In case you missed the memo: customisation of furniture and furnishings is one of the most significant developments in the interiors industry today. I don’t exaggerate when I say that every conversation I engage in with design brands includes a discussion around the notion of customisation – so much so that my internal thesaurus is replete with synonyms for the word, since this usually leads to me writing it a lot.
Customisation is often billed as the ultimate modern luxury, but is it for everyone? I mean, I’m all for expressing individuality in our interiors, but I’m also reminded of the paralysis I feel when confronted by a takeaway menu, stateside. When palate-pleasing involves seemingly limitless choice, which way to go? With a lack of professional culinary skills, the chance of making a wrong turn grows. This doesn’t matter so much when it’s compiling an acceptable sandwich filling, but when it’s the bones of a building or the decoration within, the choice needs to endure; it needs to be right.
Customisation requires a guiding hand
Key to making customisation work in interiors, in fact, is not only the manufacturing capabilities of a brand but its ability to partner with customers and bring expertise to the equation. It’s the case that Belgian flooring brand Beauflor made to me recently. Beauflor evolved from the local flax industry and now makes hard-wearing vinyl flooring, which cushions underfoot in offices and shops, clinics, schools and hospitality venues around the world; recent developments include a hygiene-friendly, anti-bacterial treatment. It carries a large portfolio of evergreen colours, designs and finishes, alongside studio collections of fashion-responsive designs, but also the possibility to ‘co-create’.
"Everything can be customised these days – and as a result, people are finding it easier to take the step towards asking for something special," confirms Nele Taelman from Beauflor’s studio team. "Most of the time we receive pictures of the idea they have in their head, and starting from this, we create a design." The brand’s facility in Slovenia has the technology to digitally print any design on flooring destined for an area measuring over 60 sqm. It’s a quick and flexible process that eclipses analogue printing techniques and makes customisation eminently possible.
Tapping a fountain of expertise
For the co-creating process, the in-house design team make themselves available to ‘think alongside you‘ – responding to precise imagery or mood boards from which to develop a design. They avail themselves of all the information and inspiration required to keep themselves abreast of fashions, attending fairs and following trend agencies. Fluency in international tastes means they also know when a neutral palette might be preferable and when a colour adventure is likely to be desirable. But importantly they are skilled too at translating original ideas into a specific layout and plotting out a clear installation plan.
Engagement with Beauflor’s co-creation offer has led to practical and meaningful designs. A terrazzo pattern tonally ties together a sophisticated material palette for a fashion boutique, while sports facilities and gyms can benefit from permanent markings – be it measurements or pitches in the gym or court boundaries in the sports hall.
Form and function on demand
A collaboration with Van Manen en Zwart Architecten on the flooring for the RSG school in Ter Apel, The Netherlands, led to an original, site-specific design. "The school is located in the middle of a tree-rich environment and these trees have become part of the building and interior concept," explains the lead architect Marit Reitsma. "The print represents the annual rings of the trees. Together with the leaves on the walls and the blue tones of the sky, this contributes to a fresh and playful interior." It was also a way to define areas by function. "We were able to create clear zones with the help of this large print. This creates a natural distinction between walking routes and accommodation zones."
While bespoke designs might have a practical function, sometimes it is nothing more than a fun new realm for creative expression – a request, for example, for a candy-inspired design led to the Beauflor design team scanning kilos of sweets before distributing them around staff. But consistent in all successful customisations is the expertise and hand-holding that an experienced team brings to the process. This way, limitless choice doesn’t have to induce blind panic, just exciting possibility.