Crazy Customizing Customers

Modify Furniture offers a a wide array of colors and options for customers to choose

One of the earliest lessons in life is taught in preschool; “You get what you get and you don’t get upset”. Sure, it makes sense that your child should accept the cupcake with red frosting rather than the one with blue frosting. Seriously, they both taste the same right?

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preschoolers offered choices

Hold on, the last time you painted your house were you forced to take the first paint can on the shelf? There are at least 1,677 Pantone colors for a reason.

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pantone color chart

Individuality and differences in  taste are intrinsic to human nature.  But choice in the retail world means huge inventory, and resulting loss of revenue when that inventory doesn’t move. Overstock shops and outlets may help but not all companies choose to let their  high end  brands wind up on the shelf in these locals. Many stores would sooner demolish their overstock and drop the debris in the dumpster than donate or discount. This is the unfortunate outcome for many products. The environmental (and economic) impact is too often disregarded in hope to protect the “brand” name.  So how can retailers offer choice?

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discarded products

Several major trends in recent years have offered a solution to this unfortunate situation. Firstly, small local businesses with a “made-to-order” model are popping up across the states. We have become (again) a country of makers. Whereas mass produced, foreign made,  and cheaper  products was the ethic in the last century, we are now seeing a trend toward quality, American made, and yes, custom made products with a world of options.  Items made to order may cost a bit more and take longer but today’s consumers are willing to wait for a product that is made exactly the way they want it.

The “artisan economy” has its roots possibly in Brooklyn, N.Y. with the hipster population and strong “built in Brooklyn” sentiment. Cities like Brooklyn, Austin St. Louis, Portland, Minneapolis  to name just a few have opened their doors for small shops that make products to order. Even larger companies like Room and Board are proud to work with local craftsmen for their custom items.


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modify furniture worker cutting aluminum parts for custom piece

The internet and social media have been instrumental in helping this new “Artisan Economy” thrive. Customers can easily find the right products and companies they want to buy from. Likewise, small businesses can now reach out directly to potential customers. Social media, affordable internet marketing and “maker” sites like Etsy and Custom Made help customers “meet their makers”. Social sites encourage customer engagement, company transparency, and foster a meaningful relationship between the seller and buyer. Feedback and reviews help a small company gain credibility and help them to quickly adjust their products to meet  their customers’ needs in a way that would be challenging for a large corporation.

New web-based “visualizer” or “customizer” platforms make it easy for smaller businesses to offer their customers a world of options. They offer consumers the ability to see in realtime what they have chosen. Visualizers make it less scary for customers to make these choices when buying online. Several years ago this option was available only for large corporate businesses. Today there are a number of companies that offer more affordable options for smaller businesses.


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typical visualizer tool for customizable products


The next step in customer customization will allow everyone to be the maker. DIY’ers are everywhere. Sites like Instructibles and Pinterest make it easy to discover new ideas and then learn out how to make them. Home models of 3d printers, laser cutters and mini CNC routers are becoming more affordable and more common in the homes of hobbyists. This will take the customization to the next level. People will be able to design a pencil tray that uniquely fits their writing tools, design their own dresses, bike helmets. The options are endless.

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CNC routed desktop accessories by Modify Furniture

Simple blue cupcakes are the way of the past.

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Bringing midcentury modern design to the 21st century table

What makes midcentury modern design so intriguing? Beyond the clean graceful lines and simple geometric form characteristic of this period, there is a critical aspect of design from this era that is a direct consequence of the social pressures at the time. World events necessitated a change in manufacturing and design. It was in part, these historical forces that helped shape the form of midcentury architecture and design. By the latter part of the century however, it was these same innovations that may have ultimately contributed to the loss of manufacturing of these products on American soil. On a brighter note, over the last decade, we have seen a resurgence of American made products in the design world. Understanding how and why this trend is occurring may help us moving forward in the 21st century keeping US a leader in the design and manufacturing world.

The Second World War was a time of limited resources for the US and much of Europe. The scarcity of steel in particular, prompted a search for new building materials. This sparked the use of more innovative materials including aluminum, plastics and fiberglass. As soldiers returned home and the post-war population boom occurred, there was now a surge in the demand for new homes and home products. These items needed to be produced quickly and efficiently to supply an ever-increasing need. Architects and designers alike needed to focus not only on form and function but also on the new concept of cost effective mass production and manufacturability. This new focus favored more simple geometric forms over more ornate complicated details.


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The innovations that worked to supply the needs of the growing population of the midcentury era may have paved the way for a less beneficial trend in latter part of the century. Simple design and cost effective mass manufacturing, in conjunction with advances in modern transportation allowed for products to be made in very high volume and low cost abroad. The cultural shift toward mass accumulation of cheaper products with less focus on quality only further supported this outsourcing of production. The consequence, a cultural explosion of “more, more, more” with accepted tolerance of decreased quality. The surge of supersized superstores supports this concept In essence, we gave up quality for quantity.

mass produced copies
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Moreover, the mass production of goods in places with fewer regulations also paved the way for irresponsible use of materials during manufacturing. Disregard for environmental issues as evidenced by the cutting down of forests and use of potentially carcinogenic adhesives and toxic finishes have only recently become a focus.


So have we seen the death of high quality design and responsible use of resources? Possibly, the future is not so bleak. In the past decade, Americans have been starting to realize that less may be more. Tiny homes and container homes are all the rave. Modern magazines like Dwell focus on the benefits od smaller spaces. Eco-friendly building solutions, while still being thoroughly modern are becoming the new norm. Quality custom-made products and craftsmanship are becoming more important to us.

