The age of Ikea has created a lot of convenience for the average Ottawa household. It's hard to argue against the virtues of affordable prefab furniture in this era of sky-high home and grocery prices. I have fond memories of being a student and filling up my tiny room with $500 in Ikea furniture in the 90's. There is certainly a time and place in everyone' s life when it just makes sense. So you won't see me looking down on prefab furniture as much as some. That being said, custom furniture still has it's place in the era of freemium apps and Asian imports on every store shelf. My Urban Workshop believes that there's a place for both custom and prefab furniture in the Canadian home. I won't get into praising the virtues of a TILLFÄLLE cabinet from Ikea (but please do comment on this post if you know how to pronounce that). And you won't get many arguments from me when it comes to $4 meatballs. Instead I chose to write this blog post so that I could explain why I'm so partial to the custom process, and why we're so happy to see custom furniture thriving in Ottawa.
You've probably replaced enough particle board furniture to know that if it has moving parts, it's going to be an issue long term struggle. I recently spent over $1000 on a piece from Structube that didn't make the 2 year mark. That is certainly the last time I make that mistake. I do have a trusty TV stand from the Swedish Empire that's worked just fine for 15 years and will certainly last 15 more. But my next passion purchase is going to be something I buy from the shop, or build myself. And right at the top of reasons why has to be the quality and care that go into making each piece. A custom piece of furniture is equal parts clever engineering and artistic excellence. The marriage of form and function, something that Greg preaches at the shop on the daily, is in my estimation the most important part of any project. With both form and function, My Urban Workshop excels. The guys at the shop proudly stand behind the quality of their work and it shows in every piece that leaves in a happy customer's hands. Furniture coming out of the shop will be passed down for generations, which all told does end up being a great value long term. Somewhere out there is an MUW live edge walnut table that's going to have the first nuclear fusion omelette eaten on it for breakfast in 2085. And $4 meatballs will somehow still cost $4 despite 500% inflation.
When I first started coming to My Urban Workshop it was easy to miss a lot of the details that went into the custom furniture process. The process starts with really understanding what the customer wants, and how much they are willing to spend. The second criteria might sound slightly shady, but it's in fact anything but. There are a dozen ways you can join two pieces of wood. The finer details on how your wood is assembled, referred to as joinery, really dictates the final levels of finish and craftsmanship that goes into a piece (and ultimately the cost). Greg will quote you a fraction of the cost if you'd like something simply joined with pocket hole screws. But that same project will take 10 times longer if handmade dovetails are going to be used throughout the piece. Likewise the species of wood you use is going to have a large impact on the price. Walnut is expensive, Ash is far more affordable. The purpose of your piece and your budget is where the staff can guide you on a wood choice. Maple, Oak and Ash will stand up well in high-wear areas. If you wanted something light Mahogany, Poplar, Bass Wood, or a good quality plywood may be a better choice. On projects like case work and cabinets plywood is actually ideal due to it's stability. Once you've chosen a wood species (assuming you haven't brought in your own). the guys at the shop can help choose the perfect boards over at KJP. Choosing boards and matching grains is an art, and it's often an overlooked skill in custom furniture building. Grain selection and orientation can be the difference between a piece that looks slapped together and an masterpiece.
The preferred finish in the shop is Livos, a beautiful and durable finish that is easy to apply. Pieces in the shop are palm sanded to 200 grit before numerous coats of Livos are meticulously applied to your furniture. The Livos choice comes down to a simple mantra: if you're going to build the best piece of custom furniture you can, why cut corners on the finishing process? A high end durable finish is the final part of creating a lasting piece custom furniture.
We've seen a lot of interesting projects come through the shop, and they sometimes present some challenges. One of the most common issues we see is people seeing one specifies of wood with finish on it, and expecting it to be easy to replicate on another species. The truth is that dark walnut with dark finish is going to have a very specific look to it. It's not going to be possible to replicate that exactly on a lighter hardwood. So we recommend to our customers to match the wood in their dream project with that in their brochure or picture they bring along.
We love having people pop in to see the shop. We're proud to have the biggest community woodshop in Ottawa, and we're very encouraged by the amount of custom projects coming in. You can come down to 151 Bentley any time during business hours to visit. You're also welcome to contact us through our website and we can answer any questions you might have about a custom project or joining our Ottawa woodworking community. Thanks for following along on our blog, and see you at the shop soon!
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