The Problem

You are looking for someone to fit cupboards and shelves either side of your fireplace.  The old bookcase and TV stand served their purpose until now, but you dream of a living room to feel proud of, a fully fitted design that makes use of wasted space and looks fantastic.

Traditional Style Fitted Alcove unit in off White PaintIf done properly it could transform and enlarge your living space.  Custom-made furniture is not cheap, and you’re willing to pay for a good job.  If it’s a complete service including painting that’s even better.  But you don’t want to pay more than is necessary. 

How do you find a provider you can trust?  And how much should you pay, when there is so much conflicting advice out there?Modern Style Fitted Alcove Cupboard and Floating Shelves Sheffield

Your Options

For the comparisons below, I will assume you have 2 alcoves separated by a chimney breast, each up to 4 feet (120cm) wide, and you want double cupboards at the bottom and 2 or 3 shelves above each one.  Anything is possible, this is just a typical scenario to help us compare prices.  You can get quotes from 4 main types of provider:

1: The Big Fitted Furniture Companies

The national fitted furniture companies will send you a pushy salesman on commision, to quote you a very high price, until you beat them down to only a high price (you’ll find lots of anecdotal evidence on forums online).  We are talking well into the thousands, and even the price they drop down to will be above their baseline rule of thumb for fitted furniture of £1000 per linear metre.  Even then, they may not offer the look or the personal service you want.  Some will steer you towards using melamine rather than a painted finish.

2: Local Tradesmen

At the opposite end of the spectrum, you could try a local joiner/carpenter.  It’s good to support the local economy after all.  At the lower end you will find quotes between £500 and £1000.  These will come from joiners without a workshop who are not big enough (or not honest enough) to charge VAT or account for overheads such as legally contracted staff or proper health and safety management.  They are eager to win the work. 

It’s a gamble on the quality and service, and you’ll probably have to arrange the painting yourself.  But if a low price is your top priority you may get lucky with an honest craftsman still making a name for himself or simply content with a low wage.  Or you may find someone charging between £1000 and £2000 with some good reviews and photos of similar work.  If you go for the cheap quote and don’t get lucky, you’ll just have to accept the problems that arise from poor workmanship and cheap materials.

3:  Joinery Firms

A reputable joinery firm with a proper workshop and the normal overheads of a business will charge more, sometimes a lot more (it could easily vary from £2000 to as much as £4000, with much variation on materials used, level of design service offered, painting etc).  However they don’t specialise in this sort of work, because it is easier and more profitable for them to focus on doors, windows, kitchens or commercial contracts.  So the outcome is again hard to predict. 

You will also find local firms specializing in fitted furniture who are more interested in kitchens, bedrooms and studies in melamine finishes, or else they are very ‘high-end’, all fancy sprayed finishes etc at a high price.

4: The Alcove Specialists

Alternatively, if you are looking for an expert offering quality and efficiency at a fair price, including painting, you will discover a number of small to medium sized alcove furniture specialists advertising online.  Most of them are based in London and the south, but a growing number can be found further north.  The typical price at time of writing will be between £2000 and £2500 for a full service including painting, and some of these providers publish their pricelists online.  (More info below).Bespoke Fitted Alcove Units 3D CAD Line Drawing

How to Choose

Obviously, putting aside any dishonest profiteering, you will get what you pay for.  A higher price can also be great value.  You will make your choice based on your own balance of priorities between low cost, vs quality and peace of mind. 

To make your choice of provider you will want to be satisfied of a few things.  Getting these right incurs a cost, in labour time, quality of materials, or even the management of back-room staff and systems of the business.   Here are some questions to ask:

  • Are you confident of the quality and durability of the furniture you will receive?
  • Will the shelves stay rigid or sag over time?
  • Are the doors traditionally made 5-piece doors, or 'mock panelled' doors with just a mitred moulding stuck to a sheet?
  • Will the doors be well fitted, opening smoothly and holding closed, or will they stick?  
  • Will the person who comes to survey the space and discuss your needs still be involved in the manufacture and installation?  
  • Can they give you detailed drawings or is it all hand gestures, pencil sketches and uncertainty?  
  • How will they accommodate cabling to the TV, and remote control of your Sky box or whatever?   
  • Will they be efficient, or be working in your house for days making dust?  
  • Will they properly protect your carpet and furnishings?
  • Will you need to paint it all yourself or arrange a separate decorator?  If the joiner can paint it for you, can you rely on the quality of the finish?  
  • Can they show you relevant past projects and customer testimonials?
  • Can they offer extras such as built in lighting?
  • What are the values of the business - are they the sort of people you will feel totally comfortable working with?Freebird Classic Alcove Units Pair Painted Off White

In Summary

If getting the right answers to the questions above is important to you, let me summarise this whole discussion by saying that the £2k to £2.5k range mentioned above is very reasonable for the costs and work involved.  If you find price-lists published online lower than that range they are probably either ‘starting from’ prices which rise when everything is included, or else it is likely to be a business that keeps costs low in ways that may be detrimental to customer service, quality of product, or the integrity of the business.

At the £2k+ price range, from a genuine specialist provider, the result will be a well-thought out, truly made-to measure piece of built-in furniture.  Properly finished off and painted, it will really transform your lounge, with a minimum of hassle during the process.

For additional cost a specialist provider will also be able to offer customised features such as angled units, lighting, and options for accommodating AV equipment.
Bespoke Fitted Alcove Cupboards and Shelves with Lighting and an Angled Cupboard

Further information

If you want more detail on prices before making your mind up, read my next post.  I will share industry insights and be transparent about my own experience of producing and pricing this work, helping you see how these sums are actually arrived at, with real examples of work.

Alastair Johnson

Director, designer and installer at Freebird Fitted Furniture, Sheffield’s fitted alcove furniture specialists.