Commissioning Furniture

I am James Ryan, the designer and manager of the Edward Barnsley Workshop. It is my job to guide our clients through the commissioning process and make it easy and enjoyable. We take on commissions of all sizes, from a small box to a set of over a hundred dining chairs for an Oxford college.

Clients quickly appreciate how well made our furniture is. This is immediately apparent when you open a smooth-running well-fitted drawer or sit in one of our really comfortable dining-chairs. What is not so obvious is how we ensure customer satisfaction throughout the commissioning process. We achieve it through the depth of knowledge we have built up over many years, our hard work and good communication with the client. At the Edward Barnsley Workshop we take pride in both the quality of our furniture and the personal service we offer.

James Ryan, Manager and Designer
Barnsley Workshop chairs in the dining hall, Magdalen College, Oxford

Commissioning a bespoke piece of furniture is the best way to have the piece of furniture you really want; a piece that is unique, made to suit your requirements precisely. An example of a recent satisfied customer is Mark Blandford-Baker, bursar of Magdalen College, Oxford. He wrote to me after we had completed his commission for one hundred and eleven chairs: “Magdalen College is delighted with the dining chairs designed by James Ryan and made by the Edward Barnsley Workshop for our 15th-century hall. The innovation and quality of workmanship is superb; we will be sitting on these chairs for many decades to come.”

The first stage of the commissioning process is the time for exploration and investigation. I discuss the design options within the client’s budget. I spend time with the client either in their home or in our workshop. This is when they can get to know me and the Barnsley Workshop. I find out what the client’s requirements are. I look at the space where the furniture will go. Clients may have a clear idea of their requirements, but frequently I can suggest an idea that has not occurred to them. I can show examples of work we have done in the past. We use design details and construction techniques that we know work but I always explain that we are going to produce a unique piece. The ingredients that go in to making a unique piece are the site where it will go, my design contribution and, most important of all, the client’s wishes.

A jewellery box made from the clients' walnut tree

The next step is for me to go away and work on some proposals, and then to communicate my ideas to the client. I can do this using drawings, models, mock-ups and timber samples. The important thing is to help the client visualize my ideas. Once we have agreed a design and a final price the making process begins. Initially we select the timber and give it time to acclimatize to the atmosphere inside the workshop. Our clients often visit the workshop to see their work in progress and meet the person making it.

With our wealth of experience we believe we can make commissioning a piece of Barnsley furniture a pleasure and provide the owner with something beautiful that will fulfill, and exceed all expectations. It is reassuring that a lot of our work is for clients who have commissioned from us before.

The Barnsley Workshop is often asked to create bespoke dining suites. In the case of the table shown right the client, interior designers Robin Moore-Ede and Associates, wanted to seat sixteen people in comfort. An off-the-peg sixteen-seater dining table would have been too long for that dining room. I designed an elliptical extending dining table with proportions that matched the dimensions of the room. We were able to give the client the seating arrangement they wanted.

Walnut dining table and chairs
A cabinet to store and display the client's collection of ceramics

We are often asked by clients to create a piece of furniture to display and store their unusual collection. In recent years we have made furniture to house collections of ceramics, enamel work, brooches, stamps, vesta match cases and silver nutmeg graters. The illuminated cabinet pictured here was designed to hang in a long narrow hall. The convex glazed front allows the collection of ceramics and Roman glass to be seen from a wide angle.

Payment Terms

Upon acceptance of the proposal we raise a deposit invoice, which, when paid, enables us to reserve a time slot in our production schedule. Our normal payment terms are an initial one-third deposit followed by a further one-third payment halfway through production. The final one-third payment is due on delivery.

Design Fee

The amount is not fixed and depends upon the client’s location and the complexity of the proposed piece.

The wenge cabinet with its door part open