Custom furniture often enough costs more than furniture that you can buy in a furniture store. It can range from a few $$ to several hundred $$$$ more. It is up to you to decide if you want to spend the extra money. But I hope by the end of this article you will have a better understanding of the price difference.
What are the chances that you will find 100% of what you want in a store? Those chances are very slim. The color may be off, the size may not be just right, a design element may not be there, etc. With custom furniture you will get those things. You have say in 100% of the design process. It's up to the craftsman to help guide you in making the best decision to design a piece that looks good and is what you want.
Solid Wood vs. Veneered Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) is another big topic. Unless it specifically says, "made from solid wood, solid wood construction, etc." then it is MDF with a thin layer of veneered wood on the show surfaces. There are several problems with that.
- Strength - because MDF is glued up sawdust it doesn't have natural strength that solid wood has. When it gets wet it falls apart and can't be repaired. When solid wood gets wet it just swells. It can be dried out and repaired.
- Delamination - the veneered wood can delaminate, come off, of the MDF core. Repairs can be made but it is usually costly and unsightful. Solid wood doesn't have anything glued on the surface therefor delamination doesn't occur.
- Repairability - when Veneered MDF gets damaged it generally can't be repaired as the exact veneer usually can't be found and the exact finish can't be matched. Solid wood can either be completely stripped and resurfaced or it can have patch work down to the finish and then blended in to match (much like a body repair to a vehicle is done).
Warrenty is another big thing to think about. I have never seen a furniture store warranty there products outside of a 30-60 day warranty. I offer a lifetime warranty on defects, given you follow my care instructions. Most furniture makers will offer some kind of warranty because it shows we have faith in our product or we will make it right.
There is one exception to the solid wood vs. veneered MDF theory. Not all wood used by custom builders is solid wood, plywood is a veneered substrate. But custom builders generally use a high quality plywood that is known to stand up and have less voids between the veneer sheets. There is a big difference between Plywood and MDF. MDF is glued up saw dust that is compacted into a sheet. Plywood is solid wood veneers glued together to make a sheet. Plywood is usually substituted when wood movement could become a problem (drawer boxes, panels, etc). Plywood is usually more stable and has less movement than solid wood does. Most custom furniture builders (any good one) will use premium plywood you get from a hardwood dealer. The stuff that can be picked up at home improvement stores is hit and miss. You may get one really good sheet and the next may have tons of voids equaling in a weaker product.
So you are paying for more than just the piece of furniture. You are paying for the craftsmanship, the knowledge, for the builder to make the best decisions, and for you to get absolutely what you want.