I’m not sure if I am posting in the right area, but I have some questions about custom pieces. You see I moved somewhat recently from a home that had a built-ins we used for bookcases. This home does not have that, and I have been searching for bookcases for months now. My question is; is it possible to find some custom made bookcases for a price comparable to retail. I know that retail prices can vary and are often marked-up significantly. I understand that there are different variables involved, but all I want is simple bookshelves in a dark finish or black, that fit in my home.
My husband, since we have not found anything has said he will build some bookcases for us, and I know this would be very enjoyable project for him. But, reality is that he has little time for that project and the students in the house need access to the books sooner, than later.
Our main problem with the retail merchandise is color. Should I keep scouring the products out there, or do you think I can get simple bookcases, custom made, for a comparable price? We live in the Minnesota.
Your honest opinion and any help is greatly appreciated, Danette
It's quite unlikely anonym, but possible. If you approach a furniture making business with typical overheads and labour charges you'll probably find getting something made that's bespoke or custum similar to anything you've seen cost at least double and maybe five times or more than any retail offering.
On the other hand some part-time woodworkers, amateurs and the semi-retired for instance that aren't looking to make any serious money will ocassionally work for very little and you might strike lucky. Slainte.
There are shops that sell pre-made unfinished pieces of furniture, including bookcases. Many finish-makers have wipe or brush on finishes that are easy to use and very durable.
If you can't find a place like that, make a sketch of the pieces you want, complete with dimensions, and contact some cabinet shops in your area. To save money, have them leave the piece unfinished so you can do it yourself. Also look at some trim carpenters. A lot of them have shops that can make this type of case. I do, but I live in Texas.
You might try some of the local vocational high schools. Custom from a cabinet shop is always going to be considerably higher than retail.
Just an idea - get the cheapest solution you can bear at Ikea or somewhere like that, and let your husband make nice ones at his own pace. If he ever gets the project done, I promise you will find what to do with the "temporary" bookcases.
My honest opinion, danette,
is that folks are NOT going to line up for the opportunity to provide you "custom made" book cases for the same price as the mass produced retail products you have already declined.
almost certainly a money losing proposition
and probably cheaper to pay YOU $300 and NOT make the bookcases
than to MAKE the bookcases AND lose $300 ( or $600 or $1000 etc.)
Just my opinion
And very best wishes to you,
As has been said, there is no way bookcases made overseas with cheap labor from Brazil or China or a third world country can be made here, to order, for a comparable price.
You can't have a Volvo on a Hyundai budget.
I too live in MN, and I often field this same question.
If they are looking for utilitarian book shelves, for instance, I always send them to Target, Room & Board, Ikea, or Gabberts and the like -- depending on their budget.
Custom bookcases make sense only if 1) you can't find something to fit a particular space, 2) the style you want is unavailable in the retail outlets, or 3) you just like the idea of having an original, distinctive, hand-made piece in your home.
Even if your husband builds the book cases in question -- chances are the materials alone will cost him more than a comparably sized set of bookcases from Target.
"I tend to live in the past because most of my life is there."
-- Herb Caen (1916-1997)
Since I do not know where you hail from, my suggestion would also be to check the yellowpages for a store that sells unfinished furniture - find a bookshelf and let your husband (or do it yourself) stain and finish it with the color and finish of your choice.
Check community colleges in the area that have woodworking programs and see if any of their students would like to take on the project.
Unless your husband is in the woodworking business, cost of materials will be a bit pricey, but also, if he is a member of a woodworking club, some of them get discounts at local wood suppliers ( I live in portland, OR and the club here gets discounts at a number of wood and tool stores)
Edited 7/28/2005 10:06 am ET by Rick503
If the bookcases can be painted black, which you seem to imply, then you can buy a finished bookcase in the style you like and paint it yourself or have a shop spray paint the piece for you.
I'll answer your question with a question - if you were shopping for a simple evening gown would it be cheaper to buy ready-to-wear from a department store or have Vera Wang come into your home, take your measurements, discuss your requirements, go back to her studio, design the gown, and then produce it?
