Customization allows designers to create made-to-order pieces that are singularly perfect for a particular client or project—but the process can also be intimidating to the uninitiated. Designer Bennett Leifer happens to love the world of custom design, and has been doing it since the start of his career. Without engaging in that process, he says, some of the most surprising and beautiful rugs made by Edward Fields would never have been created.

While the budget or time requirements of bespoke pieces can scare some off, Leifer says those factors aren’t as rigid as you might think. The key to avoiding becoming overwhelmed in the face of endless options: relationships.

Business of Home caught up with Leifer to find out why he can’t imagine a career without custom design, why Edward Fields and its sister company Tai Ping are an invaluable resource for custom rugs, and why newcomers shouldn’t be afraid to jump right in.

Bespoke benefits: Why every designer should embrace customization
A Leifer room in the Kips Bay Decorator Show HouseMarco Ricca

How do you open up the world of custom to a client without overwhelming them?
I have specific favorites within the realm of custom. If I start to alter the dimensions of a carpet, I know what can be changed that works well. I like to limit the selection that I show clients, and explain how it will be customized in terms of colors, and then do a colorized rendering. So instead of taking them to a showroom and saying, “You can do anything,” I show them something specific and how it will be magical for them.

Tell me about your introduction to customization.
I’ve been doing it since my first job in interior design. For me, part of interior design and the responsibility you have to a client is to make everything unique and perfect for them—whatever their budget. I like to customize everything. Even if we buy something that is more manufactured or less customized, I like to try to add a custom spin for my particular clients. If I was going to give a tip [to a new designer]: Just jump into it and meet with a salesperson and ask them questions. I’m still learning every time I work on a custom piece.

You’ve always embraced it.
I love it. Even if you buy something from a catalog and send the pillows out to be upholstered in a different fabric. There are so many levels of customization, but I think that’s really the fun of what we do.

What are some myths about custom that you would like to dispel?
I think custom is generally a much more efficient way to design, especially working with Edward Fields, who really help with the timeline of the project and the budget. There are so many options when you’re making something—it can be machine made or handmade, or a combination of the two. You can do different knot counts or different materials. I think it’s about building a relationship with your salesperson and being open from the beginning. Sometimes I will pick a pattern and say, “Here’s when I need it and the budget I’m working with,” and we’ll change out the materials or type of shipping and be able to meet our deadlines. [As long as you’re] very clear from the beginning, anything’s possible with custom.

What are some surprising custom projects that have taught you something new?
They’re all so unique, I honestly learn something every time. A couple of years ago, we worked with Edward Fields on this beautiful custom stair runner where the pattern has to basically be designed on each tread and riser. At the beginning, I was so overwhelmed, but by the end, I saw the value in working with these experts, because they made the process so easy. By developing a mutual understanding, I can call in samples based on four random words and I get a great selection of things that I’m looking for. These people get to know you, they know your taste, they know what you mean when you say “tight budget” or “colorful.” The experts are the people at these custom companies, and it’s about finding the one you have a great rapport with.

Homepage photo: Design by Bennett Leifer; photo by Marco Ricca

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