Pricing Out a Bookcase Design

A customer's design based on an existing manufactured product probably can't be made for a cost that's competitive with the original. June 4, 2012

Last night I was looking at some expensive designer bookcases and got the idea that it would be more interesting to draw my own model and contract a professional to build it for me. I sat all day today and came up with something a bit similar to the Random bookcase by MDF Italia. So, now that I have my designs, I realize that I don't know the first thing about how to get this project done. I was hoping someone here could help me get started by answering the following.

- How much should I expect to pay for having this done? The bookcase will be approximately 5 feet wide, but as you can see from the example, it is a bit more complex than normal.

- In what format should I deliver the plans? Will normal blue prints with dimensions suffice?

- I'm in the Jacksonville area. How do I find a professional carpenter to do the job?

Forum Responses
(Furnituremaking Forum)
From contributor E:
Make your drawing as close and accurate to what you are looking for as possible. Copy pictures from the Internet and include those if you can. We (cabinetmakers) are all used to working from everything from cocktail napkins to engineered drawings.

Figure out what color/finish you think you would like the project to look like - painted, solid wood, edgebanded plywood, etc. Then open your local phone book and/or Google a cabinetmaker in your city. Make a phone call and talk to the designer or cabinetmaker. You should be able to email or fax plans to them. You should also be able to have the bookcases built in raw form for you to paint or stain or have them completed and installed. It's your choice what you want to pay for.

Send the plans to at least 3 shops and ask for a bid. Have them include finish, delivery and/or installation as separate line items. We are all ready to work and would probably give you a competitive price. Words of advice: the lowest price isn't always the best price.

From contributor M:

1. The going price for the Random bookcase seems reasonable. You should expect to pay about the same, but get exactly what the pictures seem to be selling, in the dimensions that you need.

2. The format and level of detail depend upon your ability to communicate what you are looking for. If scaled drawings are an unfamiliar language to you, then perhaps you would be better off providing a sketch with the critical dimensions noted. If on the other hand you are certain of what you want, and you are able to draw it up, then do so. For mechanical drawings, usually 1/8 scale is sufficient. If there are any special details, they should probably be drawn full size. For most folks, CAD files work also.

3. Jacksonville, I assume, is the same as anywhere else. If you have friends that have had cabinets or furniture of good quality built, ask for the maker's name. Look around at restaurants and bars. If you see something you like, contact the owner, compliment them on their build-out, and ask for a recommendation. For what it's worth, cold calling a cabinetmaker with, "I ripped off this designer bookcase idea, modified the dimensions, and want you to build it cheaper," will not get you very far with anyone that you would actually want to work with.

From the Staff at WOODWEB:
One suggestion - you can take a look at WOODWEB's Woodworker's Directory. This is our database of professional woodworkers, and it is searchable by location, specialty, etc. You may be able to find someone close to your location who can help with your project.

WOODWEB's Woodworker's Directory

From contributor D:
I would ask folks you know for names or referrals to cabinetmakers in your area. Instead of simply taking 3 bids, why not go look at the works of the cabinetmakers before you get bids? Why take a bid from a lousy cabinetmaker? Take bids only from the shop or shops that do the level of work you expect.

Simply show them a picture of the bookcase you want and provide them with the dimensions you need. Don't waste your time on a detailed drawing if you can provide a photo. I rarely can use a customer's drawings to actually build from, but it can help to understand the details sometimes if there are no photos.

From contributor K:
I am confused as to why you must find someone to make a bookcase that you have already found online. If you have found it, why not buy it? If your needs dictate sizing or other factors that are not available, then you may need a custom fabricator. Please realize that the costs will be significantly higher than that mass produced product. The quality should also be greater.

You must also be willing to support the fabricator's experimental work to find ways to construct in what may be a proprietary manner or materials. I think it far better to seek out individual craftsmen, look at the body of their work, and choose one to design something unique for you. This is the nature of our craft and the craftsmen/patron relationship, and the value of that goes far beyond the notion of copying something from the internet.

From contributor U:
I couldn't agree more. I have had clients bring me a magazine with a picture and ask if I can build that with a slight dimension change. When I give them the price, it is nowhere close to the price from a mass produced retailer. With all the steps I must go through to make that same piece as a small shop, I am just not able to complete. Once again it is going to be a custom made item and a custom made price.