Adding a lit­tle fire to your life

Jameson: The grow­ing ap­peal of fire fea­tures — bowls, pits and ta­bles.

Orlando Sentinel - - Front Page - By Tim McKeough

Cus­tomiza­tion has al­ways been part of home fur­nish­ings. Urged on by their clients, in­te­rior de­sign­ers seek out lux­u­ri­ous fab­rics and col­lab­o­rate with work­shops to de­sign spe­cial pieces. And even mass-mar­ket items like Crate & Bar­rel so­fas come with size, fin­ish and up­hol­stery op­tions.

But in al­most all sit­u­a­tions, the more per­son­al­ized the piece, the more you will have to pay, and the wait­ing time for made-to­order is months.

It doesn’t have to be that way. A new wave of e-com­merce fur­ni­ture com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing In­side Weather, The In­side, In­te­rior De­fine and Bench­made Mod­ern, are pro­mot­ing speedy cus­tomiza­tion for all.

To buy a sofa in In­side Weather’s on­line store, shop­pers choose among a dozen arm styles, in­clud­ing fat up­hol­stered perches and grooved tim­ber slabs; up­hol­stery op­tions such as wo­ven linen-and-polyester fab­rics and ve­gan leathers; and de­tails such as tuft­ing and stitch­ing.

If a cre­denza is wanted, shop­pers can pick the fin­ish for the top and sides, one of more than 100 or­na­men­tal door pat­terns, and their fa­vorite pulls and legs.

The so­fas start at $898, and small cre­den­zas be­gin at $518 — a sub­stan­tial sav­ings over tra­di­tional cus­tom fur­ni­ture, which can run into five fig­ures. These are shipped (from Cal­i­for­nia) typ­i­cally within a cou­ple of weeks, and in some cases, just a few days.

“In ap­parel, cus­tomiza­tion has moved down­stream and be­come more and more ac­ces­si­ble,” said Ben Parsa, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of In­side Weather, which be­gan in 2018. He wants to do the same for house­hold prod­ucts. “Be­ing able to vi­su­al­ize tens, and soon hun­dreds, of mil­lions of com­bi­na­tions of fur­ni­ture from the com­fort of your home is some­thing that we think has tremen­dous mass ap­peal.”

The In­side, a com­pany that started in 2017, makes fab­ric the ob­ject of dizzy de­ci­sion-mak­ing. On its web­site, shop­pers choose a shape for a lounge chair, bed, room di­vider or other piece, and then se­lect from about 150 tex­tile pat­terns, in­clud­ing trans­la­tions of ter­razzo and mala­chite, leafy botan­i­cals and gal­lop­ing ze­bras li­censed from the revered de­sign house Scala­man­dre. Each piece is made and shipped in two to four weeks.

“The peo­ple who are shop­ping on­line have spent years on so­cial me­dia sav­ing gor­geous in­te­ri­ors, and they have a sense of what they’re look­ing for,” said Britt Bunn, a co-founder of The In­side. “We’re ex­cited to be able to make those vi­sions come true.”

As with so many other in­dus­tries, tech­nol­ogy has changed fur­ni­ture pro­duc­tion. On the front end, dig­i­tal tools and apps al­low com­pa­nies to reach con­sumers, no show­rooms re­quired, and pro­vide real-time vi­su­al­iza­tions of what cus­tom pieces will look like. In­te­rior De­fine even of­fers an aug­mented re­al­ity smart­phone app that in­serts the prospec­tive piece into an im­age of your liv­ing room.

Be­hind the scenes, the com­pa­nies hold es­sen­tially no in­ven­tory and rely on com­puter-con­trolled ma­chines to do much of the work. At In­side Weather, a sofa is merely raw lum­ber un­til a cus­tomer places an or­der. When this is done, a CNC ma­chine cuts the nec­es­sary wood com­po­nents at the com­pany’s fa­cil­ity in Ran­cho Cor­dova, Cal­i­for­nia. When some­one or­ders a cre­denza, a flatbed dig­i­tal prin­ter ap­plies pat­terns to pan­els.

“Frankly, we couldn’t have done this at all 15 years ago,” Parsa said, “and it would have been sig­nif­i­cantly more cost pro­hib­i­tive even five years ago.”

It’s a sim­i­lar story at Sky­line Fur­ni­ture, a man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany out­side Chicago that was founded in 1946 and of­fers quick, cus­tom-made fur­ni­ture pro­duced through re­cently ac­quired equip­ment.

Sky­line’s dig­i­tal tex­tile prin­ter turns out up­hol­stery fab­ric on de­mand. “Pre­vi­ous to that, if you wanted to do a cus­tom tex­tile, it took 90 days, and you had to buy a min­i­mum of 2,000 to 3,000 yards,” said Me­ganne Wecker, the com­pany’s pres­i­dent.

Now Sky­line can print just enough fab­ric to cover a sin­gle chair, in any pat­tern. The com­pany man­u­fac­tures many pieces for other re­tail­ers, in­clud­ing The In­side, but also has its own con­sumer-fac­ing brand, Cloth & Co.

In a re­cent part­ner­ship with One Kings Lane, Cloth & Co. cre­ated Pal­ette, an on­line ser­vice that al­lows shop­pers to play with the color and scale of their pat­terns, even chang­ing el­e­ments within them.

On­line fur­ni­ture cus­tomiza­tion “is a chal­lenge to a com­pany like West Elm or Ikea, which does carry a lot of in­ven­tory,” said Pa­tri­cia John­son, the grad­u­ate pro­gram di­rec­tor for fur­ni­ture de­sign at Rhode Is­land School of De­sign. “It gives a pop­ulist el­e­ment to de­sign — it’s more demo­cratic — which I think is never a bad thing.”

Less ap­peal­ing, how­ever, is that many of the pieces of­fered by new on­line com­pa­nies ven­ture into knock­offs.

“A lot of them are de­riv­a­tive or copies of things,” John­son said.

In­side Weather’s Vita lounge chair ($473) looks al­most ex­actly like the Shell Chair ($3,865) de­signed by Hans Weg­ner for Carl Hansen & Son in 1963.

But im­i­ta­tion is hardly a de­ter­rent, cer­tainly not at these prices.


Kobe Side Chairs from In­side Weather are shown in a va­ri­ety of cus­tom col­ors.


A Tai­lored Plat­form Bed comes in mul­ti­ple fab­rics from The In­side, a com­pany that makes fab­ric the ob­ject of dizzy de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

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