The commissioning process in a nutshell
Choose a maker after seeing examples of his or her work. Bring along pictures of things you really like, from books or magazines, and discuss the project. The maker should bring up the key issues of design, materials, likely completion time, and price. Get a sketch and description and price in writing from the maker. Hand over a deposit. Await the overdue arrival of your masterpiece. Pay the balance and start planning what you want for your next commission.
Which maker to choose?
Some cabinet makers pride themselves in being able to build anything, but they are often to be avoided if you, the customer, have a particular style in mind. Those who think of themselves as contemporary designers rarely do justice to traditional styles. The more passionate a maker is about a particular style, the more knowledge and effort they will put into the project. When you look at a maker's work the most important question to ask is, do you like it? It might not be exactly what you want but if most of what they do appeals to you then they can probably design something you will love.
Discuss the commission
At no point is the commission more difficult than when trying to get your ideas across, client to maker, maker to client. Most makers will find it slightly distressing to try to design something for a client without a clear idea of the remit. With little idea of what the client likes and dislikes, a great deal of time can be wasted. Some people are "looking for ideas" and the maker is faced with the prospect of being used as a free consultancy service. A few makers will charge for their designs. This does not mean you will pay more overall as otherwise the cost will be built in to the final price for the work.‘
How much will it cost?
How long is a piece of string? Or better, what is the price of a car? Its best to get this issue on the table straight away. Its an important part of the design brief and discussing it early can save a lot of wasted time and embarrassment. Once the price is set you have the right to expect the figure to remain constant, unless you ask for changes to the design or materials. If the work does not go completely smoothly (and it rarely does) the maker will suffer the consequences, not you.
How long do you wait?
As long as it takes' is the only realistic answer. The maker should give you an approximate delivery date and some may be persuaded to work to a deadline. Working on one-off projects with natural materials will often lead to unforeseen problems, which set back delivery. Some makers have a waiting list of over a year, this might indicate that their work is exceptionally good but if you need the piece in a hurry you might be better looking elsewhere.