Edited 7/28/2005 11:06 am ET by Stanford
What a brilliant reply. I am allways being asked to make bespoke pieces for people who just cant find anything they like in the shops. the problem is they want it for a simmilar price. Its no differant hear in Australia.
If your husband has the tools to build the shelves fine, if not, then the tools will cost. I run into this all the time and I usually encourage people to build themselves and buy the tools because for certain they will want more items built in the future especially with a family. Shelves are a great place to start woodworking. Buy good wood as it will finish better than lumberyard pine, and it will be less likely to deform over the years (twisting and warping etc.) You are in Minnesota so http://www.heartlandwoodproducts.com (thompson hardwood) is a great resource for your wood as it comes presanded (no plane marks) and can be ordered precut to your specs. They have a warehouse at 9011 Pillsbury in Bloomington Mn. I suggest going to Hirshfields for the finishing products as they are reliable and don't carry junk finishing products. For tools I suggest Thomas Tool as they sell only reliable tools (mostly to contractors) and they won't BS you like some places. Thomas tool has about 5 locations in Mn. Good Luck!
You are asking the wrong people. You should be be asking this question (re-phrased) of custom woodworkers in your area. Draw up a plan of what you want. List sizes, wood types and finish desired. Take it or mail it to a variety of shops. If you do this, you will get quotes or at least good estimates. If you approach the shops with no plan, no idea of wood, or finish and only with the phrase "nice but simple" you will most likely get stonewalled. I am always happy to give an estimate for concrete ideas, but if asked a vague question, I will ask for a design fee up-front.
I do ALOT of Custom Stuff.. Doors for OLD houses folks can't get made.. Well... At a 'good' price.. I gave it up.. Lucky if I broke even!
You're not getting the answer you were hoping for are you Danette?
The truth is that the retail offerings you're not happy with are usually marked up over cost by anywhere between 300% and 400%. This means that those particleboard items you see in retail outlets selling for US$150 actually cost someone like Foley's or Target perhaps US$40 or so.
The above serves as just an example, and if you were looking at $1000 bookshelves that weren't satisfactory, then it's likely the retail outlet only paid something like $200 or $300 for it.
It's not a surprise that department stores come up with 50% off offers and even 75% off offers. Knocking off 75% from the original $1000 retail store charge still means they're selling the item at cost price. The store is losing money in a big way because they have masses of overheads to meet, but they're getting rid of unpopular stock and gaining a bit of cashflow to make room for the latest hot items as judged by their buyers.
It just isn't easy to compete with the likes of Wal-Mart, or Foley's, or whoever, as a furniture making business doing bespoke work. It's true that making plain bookcases is 'simple' -- I can almost do it with my eyes closed, but there are always overheads and the cost of being in business alone means that the charge to the customer is going to ratchet up pretty fast, even for a simple job.
That's the nature of it, and there seems to be little that can be done about it. Slainte.
Wal-Mart Furniture?? You using the correct word?
Thanks for the input, Communnity College was a great suggestin. The stupidest analogy was about the desingener clothing, What was my questin again? I thought I had pointed out that i have looked for months; at walmart? I know my bookcsases would not be cheap, that was not the question.
So cheap only means crap in the global economy?
Someone edited my reply, what is the law?
Someone edited my reply
If you acknowledge that they won't be cheap then what's the hold-up?
Hire a competent, professional woodworker in your area and get on with it. If you hire a woodworking student I would urge you to pay them well.
Here is your original question:
My question is; is it possible to find some custom made bookcases for a price comparable to retail.
The answer is no and several responses said so. You are no more likely to find custom made bookcases (from a bona fide pro) for a price comparable to retail than it is for Vera Wang to design a custom gown for you at a price comparable to a retail gown.
If your modus operandi is to find some starving trim carpenter with a shop in his garage you may very well be successful. If you want custom work from a professional you'll have to pay.
Edited 8/1/2005 10:08 am ET by Stanford
Try a vocational high school!!!
I think that the misunderstanding about how much you were willing to pay came from the assumption that you were looking at the retail prices at discount stores where you can find a three foot wide particle board piece for well under $100.
If, in fact, you have been looking in high end furniture stores, where a bookcase might sell might sell for $700 to $800 or more, then the answer is yes, you should be able to find a shop in your area that can make custom cases for you.
