At Home in the Home or Office

Custom Designs by Georgio’s business took off when it entered the commercial market. But, the company still creates unique residential furniture using a variety of materials.

By Sam Gazdziak

     
Custom Designs by Georgio

Franklin Park, IL

www.customdesignsbygeorgio.com

Year Founded: 1989

Employees: 15

Shop Size: 10,000 square feet

FYI: Custom Designs gets 80% of its work from commercial woodwork, including reception areas, nurses’ stations and residents’ furniture.

 
   
     

Diversity has been the key to success for Custom Designs by Georgio. The company started off building residential furniture, but it found its niche in the commercial/institutional furniture market. The shop can handle production runs of 100 pieces or a one-of-a-kind piece. Its employees are equally at home working with wood, veneer, laminate or solid surface material.

“We’re not limited as far as what we’re capable of doing,” says Georgio Spyropoulos, president of the Franklin Park, IL, company. “We can work with wood, laminate and solid surfaces. We do custom millwork and simple things as well.”

Spyropoulos and his father came to the United States from Greece in 1978. After working for another cabinet shop, they decided to start a business on their own. Custom Designs by Georgio was officially incorporated in 1989, and the two remain 50 percent partners in the business.

Custom Designs began by selling laminate residential furniture in several showrooms in Chicago. “We started off by opening a work shop, and for the first couple of months we built furniture for show pieces,” Spyropoulos says. Once they opened a showroom, they advertised and waited for sales to start coming in.

Spyropoulos had studied the area, and he and his father produced furniture he thought would most appeal to a suburban area: children’s furniture, bedroom sets and wall units. “We were lucky, because within a few weeks, we had record sales. The first few months were unbelievable,” he recalls. Along the way, the company also began offering furniture in solid wood and veneered MDF.

     
 
Custom Designs by Georgio often gets called on to do the woodwork for entire nursing homes, including the nurses’ stations. Other commercial work includes doctors’ offices, hospitals and schools.  
     

At its peak, Custom Designs by Georgio had three showrooms open in shopping malls. But after a couple of years in business, the company had to change directions. “In 1992, with the recession, everything slowed down. We trimmed down and turned to commercial work,” Spyropoulos explains.

Custom Designs by Georgio does about 80 percent commercial work and 20 percent residential work now, with the residential work coming from word-of-mouth and repeat customers the company has kept since its beginning. Spyropoulos says that ratio has kept the company going in the current slumping economy.

“Our company still has had the same growth. We still had an increase this year over last year in sales,” he says. “That’s because of the commercial aspect. I believe that if we were doing more residential furniture, we would have had a slowdown.”

One-of-a-Hundred or One-of-a-Kind

Custom Designs often does the woodwork for entire nursing homes, including the reception area, nurses’ stations and residents’ furniture. Those projects can enter the $150,000 range and feature three or four floors’ worth of furniture, including nightstands, headboards and built-in closets. Because of the large amount of work involved, the shop is set up for high production.

“As our sales increase, we always get new machinery to help us increase them even more. That helps us produce nicer products with more precision and a higher quantity as well,” Spyropoulos says.

A year ago, the company purchased a Holz-Her edgebander to replace an older, smaller machine. The year before that, it bought a Casadei panel saw. When production jobs come along, all boards are cut on the panel saw and edgebanded. Smaller projects are cut on a Powermatic table saw.

   
Entertainment centers are one of the company’s most popular residential products. The two stand-up cylinders in this wall unit pull out to a bar.  
     

Custom Designs’ employees also fabricate any solid surface material needed for the jobs; the only work that gets subcontracted is stone. The 10,000-square-foot shop has a spray booth and plenty of room for veneering, laminating and assembly, which is all done by hand. Custom Designs’ furniture and cabinetry uses Blum hinges and KV drawer glides. All finished products are shipped on the company’s own trucks.

The company’s 15 employees work in two shifts. One group comes in early in the morning, works on the projects and takes them to be installed. Another group will come in later in the day to do its work. “Usually, the woodworkers and the cabinetmakers who make the furniture also install it,” Spyropoulos says.

The company splits its work between wood and laminates fairly evenly, which can be a problem when looking for employees. “We’ll get guys that may have 10 or 15 years of experience in laminating and not any experience in woodworking,” Spyropoulos says. “We try to keep both types of employees on hand, depending on what projects we have.”

Any Project, Any Material

Custom Designs by Georgio has built furniture and cabinetry for doctors’ offices, synagogues, schools and hospitals, but Spyropoulos says that the nursing home business has provided very steady work. “Right now, many nursing homes are putting a lot of money into their lobbies, so they’ll do unique flooring and carpeting, and they’ll want a nice reception desk. For their dining room areas, we’ll do nice-looking pieces,” he says.

Oftentimes for commercial jobs, the clients have already specified materials for the project before it gets to Custom Designs. Spyropoulos will make recommendations about materials if a piece is going to be placed in a high-wear area. Solid surface materials and granite are his choices for furniture that needs to stand up to abuse. “Within five years, we’ll have to go and replace a nurses’ station because of all the abuse it has taken,” he says. “When we do them now, we’ll tell the clients that it’s worth it to spend the extra money to get a better surface, because it will last them longer and will look nicer in the meantime.”

     
 
When designing residential furniture, customers have a wide variety of colors and materials from which to choose. This bedroom sets were made with burgundy laminates.  
     

Some new innovations are making solid surface material a more affordable solution for both commercial and residential projects, Spyropoulos says. Custom Designs by Georgio offers customers all brands of solid surface material, including TopStone from Halstead International and Meganite. Spyropoulos says those materials have greatly lowered the cost of solid surface countertops. “It wears the same and looks just as good [as more expensive brands], so people do not mind paying half as much,” he says.While many of the commercial projects the company works on involve someone else’s designs, it gets to create truly custom pieces when designing residential furniture. When customers come to the company looking for a table, bedroom set or wall unit, for example, Spyropoulos and another designer use AutoCAD and Cabnetware to design what the customer wants.

If a customer is interested in laminate furniture, the company offers all varieties of types and colors. For example, one bedroom set the company built had a burgundy laminate to match the room’s decor. Various tables Custom Designs has made have incorporated wood, metal, glass, laminate and copper laminate.

Spyropoulos says more customers have been asking for solid wood and veneered wood products, and they have been requesting the exotic and figured species. So along with mahogany and maple wall units and cabinetry, Custom Designs has also been building furniture from wenge and curly maple.

The residential jobs typically range between $2,000 and $8,000, and they are for homes in the Chicagoland area. The commercial and institutional work goes all over the country. Custom Designs is hoping to move up into the next bracket by bidding on larger jobs. “Every year it increases.” says Spyropoulos. “We’re looking into other types of business to keep growing.”

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