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Expert Tips on Custom-Designed Furniture for Your Home: An Interview with John Loftis of Lonestar Artisans

By John Loftis

Tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

LoneStar Artisans creates hand-made, heirloom-quality furniture and cabinetry. Our principle market is Texas, but we've shipped custom pieces to clients all over the world. Our philosophy is in stark contrast to the cheap, disposable, imported furniture that is mass-produced these days.

What are the latest trends of furniture design that you build for people's homes?

Two popular trends right now are live edge tables and furniture made from reclaimed wood. With live edge tables, I work in partnership with my sawmill to find really extraordinary slabs of wood. Rather than milling the lumber in a traditional rectangular shape, they flatten the two faces and leave the edge alone, resulting in a beautiful, organic feel that follows the natural contours of the tree trunk. In the last month, I've made a live edge walnut kitchen island top, a dining room table, and two conference tables. They are challenging to make, but it is a lot of fun to let the natural beauty of the wood shine through.

With reclaimed wood, customers are generally looking for a rustic/distressed feel and often like the idea of re-purposing old wood. It can be challenging (and expensive) to find just the right pieces of reclaimed lumber, but the results can be really beautiful. Furniture made from reclaimed lumber can also have really great stories. I made a coffee table out of lumber from a 120-year old barn in North Dakota and am currently working on 3 desks out of reclaimed pine flooring from a really old building torn down in Dallas.

What are the biggest differences between a custom-designed and a ready-made piece of furniture?

With custom-made furniture, the answer is almost always "yes." You don't have to settle for cookie-cutter pieces. I can make you exactly what you want. And I love to collaborate with customers, lending my design experience so that we can come up with something truly extraordinary.

The flip side of this, of course, is price. Hand-crafted custom furniture is more expensive than mass-produced furniture. And it takes time for me to make each piece, so there isn't the instant gratification of taking it home today.

What are your personal favorite advantages of using custom furniture that you can share?

The biggest advantage of custom furniture is getting a piece that has been built to last. Solid wood tables can be refinished if they get banged up rather than being left out in the alley on heavy trash day. Dovetailed drawers should hold up 50 years from now, when you pass the piece on to your children. It's an important philosophical distinction, I think. You can either get something beautiful and hand-made, with the intention of keeping it, enjoying it, and then passing it on to future generations. Or you can buy an inexpensive thing that you will discard after a few years once it starts falling apart.

When I started LoneStar Artisans, I did so because I felt like there was already enough "fast food" out there in the marketplace. Craftsmanship is disappearing, and I wanted to create a company that really celebrates well-made things.

Can you briefly describe the main steps of the design process?

It's all about collaboration. Some customers know exactly what they want; others only have a vague idea. In our initial meeting, I listen and ask lots of questions. I've found that pictures are extremely helpful, so I love to send customers to "idea" websites like houzz.com to get inspiration and show me what they like. I tell customers it won't bother me at all if they send me lots of information. The more I know, the better able I am to create something they love. Once we've gone back and forth and settled on a design, I almost always create a 3D rendering of the piece to ensure that we are on the same page with the final design.

Interestingly, the majority of my customers don't meet me in person. We do almost all of our collaboration via the phone and e-mail, which saves a ton of time. Some customers still want to look me in the eye, which I totally understand. But the Internet can really streamline the process.

What advice would you give someone who wants custom-designed furniture but is afraid they won't be able to afford it?

I never play games with price. So the best thing you can do is to be honest with me about your budget. If there's a number we need to be under, then I'll do my best to come up with a design that allows us to meet that budget. Sometimes there are simple design changes that can really save money. As long as we don't compromise on craftsmanship or quality, I'm happy to try to save customers money.

I do need to give a caveat though. Every week, I'll get at least one call from someone who wants me to make a less expensive version of a desk they saw at Ikea. It's just not going to happen. Custom furniture is always going to cost more than mass-produced stuff. So if your budget is tight, it is always better to have that conversation early rather than later in the process.

What's the best way for people to contact you and your company?

E-mail is great: john@lonestarartisans.com or I can be reached on my cell at: 469-387-8581. Our website is www.lonestarartisans.com.

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About The Author

A life-long admirer of true craftsmanship, John has been creating furniture since the...

Phone: 469-387-8581

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