x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Bespoken for

Design insider Customised furniture is the latest extravagance in interior design.

Tatlin sofa on display at Edra in Wafi, Dubai.
Tatlin sofa on display at Edra in Wafi, Dubai.

Last week, three e-mails popped into my inbox that got me excited but also deeply annoyed. Just when I thought I'd got my apartment faux Fendi Casa fabulous, a new look has started to rear its head that appears to be sweeping not only the Emirates but also the rest of the world; that of customisation and bespoke furniture. Formerly, I associated the word "bespoke" with David Linley - the royal who has unashamedly traded on his mother's and father's names and has built an empire of finely crafted pieces that are found in the homes of the rich and famous, as well as their hotels. Claridge's commissioned Linley to revamp some of their art deco suites and I have to admit he's done a good job. Having stayed there this summer, I found his bespoke designs to be both in tune with the history of this hotel (arguably the world's best) and also contemporary in their modernity. While I salute Linley's craftsmanship, I can't forgive him for selling off his mother's jewellery box (she was the late Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth II's sister) in what was one of this century's biggest auctions at Christie's.

But I digress. Where once bespoke meant exclusive and one-off, it now means personalised. And as such, every Tom, Dick and Halle seem to be jumping on the bandwagon and producing outrageously expensive chairs, mainly with pop artsy themes, and calling them customised. I had already noticed the trend and tried to ignore it. I'd visited a few homes recently where the "customisation" was low impact and quite appealing. One involved a basic sofa from IKEA covered in white canvas with Anya Hindmarch-style digital prints of family portraits. Original, yes, but not for every interior. Then I saw another great idea in a children's den - a huge floor cushion covered with the family's old denim jeans (washed, cut up and sewed together). It was a great way to recycle what were probably designer items in the first place. Then there was the kiddies' artwork which was framed and arranged in the hallway of a home in Mirdiff and which would not have looked out of place at The Third Line gallery. These are all innovative, DIY interior ideas that show initiative and don't break the bank.

As such they are the opposite of today's trend for bespoke items, which invariably mean impossibly expensive and borderline tasteful. I sometimes look at such items in the same way as modern art and wonder if it's just me or rather the artist who has no talent? The leader in this field has of course been the slew of Swarovski-encrusted items which some people embrace in the name of customisation. Car fenders, babies' rattles and even ketchup bottles have all been covered in crystal. Walls, cushions and couches have followed suit. While the TV show Pimp My Ride has been an inspiration to that sector of the population who like huge wheels, big speakers and naff interiors in their cars, we are now seeing the same ethos extending to homes.

Two of the e-mails I received this week were of firms who have set up business to respond to the demands of clients who wish to make their own furniture or customise existing pieces both for the commercial and residential sector. (They would have been called carpenters in a previous life.) The third e-mail was from a designer of customised chairs with cartoon characters and Warhol-like canvasses. (He would have been called a businessman in a previous life.)

While the new carpentry companies offering bespoke services may decrease overheads (and reflect a business identity in the corporate world), it's suddenly putting a lot of pressure on us normal people. Not only is there the unwritten rule that says some of us are more creative than others, ordering your very own couture couch to show off to the neighbours really sorts out the A-list from the have-nots. I made enquiries from the designer who produced the one-off chairs as I quite liked a sugar-pink-coated sofa chair with a geisha-girl-style canvas. Mind you, I'm not sure where I would have placed it in my home and was shocked to find that the price started at Dh25,000 for a "basic" commissioned piece. I quickly worked out that it's the equivalent of four designer It bags I'd been coveting or an old Jeep Wrangler I'd wanted to buy for off-roading, as well as a down payment for my home. Either way, I wasn't for buying the chair.

The bottom line is that for many, the new trend for bespoke spells a period of going back to the drawing board (literally) and coming up with a "unique" idea that suits our home interiors. Regardless of value, comfort or liveability, it seems.