By the way, I thought the Vera Wang analogy was excellent. Every pro cabinetmaker has had people come into their shop expecting them to match Walmart's prices- no overhead you know.
John, I would say that a custom maker will almost always be more expensive than even the best retailers. Their stuff is still mass-produced and they don't set foot in your house to measure, etc. (at least not normally).
That said, there are oftentimes struggling shops who will do a job on the cheap against their own better judgment, or to cover overhead if they happen to be a little slow at a particular time.
Busy shops with a book of business will politely give a buyer a "take it or leave it" price.
You know, dear, your original inquiry was well phrased, grammatically correct, and the spelling was reasonably accurate.
The response to which I am now replying stands in stark contrast to the aforementioned compositional virutes evidenced by your first post.
Curious, to say the least.
I don' t think it will be likely to find a custom book case priced comparably to retail. Ballpark figure for paint grade book cases is $100/ lineal foot installed, unfinished for a 32" high peice, for a tall case, would be $300/lineal foot.
I'd recommend Ikea in the meantime. I can't even build a cheap book case to compare to their $39 special.
"do you think I can get simple bookcases, custom made, for a comparable price?"
In a word, No. I run into this fairly often and the reason for my answer lies in the concept of "economy of scale".
My "production runs" are usually for a handfull of pieces - often just one piece. I buy just enough material for the job at hand, and go through multiple setups of my shop tools and equipment to cut, mill, shape, assemble, sand, stain and finish (or prime and paint). In addition, I usually have to spend time designing the piece(s) to incorporate the customers specific needs.
Furniture in retail stores is typically made in large factories and their "production runs" will be in terms of thousands of pieces (i.e. bookcases, desks, tables, chairs, etc). They buy their materials by the truck (or train) load at a much lower unit cost than I can get. They have computer controlled machinery that is set up once and does the same operation several thousand times. Since many of these factories are overseas, their labor cost is also much lower.
Where I change my table saw setup multiple times to build a piece, the factories have the functional equivalent of multiple table saws - each set up once for it's specific operation.
My design time for a single piece has to be recovered in the cost of that piece. If a factory makes 1000 identical pieces, each one only has to recover .001 of the design cost.
If you were a potential customer, I would be recommending that you buy your bookcase(s) from a retailer. If you can get them unfinished, then you can apply whatever finish (stain or paint) you like. If you can't get them unfinished, painting is probably your only option - but you can choose the color - lol.
Edited 8/1/2005 11:05 am ET by Dave
Not being a professional, but rather having been on the purchasing end, I would say it depends; Anonym has not given enough details in my opinion. What materials, plain or fancy, what finish, built-in or free-standing?
We had a built-in bookshelf on top of a cabinet for housing DVD/TV/CDs & player, etc that was MDF primed. I painted it once installed and installed the lighting fixture. It was $600 installed w/out shoe molding or crown which I will do (someday). Nothing too fancy, but nicely done w/ raised panel doors, large drawer for CDs, integrated light switch.
So I think it is more a matter of what she is looking at getting. Personally I liked the Vera Wang analogy as well.
Anonym, rather than gripe about responses, why don't you provide enough info for people to give you the feedback you want, because there is an obvious disconnect.
This is an interesting thread.
I've actually posted this story before.. but a friend of mine came over one day and said he'd found exactly what he wanted in a small chest of drawers at an unpainted furniture store.
The only problem was they wanted $150 dollars for it.. and all he wanted it for was to store his Harley T-shirt collection.
He asked if I would accompany him to the store to see the chest.. and then make one exactly like it for him.
When I told him I could not, in all likelyhood, even buy the wood and drawer pulls for $150 I could tell he didn't believe me.
So I didn't even bother to explain how labor intensive the project would be.
