Here are some detailed shop drawings of a pair of custom dressers for a commercial space in New York City near 59th street and Lexington. The price range for a custom dresser of this size depending on materials, finishes and hardware, is between $2,200 and $3,600.The difference between buying a custom furniture piece like this instead of something you could find at a furniture store is the guarantee of premium quality, flexibility on the final size, finish and color. Purchasing a pair of custom dressers like these will fit the space perfectly and also have an excellent resale value. Often durability and resale are not considered when purchasing furniture but are two of the principal components separating high end furniture from poor quality/ machine made furniture.
In part I and part II of steps to identify if the furniture you are looking at is truly an antique we outline some basic visual cues that can help you in determining the age. It’s essential to find out as much history as you can about the piece of furniture especially who the manufacturer was and the date of its construction. A reputable dealer should be able to provide these free of charge. If it’s origin seems to be a “mystery” and you are not yet ready to pay for an appraisal take a digital photo and head to the library. Many of the top manufacturers kept detailed product information in antique catalogs and if you can find out the date and model you might be able to compare it with similar pieces for sale on the web.
Here are another three ways you may be able to verify authenticity:
1) If there are inlaid designs on the wood the shapes tend to be less exact and often there are gaps in the wood (machine made inlay often has very smooth edges which fit together perfectly and no gaps in the wood)
2) If the chair has armrests or feet check to see if there is natural looking wear. Often repeated hand or arm touching of the armrests will leave an irregular looking wear to the stain. Examine these closely as it’s possible to mimick this wear with a machine
3) Check the feet and see how their worn, often an old piece will have dents and the wood will be severely receded in the foot area. If the feet seem to be in tip top shape that’s a very telling sign that it’s a reproduction or was restored in a way which may reduce it’s value.
Master furniture craftsman vs. master cabinet makers were not distinguished years ago by their respective specialties and there was a crossover. Master furniture makers are now known for their extraordinary ability to translate clients’ designs into furniture with a high level of detail and carving. Master cabinet makers are used to working with larger pieces of furniture and bigger chunks of wood, specializing in storage type pieces. Today, as machines have entered the forefront and the proliferation of stores selling every imaginable price point of furniture, it has become increasingly difficult to tell how the price correlates to the quality. West Elm is selling machine made credenzas for $2500 but then you have 60 year old “antique” credenzas selling for $15000 and up. In between these price points there is a huge gap, with cabinet makers crossing over into furniture making, and while the furniture is often hand made, it is certainly not at a master furniture craftsman’s level. So if you are a designer and you are seeking out a furniture maker to translate your custom design into reality, how can you tell the difference? One of the first, most telling examples that you are actually hiring a cabinet maker in the guise of a furniture maker is the type of furniture he or she has created or sells. Is it dominated by cabinet- type furniture? Dressers, armoires, credenzas, etc. Or by simple dining, coffee or side tables? This is often the most telling sign because most often cabinet makers cannot carve or create intricate detail the way a master craftsman furniture can, so chances are you won’t see any custom antique chair interpretations, or a headboard with an elaborate carving along the top edge for example. Another telling example the types of wood used, furniture master craftsman generally have experience working with a wider range of wood types than cabinet makers simply because many rarer types of wood are not available in large quantities. Black ebony for example, is extremely expensive and only used on higher end smaller sized furniture.The chair to the right is the perfect example of the type of furniture you would never see in a cabinet makers studio.