While all furniture making can be considered an art, there’s a marked difference between handmade and mass-produced furniture. So, we’re exploring the advantages of handmade products.


Made with love

We often associate handmade goods with care and passion: they’re artisanal, often an expression of the maker’s emotions and own sense of style. What’s more, they take time to create – which makes them more unique than any factory-forged piece. The work that goes into handmade furniture means that you’ll often find that pieces have individual quirks: the grain of the wood is especially prevalent in what we do here at Steam Studio, as we work with locally sourced wood and no piece is ever identical. Mass-produced pieces, on the other hand, tend towards the generic. They are made to appeal to as many people as possible – and consequently, you’re likely to find them in homes across the country. That’s not to say that mass-produced pieces don’t have their place. They’re often more affordable than their artisanal counterparts, and sometimes a sturdy, functional piece of furniture is all you need.


Decidedly different

Aside from the amount of effort put into each piece, there are some significant differences in how handmade and mass-produced products are created. As the name suggests, handmade products often rely at least in part solely on craftsmanship. Mass-produced goods, on the other hand, are generally assembled by machines. The process loses its artfulness, its flow, in order to be as efficient as possible. Many artisans have spent years honing their craft and learning how to work with their materials to achieve certain effects. For example, at Steam Studio we use an ancient technique of wood bending that was actually pioneered by the Vikings! Additionally, because pieces are made individually, it’s easy to request custom features. A specific colour of gloss or a seat that is higher than usual are both simple tweaks to make, that can cause the piece to look and function entirely differently – which you simply can’t get when buying mass-produced.


The benefits of purchasing a handmade vs mass-produced product

It’s not guaranteed, but in most cases handmade products are designed and constructed by much smaller businesses than mass-produced ones. One of the key advantages here is that you can easily research where your money is going: you can ask about the craftsman’s ethics or quickly peruse their site to get an idea of whether their ideals align with yours. Bigger companies are often owned by umbrella corporations – which isn’t always obvious from their websites or promotional materials. Whilst not bad in itself, it does make it more complicated to know who you are supporting. Another factor in purchasing decisions is that many artisanal creators will opt to use locally-sourced materials, showcasing their environment whilst simultaneously helping the planet. Similarly, the methods used in production are quite different – and often the handmade businesses are much more eco-friendly than their mass-producing counterparts. After all, their end goal is to sell as many units as possible for as much profit as possible. Consequently, many people are leaning back towards buying handmade goods, especially as feature pieces in their homes. Handmade furniture makes a statement, and can change the whole look of a room.


A brief history of mass production in furniture

Did you know that it was another steam-bending artisan who initially pioneered the idea of mass-producing furniture in Europe? In the 1850s, Michael Thonet’s famous Konsumstuhl Nr. 14 could be flat-packed and so shipped out to consumers across the continent. However, mass production as we know it didn’t really kick off until the 20th Century, when there was a surge in availability of certain materials – like plywood, laminated board, and chipboard. Their advantages – that they are affordable alternatives to wood and don’t come with any of the quirks that make working with wood difficult – make them popular choices. Sadly, the rise in mass production saw a general decrease in quality of goods, both because of the materials used and the speed at which the end products are assembled. With the advent of cargo flights in the early 20th century making the rest of the world more accessible, large businesses began outsourcing their production to countries where they could employ cheaper labourers. Nowadays, many consumers are intrigued by the idea of more homegrown products. The ecological footprint is lower, and it doesn’t feed into the potential exploitation of labourers in poorer countries.

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