Using borg-bought SYP @ $2.50/bf for a six-foot tall, eight shelf book case three feet wide, eleven inches deep, free-standing:36 bf X $2.50 = $90 plus 20% for crap lumber = $108.00 for lumber.Labour, milling, marking and cutting to size, 3 hours @ $50 = $150Labour, assembly, 2 hours @ $50 = $100Finishing (sanding, staining) 4 hours @ $50 = $200Delivery within 25 miles = $75Estimated total = $633 plus taxes*A similar custom/production shelf in a local store runs about $750.Some shops may build/assemble faster, labour could vary by 25%.Is this the rate you're expecting to pay? *Taxes will vary depending on locale, some states tax labour, some don't.Leon Jester
A good analysis but you neglected to add in the "custom" aspect. Add: Design time..two hours minimum to visit the home, discuss project with client, show finish samples, and arrive at a mutually agreeable definition of a "simple" design.Add: Wood selection....two more hours. Custom work means attention to detail. In any project I've ever done for a client I've spent a couple of hours in simply matching lumber for color and figure.Add: Installation....original poster said this was to be a built in. Delivery is part but you can count on some install also. Better add four hours to the total to cover the hassle factor that seems inevitable from anonym's tone. Oh yea, this job may require an assistant to deliver, install, and help pry the check from clients tight fist.Jeff
Good points, Jeff.I'd pulled figures out based on one of my designs, a free-standing, backless unit built along Shaker lines, lumber prices based on SYP from a borg. Other lumber would change that. Almost anything else would drive it up, plus freight or pickup charges and, as you pointed out, time to match colour and figure.Design fees, meeting time and making it a built-in would change from simple delivery to deliver and install, adding more hours as you pointed out.Finishing was based on shellac, followed by a simple oil stain and 4-5 coats of oil afterward, with necessary sanding.I was trying to give the lady an idea of what a custom job might entail and cost.Thanks for pointing out where I missed the boat.Leon Jester
Interesting question. Ive ran accross people wanting a deal before. So my feeling are this.
You want "custom bookcases " made. Why?.. because you want your home to look top of the line in the decor dept. But you want bargin prices for it.
So what kind of car do you drive... a yugo? It does the same thing as a BMW gets you from point A to point B. But you like the luxury and prestige of a BMW.
What kind of TV do you have? A 40" plasma maybe. but why when a 13" color will do the same thing. Again its luxury prestige and convienance.
Now your job... would you work for minimum wage? No why? because of the training and experiance ect. You have.
its the same for the W/W'er. he has spend years working on his craft and big $$$ on training and tooling. So to expect him to work for the same $$$ plus time for custom work and pay the same as a retail outfit would charge you is unfair.
The craftsman has a family kids, retirement, home ins, medical ect to pay for.
If you get say 30 bucks a hour for your trade ,job or biz, why should he get less for his trade. This is his livelyhood, how he eats buy clothes for his family ect.
Now you can make some concessions with a pro such as have a custom book shelf made and you do the finishing, install, delivery ect. That would cut down on the cost . Also maybe change the choice of materials from say solid wood/ ply to a veneer oak (or whatever species you want) with a mdf susbstrate.
You can buy a unfinshed piece and add say a filler piece to make it fit the area you want it to and finish yourself.
You can go to blowes or the home dil$%o and buy modular units to fit the area to have a custom look. They have some stuff that will work.
You can call a organizer company who have premade units that will work, they can cut and install for you
so there are a lot of options for you but remember one thing..You get what you pay for. If want want something that will give you braggin rights to your friends it aient cheap.
Im not this is you but here is a story I use quite often to demonstrate my point...
A lady and her husband were at a party I attended. They drove a fancy BMW wore designer clothes ect.
They (she) spent the entire party bragging about this 4 bedroom home they just bought. over and over I heard about it..(I own a nice home so its no biggie to me).
We I did some work for my wifes cousin , the guy who had the party. She saw it and liked what I did. Now after he bragging about her car , her new (to her) home..she she told me she wanted some bookcases for a office she was gonna build in one of the bedrooms in her 4 bed room home. She wanted them to be the length of the wall and meet at the corner (a corner unit) She asked me if I could do it that, I said yes. before she could say anything else I said " not knowing what species of wood you want finish ect, Id charge 450 dollars min plus material." The look on her face was awesome..shock/dismay ect....Imagine her with her new BMW, her wonderful 4 bedroom home and Me actually charging her that much to build her a custom book case so she could brag to her friends and clients about it.....
anyway I think you get my point.
