and bringing attention to the pieces,' he said.

Carlton said that interest was coming from as far afield as the Turks and Caicos and the United Arab Emirates. She is now working on customised lighting for a client in Singapore, while her collaborators have clients in India. She said the Asia-Pacific region was the fastest-growing market. 'These are people who are passionate about design,' she said. 'And it's exciting for them to eventually have something that becomes part of the body of work of the artist.'