If you’ve found recent furniture shopping to be an overwhelming process, you’re not alone.
With a flood of imported furniture pieces now on offer via social marketplaces and low cost furniture stores, the first differentiator one can fall back on is often whether an item is New Zealand made.
Buying locally made goods is already a life-time ethos for many Kiwis, but coming to terms with what can be spending, effectively the cost of a small car on furniture, can still take a moment to wrap your head around.
In the minds of many, New Zealand made equals designer and that means a price tag to boot. Yes, locally made items often are produced by creatives and artisans, or can involve personalisation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the cost has been hiked.
So what exactly do you get when you buy a big-ticket item, such as a lounge suite or a dining table, when you shop here at home? And what do Kiwi furniture makers wish you knew about the process?
Much like how we use the internet but don’t understand how it works, there are things going on inside your couch that you can’t comprehend when you sit on it.
The first part of a sofa is the frame, which is often made of native timber. “A lot of products and sofas that are made overseas are made out of New Zealand timber,” says Meg Domett, owner of Stacks Furniture.
Then, a sofa will contain a suspension system, usually some sort of webbing or springs, then high-density foam, fabric, and upholstery tacks.
Customisation is king, which is why they both import and make furniture such as sofas and chairs.
If you have a smaller space to cater to, a specific shape required for your house or a particular fabric you desire, customisation is most accessible through a local maker.
“We can import ones which of a similar quality, but they can’t be customised,” says Domett. “So we customise furniture for comfort and size, because a lot of people are buying a very specific size, and a very specific colour.”
“There’s so many different textures and colours, so the world’s your oyster on that. Which is the real advantage of making things in New Zealand.”
The sheer quantity of fabric required to cover a sofa is something customers often forget. Fabric isn’t cheap, particularly if you desire a high fashion finish in linen or cotton velvet.
New Zealand furniture houses are often focused on providing longevity for their customers, and that means using materials that “are of the highest sort of quality.”
But high doesn’t always equal high quality. Domett recommends polyester as an ideally long-lasting fabric finish for some lounge designs.
“It’s also the least expensive, and whereas something like silk or linen or whatever, could be more expensive, but is actually not going to be as good for most sort of New Zealand homes. So it’s kind of one of those things where the least expensive option is possibly the best option for you, which is not always the case.”
Repairs and sustainability
Being the ones to make the furniture means that local creators can give guarantees that they can be fixed.
Stacks for example, offers a lifetime frame warranty on their locally made lounge designs. The life span of the foam inside the couch will then live on average for 10-15 years, but sometimes much longer.
“You should easily get 10 years if not more out of fabric as well, but sometimes, obviously, it’s gonna be how it’s looked after,” says Domett.
It doesn’t just go for sofas. Third generation family business Rose and Heather who specialise in crafted wooden furniture pride themselves on creating single purchase heirloom pieces that can be repaired to live on in the families of their customers.
“We do an awful lot of refurbishment work at the moment that people that have bought from us 20, 30 and 40 years ago,” says Martin Bell, co-owner of Rose and Heather.
“We take a piece back, we de a little bit of TLC and it comes back like the day they bought it, and the relationship starts all over again. So I think that from a position of sustainability, you’re buying and using the resources once. And you haven’t had to get it from halfway around the world.”
Craftsmanship and quality
Because furniture production is highly specialised, the people creating locally made items are often masters of their craft.
Paying their experienced staff appropriately is “highly important” – “It’s literally hand made,” says Domett. “I think the quality speaks for itself.”
“Our cabinetmaker has been with us for more than 25 years, we have a 25-year-old who did his apprenticeship with us. We’ve got a 40-year-old who once also did his apprenticeship with us.The guy who does our refurbishment, he’s been with us since ‘92. Sometimes things come back in that they recognise that they made 15 or 20 years ago, and I think that’s really cool,” says Bell.
Shopping from New Zealand made furniture producers is also cyclically beneficial in that by economically enabling these brands and designers to become more experimental and creative to trends – you get cooler stuff to choose from.
Boho-glam design brand Corcovado who both import, and design and create their own furniture here in New Zealand and abroad, find that local product development is more efficient.
“To bring a new design to market using an offshore manufacturer can be difficult unless you are a really big player who can meet the minimum order quantities of some of these suppliers,” says Andrew Hamilton, co-owner of Corcovado.
“When done here, we can bring a new design to market, listen to the reaction it gets in our showrooms from customers, make changes if needed and evolve it quickly to match what customers want.”
“We work with manufacturers to create our own designs and that helps us offer choice and a point of difference to those considering a furniture purchase.”
Freight and supply chain
One of the realities for Kiwi makers is the costs of transportation.
“It actually costs them more to move a sofa, for example, from Christchurch to Auckland, than it does to get that sofa from an offshore prefecture to Auckland,” says Hamilton.
Supply chain disruption is also a constant threat when importing from overseas.
Making furniture locally means that the businesses can provide a better service to the consumer.
“We get to provide a product that we have a local fallback to, so we can resolve any issues that do arise. Though these arise pretty infrequently, we’ve got a local manufacturer to work with to resolve it,” says Hamilton.
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