Buckism: Will show you the the way
Edited 8/8/2005 10:56 am ET by Sancho Ron
Wow, thanks for all the replies. Unfortunately, my teenager (who is slyly trying to prove my passwords are insecure) decided to participate also. Anyway, thanks for all the suggestions. I understand and agree with the analogy about a designer dress; I should have been more specific. I found a bookcase I liked that I can get in black, a Sherrill piece, quoted around $5200. Turns out it was too tall, the crown molding was in the way. It was probably way too large for the room anyway, but I liked it. I've looked at a lot of Hooker case goods, and I just ran across RomWeber, but have not researched that further yet.
We are by no means wealthy. We do not have a lot of furniture, when we do buy are main concern is quality and it is expensive. We are just a family that started very young, and have got by with very little furniture, some basics and antiques given by family and us adding or replacing, little by little, with what we hope is fine quality furniture that will last.
I am worried about spending thousands on a retail bookcase, and it not being the quality expected, not to mention the problem with finding the right style and color. I also don't like the fact that I would buying something that I've seen only in a photograph. With the custom route, I am guessing it would be less expensive to do something built-in rather than a stand alone piece, but then I can't take it with me. But then again, with a built-in I would want a more simple look, less detailed then the retail bookcases I've looked at. So that is what I meant by "simple" for a comparable price.
I just trying to get a clue about how expensive custom would be, I thought maybe it would be a better value. I think my question was answered, I appreciate all the input!
like i mentioned in my opst there are options for you. Such as installing it your self finishing it yourself ect. Most people will work with you on it. Another option would be to find a guy who is a good amerture w/wer who would build it for you. Someone working out of his garage. there are lots of options. Buckism: Will show you the the way
Unfortunately our first house had a lot of built in storage too so bad habits were adopted (SWMBO loves to be surrounded by books). Its cost me plenty hauling books across the country twice and to provide storage for them when we arrived at the new location. My first projects were bookcases, I've built over 100' of storage and still have 20 or so boxes filled with books...including the set of new Britannia's..with updates. The kids are gone now and with puters the books(reference books: cook books, how-to's, best colleges, etc.) get used very little if at all. I would not mention this but those 20 boxes are in the way of wood storage....lol.
Anyhow, many years ago I did have my kitchen cabinet maker make a couple of corner units which we used in the family room. Not top quality furniture grade but good quality highly functional pieces...at a competitive price.
At the end of the day, and especially with a bookcase project, you are likely to find a competent woodworker who is a less competent businessperson who could build the unit you're talking about for the price range you mentioned in your most recent post.
It's not outside of the realm of possibility that you could find an experienced shop with a little slack time that could work it in at a slightly reduced price to their normal pricing scheme.
Long story short - a little more legwork on your end might pay dividends.
Generally speaking, the analogies were dead on and custom woodworking is not for the faint of wallet.
A little more perspective:
In the furniture factories where I worked in the past, it took about 3 man-hours to make a pretty nice solid wood 60 inch, six-drawer dresser, from unloading the wood from the rail car, to rubbing out the top and putting it in the box. I don't know how that compares with other factories, but it gives you an idea of scale. Bear in mind that factory labor is kind of low on the income scale, as well.
Tha same kind of dresser takes me on the order of forty hours or more to design, build, and finish, at a shop rate in the $60 to $100 per hour range, depending on the type of job. Not to mention the fact that I'm buying materials is much less than carload lots. This is for "nothing special". Again, I don't know how that compares with others - it's just to give an idea of scale.
That being said, as others have pointed out, on something as simple as a bookcase, you might stand a chance of finding someone to do you a decent job if there's not to much detail involved, and if the finish isn't too complex, but I'd be real cautious about seeing work samples, and especially finish samples.
Sometimes it's the artist's task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left. Itzak Perlman, upon playing a concert on three strings at Lincoln Center after breaking a string.
I made 750 raised panels today in between other tasks...CNC is amazing. But there ARE things they can't do on a large scale. The wood in the panels doesn't match well, the grain in the rails is sometimes ugly and or awkward.
THAT is something you just can't do when you in a factory, even if you fill a huge dumpster with scrap and cut offs at the end of the day.
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