The internet and social media have made it easier for consumers to better understand the companies that make these products. Transparency is the way of the future. Companies are listing what materials they use and where they get them, allowing customers to make informed decisions.

Etsy, Custom-made, and countless other sites are helping to bring craftsmanship back to the US. Today is the time for American entrepreneurs, small local businesses, and independent craftsmen. “Maker Towns” like Brooklyn, St Louis, Oakland, and Austen are sprouting up across the nation. A “maker mentality” is rampant across the states with  incubators and shared workspaces to help startups. Modern innovations like additive technology, 3D printers now make it feasible for new companies with limited means to prototype quickly and efficiently, opening the door for new innovative products.

Where to from here? Possibly the answer is to take lessons from mid-century modern designers and continue our search for innovative processes and new materials. But we should also focus on using buying products that rely on local resources and sustainable manufacturing practices. As consumers, we should look for products with high quality, and craftsmanship. And with the use of social media, we should aim to create true connections between maker and consumer for a truly trusting relationship, something that can’t be outsourced.


custom desk made with eco-friendly materials and finishes by Modify Furniture.base_v1.jpg



modify guide to eco-friendly living in the real world

These days it seems that everything is “eco-friendly.”  It can be challenging to separate fact from fiction. What is really an environmentally friendly product and what is a sales pitch? The truth is, short of living in a tree and catching your own food (without tools) there is no perfectly carbon neutral product.
Knowing the right questions to ask is important to make the  right choices for yourself and your family.  At Modify Furniture, we have done extensive research on materials, manufacturing and other processes that impact how green a product is. We have chosen the materials for our furniture based many factors in an effort to offer our customers highest quality furniture while minimizing environmental impact. We have compiled an outline to help consumers ask the right questions when purchasing products for their home.

1.  Materials used: The most obvious question is, “what is  the product made of?” Most home furnishing products are made from wood, metal and/or plastics.

For wood products, reclaimed wood is an obvious choice as it does not require cutting down trees.  It is important, however to know what that material is finished with (more on this below). Cork and bamboo are both rapidly renewable products. Growing bamboo is actually a carbon negative process although this benefit may be somewhat minimized depending on ultimate traveling distance. U.S. based bamboo manufacturer, Teregren is currently in the process of growing their bamboo on american soil.

      modify desk in bamboo


 Considering metals, both steel and aluminum are recyclable materials. While prime (no recycled content) aluminum requires high energy in the production process, recycled content aluminum greatly reduces this burden. The EPA states that Recycling aluminium saves 95% of the energy cost of processing new aluminum. The superior structural integrity and longevity of products made with aluminum is also an important benefit. We proudly source our raw aluminum from a local manufacturer that guarantees an average of  30% recycled content, a proportion that is optimal environmentally while still offering superior quality and structure.

                                cube of scrap metal

 When buying products made with wood, look for items made with FSC certified  or  recycled-content wood materials.  Keep in mind that reclaimed wood may carry health risks related to the finishing products originally used, information which could be unknown. The website, has a wonderful in depth review of sustainability of wood materials.

Plastics can often be recycled but it is important to check labels to be sure that the product you want to purchase is made with recyclable plastic. Additionally, many products out there are are made from 100% recycled plastic.

                                recycling plastic bottles

2.  Where did the materials come from and how far did they travel? Raw materials traveling long distances to the manufacturing plant only to travel yet again to reach the end user expend energy.  Look for companies that source materials locally when possible.


3. Manufacturing process/waste management.  This can be difficult for a consumer to determine. Look for companies that are transparent about their efforts to  minimize waste and avoid  excess inventory. Keep in mind, most products do produce some waste, so look for companies that recycle their scrap and use materials that are recyclable. At Modify, we have researched lean manufacturing techniques and designed innovative programs that effectively minimize waste. Additionally, our made-to-order model limits excess inventory.

4. Finishing processes. As important as the materials used in a product is what they are finished with. Eco-friendly bamboo or cork coated with toxic oil-based paints and varnishes are toxic to workers and consumers. Look for products with low VOC finishes only.  While water based topcoats are typically low VOC, they do require stripping and refinishing for any repair work. For our bamboo finishing, we chose a low VOC natural oil-wax product not only for it’s  rich luxurious finish and safety profile,  but also for customers’ ability to spot repair if necessary.


5.  Packaging materials- It is important to also consider how products get to their final destination. Flat packing requires less packaging and takes up less room during transport, which translates to lower enegy consumption during transportation. Almost all cardboard packaging is made from recycled material (often 100%). Plastic wrapping that is made from recycled material is usually green tinted. Newer packaging materials including mushroom packaging and biodegradable peanuts are making their way to the market as well.

6. Product quality. “Disposable” furniture even if made with eco-friendly materials is not particularly green. Look for quality products that will last for years to come.  Also look for designs versatile in function so you won’t “outgrow” them.
pile of rubbish
7.  What’s in a name. Looking for products that are Cradle to Cradle certified will assure you that that your products are eco-friendly. They have the most stringent criteria for certifying products as  eco-friendly products.  However, it is also important to keep in mind that obtaining these seals require extensive costs and time and can be challenging  for younger companies to “prove their worth” compared to larger corporations.

More great resources include:

What’s the Deal With Bamboo? Green or not?

For information on Modify Furniture eco-frienldy products: