Like many, Amy Durnford ventured into the business of creating furniture out of necessity when she couldn’t find what she was looking for locally in the UAE. Being a home-grown brand in a market saturated with expensive, imported labels and a clutch of regional makers with a massive following was never going to be easy, but she steered Custom No.9 through the pandemic with aplomb and creativity, emerging as a serious, quality-conscious name. On the occasion of launching her new collection, Durnford spoke to AD about what makes her, and her design business tick.
You were working in marketing before you founded Custom No.9 in 2019. What prompted you to switch gears?
For as long as I remember, I’ve always had a very strong desire to create, and to be in a role where I’m constantly challenging myself in a creative environment.
Custom No.9 was then born when I sought out to furnish my first apartment here in Dubai. I couldn’t find what I was looking for in the market at the time and therefore utilised a network I had built working with an award-winning experiential marketing agency to design our dining table, coffee table and accessories. Back then, I really felt that there was customer demand for a more creative and hands-on approach to furnishing your home. There were many global brands retailing mass produced items here, along with workshops who could pull together to make a piece from a picture, but there was little in the way of a customer-focused, design-led approach.
How has the brand evolved over the past three years?
When we started out, we used to say, ‘Bespoke customisation is the new mass production’. Our concept launched as a tailored design experience that existed online, giving customers the opportunity to create their own furniture with our set materials, templates and colours. The core was a real focus on personalisation whilst being able to offer standard customisable templates and thus a faster design to delivery process. We very much still live by this ethos which I’m proud of, but with every new collection we’ve dropped since launch our knowledge and understanding of the manufacturing process strengthens, we’re exploring more complexity in design. For example, for our latest collection, we’ve evolved the customer favourite ‘Alia Arch Shelves’ with the Alia Arch Cabinet. The once open shelves have received an upgrade with tempered glass steel doors, concealed hinges complete with unique handmade handles. The process of this design took six months from conception to prototype.
What was the best piece of advise you received as you set up your own design business?
Maintain integrity, keep telling your story and focus on you, not on what anyone else around you is doing. We never wanted to just be an online platform to buy furniture, but rather evolve over time and thus have our customers evolve on that journey with us. Those who purchased dining tables from us on day one are now coming back to us for their sofas. It’s a never-ending relationship and process.
You really harnessed social media in establishing your brand – what were the cornerstones of your social strategy?
Always tell an authentic and real story, involving our community in every step of our story whilst thanking them along the way. Another huge cornerstone was a focus on beautifully shot imagery, helping to elevate and build our brand with a style that is signature to us. We very much have Natelee Cocks Photography to thank for that.
How does a ‘Made in the UAE’ brand benefit the consumer?
We’re agile and can deliver really high-end, customised furniture pieces to our customers much quicker than international high-end brands.
Plus, in our experience, customers in this region are also very proud to support local, and to see that the quality and design standards they can find here can rival those in more established markets. There is a growing concern towards ‘shopping local’ and being able to contribute to that need in the furniture space is a huge advantage.