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One of a kind: how customization is changing the definition of luxury

05 September 2022

This year, as the meaning of the word “luxury” continues to evolve, a new paradigm appears to have gradually emerged. As conspicuous consumption transforms into conscious consumerism, indulgence has matured into a form of elevated essentialism. Once considered a status symbol, luxury goods have segued into a mark of self-expression as previously passive shoppers have become both critics and creators of their own possessions.

For the interiors industry to keep up with the mutable meaning of luxury, brands are having to deliver meaningful value to customers whilst becoming adept at empowering expressions of individual identities. In short, customization is key.

At Gabriel Scott, customization has been an integral offering since 2012 – a fact that was recently celebrated at Milan Design Week when founder Scott Richler commissioned six designers and architects to reimagine its best-selling Welles Chandelier. Each designer added their own interpretation to the iconic design whilst adhering to Gabriel Scott’s core design principles: versatile aesthetic, customisable and timeless.

How is the design community responding to changing demand?

Founder and CEO of Gabriel Scott, Scott Richler, explains: “Because I came from a bespoke background, my thoughts focused on how to assemble a light fixture or a piece of furniture so that if somebody wants to change the size of it, it’s not going to require a return to the drawing board. The thinking is, how can you retain the bespoke nature of something in a ready-to-wear collection? The Gabriel Scott brand launched on a manifesto to furnish the architectural community with exactly what they needed, and we’re still doing this through material, size and form ten years later.”

Here, we ask three interior designers how they respond to the ever-increasing demand for customization and the impact this has on their projects.

“Customization is the name of the game, recently,” reveals Lynn Berney, co-founder of LT Design Studios. “It’s been a process,” she reflects. “For example, four or five years ago, everyone wanted the same white carrera in the kitchen. Today, I've looked for more unique stone countertops than ever before. Right now, our clients want to be unique. They don’t want what their neighbours have, or what they’ve seen in our portfolio: they want to stand out – and that's great.”

"A good designer always has the desire to create something not seen everywhere"

Kara Smith, founder of KES Studio, believes the demand for customization to be driven by a number of factors. “A good designer always has the desire to create something not seen everywhere,” she says. “Add in social media’s role in making great products seem over-saturated and you have a much larger motivation from designer and client alike to go beyond what is readily available.”

The challenges this presents are multifarious. Berney explains: “I do have to rein it in sometimes, because functionality still matters. If you get too far out there, I also think longevity decreases, so I always try to encourage my clients to think about those two things.” There is also an element of dealing with the unknown which both Berney and Smith admit can be “nerve wracking.”

“The drawbacks to customization generally lie within the development process,” says Smith. “Quite often it takes many prototypes and many adjustments, based on hits and misses. Developing an original is difficult, and the piece may not always turn out exactly as envisioned. This is an occasional problem to which there is always a remedy, but it does cause an added layer of complication of both time and effort.”

For designer Emily del Bello, the solution is simple: “Check everything at least three times,” is her sound advice. “You also have to know what you are doing and have the eye and confidence to do it, as more pressure is directly put on the designer. Check it three times, know what you are doing and have the eye and confidence — that’s what makes a project unique.”

Despite the challenges it brings, customization has been wholeheartedly embraced by the interior design community. “We customize almost everything,” says Smith. “Whether it’s as simple as modifying the size or finish, or doing upholstery in specific fabrics or leather, to creating something totally unique that doesn’t exist anywhere but in our imagination. For one of our high-profile residential clients, we recently created a custom 4’x20’ marble outdoor dining table to accommodate 18 people. It’s a jaw-dropping dining table that’s like none other in the world.”

Del Bello recalls a recent project in which custom Gabriel Scott lights enhanced the mood of a space. “I did this wonderful Upper East Side apartment project where we used a light from the Luna series and customised it with this beautiful smokey glass option. It was set to be in a much moodier room than those that were adjacent to it, and customising the glass made all the difference to the design and feeling of the space.”

"When something has personal meaning it becomes more luxurious"

The ability to customize not only gives designers and their clients greater control over their creative vision, it can also help them – quite literally – out of tight corners. Berney describes a recent project for which she commissioned a customized Gabriel Scott chandelier. "The room was an odd shape with an awkwardly placed column, so I worked collaboratively with Gabriel Scott to adjust one of the branches to a specific dimension. Within these parameters, we’ve created a unique piece and the light has taken on an entirely new form.”

This uniqueness correlates with today’s definition of luxury, which Berney identifies as a personal feeling, or expression. “When something has personal meaning it becomes more luxurious,” she explains. “As designers, what we’re constantly asking our clients is: ‘What has meaning for you, what defines you.’ Luxury doesn't have to mean the most elite anymore. It's much more about what makes you happy. What gives you emotion.”

With special thanks to KES Studio, LT Design Studios and Emily Del Bello.

Read further information on Gabriel Scott's customisation services.

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