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Inside the World of Custom Furniture Design With Susana Baldaia

It's a wonderful feeling to own a piece of furniture unique that totally reflects your style. With more and more homeowners ditching the cookie-cutter, factory-made pieces for custom designs, interior designers are constantly on the lookout for furniture manufacturers that deliver one-of-a-kind statement pieces that are high on quality and aesthetics. One such company is Pulga, based in Porto, Portugal. The Portuguese production agency specializes in creating made-to-order custom pieces, including furniture, rugs, and lighting. They partner with American interior designers to deliver the craftsmanship that is nearly impossible to find on our side of the pond. 

Today I speak to Susana Baldaia, the founder of Pulga, a dreamer, designer, and entrepreneur, about the story of Pulga, the value of custom-made designs, and the deep-rooted traditional methods of designing that make each Pulga product a piece of art. Join us as Susanna explains the painstaking yet profoundly satisfying process of giving shape to the visions of interior designers.

So without much further ado, please welcome Susanna!

Pulga Susana

Q: What is the origin story of Pulga?

A: Pulga was born in 2009. I was working in an architecture office, and António, my husband and my partner in Pulga, was working in the design department of a furniture factory. António is an Interior Designer, and furniture was a fond area that interested both of us. Those days, it wasn't easy to produce custom pieces since the biggest factories only produced their own collections. As the demand increased, we conceptualized Pulga precisely with the aim of bridging that gap. We started working with a niche set of customers who wanted customized pieces, which we were able to produce in multi-generational, family-run ateliers. And that is how Pulga was born.

Custom High Quality Furnitu

Q: What exactly does a production agency such as yours do?

A: We work with a network of furniture manufacturers and manage and monitor the entire production process that goes through multiple stages. We begin by analyzing and interpreting the aims of each request, selecting the best manufacturers, making all the technical drawings, and producing samples to select materials, colors, and finishes. Then we produce the prototypes and eventually craft the final pieces, which is the most demanding part of the whole process because it requires constant monitoring to guarantee the quality of each piece. Finally, we handle the packaging and shipping process to deliver our products worldwide.

Furniture Manufacture Process

Q: You are an architect by education and experience. How did you make the shift to running a production agency?

A: I always dreamed of having my own business and having Antonio by my side because we make an excellent team. Luckily, we both love and share the same enthusiasm for furniture design. Interestingly, the work process involved in furniture design is very similar to architecture in different scales and complexity.

Q: What is your process when someone first approaches you with a furniture design?

A: The most important thing is to be able to understand what our client's intentions are so that we can visualize and guide the entire process from start to finish. This seems obvious, but sometimes it's not. We have clients that have well-positioned and well-defined projects and others that don't. In such cases, we have to dialog with the client until we have a clear position before proceeding with the process.

Q: Why should interior designers provide custom furniture to their clients instead of procuring from their normal trade vendors?

A: We are a designer furniture option that guarantees unique, one-of-a-kind designs. Interior designers can choose what they like depending on their vision for each project. What we guarantee to designers are high-quality custom pieces designed through time-tested methods, where we will supervise the entire process, ensuring that each piece is tailored to their specifications. In addition, we also work with designers who produce their own furniture collections, which they can use in their projects. Having their own signature line is a great point of differentiation for interior design studios, and it allows them an unusually high mark-up opportunity.

High Quality Fabric Pattern

Q: With so many moving parts, how do you ensure you maintain high-quality products?

A: We always select the best suppliers with whom we have worked for many years and with whom we maintain a relationship of mutual trust. Even though they are familiar with our level of demands and standards, we continuously monitor the production with each project.

Q: What is unique about your home base of Porto, and why is it considered the furniture capital of Portugal? What historically influenced Porto's craftsmanship?

A: Porto has a privileged location because it is close to the biggest community of furniture manufacturers in Europe. The popular cities are Paços de Ferreira, considered the furniture capital, and Paredes e Penafiel, which are roughly 40km away from Porto.

The craftsmanship and technical know-how, which is stronger in the north of the country than in the south, extends to other areas in addition to furniture such as textiles, ceramics, embroidery, blown glass, rugs, and cork. This is probably related to the fact that we lived under a dictatorship (1933-1974) for a very long period which naturally delayed the country's modernization process. During those times, the people lived in a very rural manner where traditional know-how was highly appreciated and valued. Today, Portugal has changed a lot, and we now have factories offering the best technology. However, we also continue to have small ateliers where we have freedom, knowledge, and the ability to explore and produce unique pieces. It's the best of both worlds! 

Q: Is there a minimum budget for orders with you?

A: No, we work with all budget levels. 

Q: Can you handle large quantities or only one-off pieces?

A: As we work with several suppliers, we have great versatility and responsiveness, so we can easily produce a single piece or a large quantity order.  

Q: Do your customers always come with a design in mind, or do you have in-house designers who can create designs for them?

A: No, we don't create designs for our clients. They usually come with the designs or ideas in mind, and we provide all the technical support and help them to turn their ideas into real, tangible pieces. A sketch on a napkin is enough for us to get started.

Q:Tell us about shipping and logistics. Who handles the shipping, you or your client? How long does it take to ship furniture from Portugal to the States?

A: We work with both processes. It is usually cheaper for the customer if we handle the packaging and shipping, as we are the country of origin.

Custom Furniture Design Pulga

Q: I've seen your furniture, and the quality is second to none. Tell us about the production costs.

A: The cost varies a lot. A coffee table can cost anywhere between 300€ to 3,000€ depending on the specifications. We evaluate costs based on the complexity of designs, which includes our workmanship.

Q: If a designer wants to get in touch with you, what is the best way for them to reach you?

A: We have all our contacts on our website, pulga.pt. Send us an email or call us!  

I am so excited that our readers got a peek into your fabulous world of custom furniture design. Thanks again for taking the time out to discuss your work with us.

To see more designs from Pulga, follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. ♥