The Art of Commissioning 

By Marsha Faulkner 

Still haven’t found what you are looking for? There’s an artisan for that.

Almost everyone is familiar with an artist’s commission for a painting, sculpture, wedding gown, or bespoke jewelry. You discover an artist’s work who you truly love and want an original piece that no one else has. More often an exhaustive search takes place to find that perfect piece that, in your mind, does not exist. Yet.

In the interior design world, commissioning original work is an everyday thing and one of the favorite parts of my job. Beyond fine art, we have commissioned almost everything from furniture to lighting and textiles to hardware. If you can imagine it, there’s an artisan who can create it.

In the past, nearly all high-end furnishings were commissioned and handcrafted by an expert. There were no catalogs or websites to click or call in an order. There was no Houzz or Pinterest to find inspiration. Together, the designer and client would manifest a vision for the space. Furnishings were original and tailored because you didn’t want a home, office, or restaurant that looked like everyone else’s. 

But it’s not the 18th century, and there are so many options now, so why commission? Isn’t it time-consuming, nerve-racking, and expensive to create a custom piece? To be honest, sourcing anything unique in this supply chain-starved, hyper-inflated marketplace will make you rethink buying off the shelf.

The opportunity to specify every detail of a one-of-a-kind piece can be quite liberating. Sure, most manufacturers will allow you to specify fabrics and finishes. But that’s just the beginning. Clients often commission work because they need to fit a certain space or to match another piece. 

One example is a custom credenza for my new office. When conceptualizing the space, I had some general thoughts about the look and feel. I found a fun desk that fit the bill, but I needed additional storage and there was no matching credenza. So, I designed the perfect piece and hired one of my favorite craftsmen to build it for me. The result is a beautifully executed, completely custom piece of furniture that I love to look at and functions perfectly.

In the case of my simple credenza, utility (or function) prompted the commission. What truly excites and engages an interior designer is the opportunity to create unusual or unique items. As designers, we love to play with concepts, scale, proportion, rhythm, shape, materials, and textures. This allows our imagination to soar, and that’s how you fully engage the talent of your interior designer. After all, that’s why you hired a designer! Right?

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Author: Arbus

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