I’d like to depart from the usual narrative today to publish my recent Q&A with Valery Khodakovsky, the founder and technologist of our production company, to talk about the firm and its custom carpentry business.
Alexey: Valery, as we are often asked about our custom production, please tell our readers more about the parent company, starting with some facts and background.
Valery: I am a professional carpenter and a wood carver. I founded Efrai back in 2002. Today we have our own manufacturing facility based in Kiev. We mostly specialize in custom wood furniture design and production. The bulk of our customers are returning clients, ordering new interior décor items and furniture for both apartments and detached houses.
Alexey: How would you describe your typical customer?
Valery: They are mostly end-user customers, plus some interior designers and architects. Despite different style preferences, they are ready to invest a reasonable amount of money into high-quality bespoke furniture. Most of our customers come from Kiev and around, some are from other regions of Ukraine.
Alexey: What products and styles is the company best known for producing?
Valery: We work in various styles. We can produce technologically challenging furniture, ranging from baroque-heavy classics, as we did for our past customers Kuchma and Pshonka (former politicians), to ALTAFORM-branded products for audiences who appreciate a more contemporary aesthetic. We are flexible, and provide consultation services and custom drawings to bring greater clarity to our client’s ideas.
While the firm is not large, some of its projects are. I recently spent 3 months in Ulan Bator, Mongolia in the capacity of an advisor to a local condominium builder to bring up automated door and kitchen production. Hundreds of high-quality doors have already been produced, utilizing our technical process and blueprints.
We typically sell several custom-made items per project. Here is the entire list of what we do:
- Entrance and interior doors
- Old entrance door restoration
- Cabinet and built-in furniture
- Classic and modern kitchens
- Solid wood furniture
- Replicas or restoration of foreign and antique products
- Solid wood furniture objects (including tables, benches, chairs, chests of drawers, sideboards, etc.)
- Carved furniture
- Wall panels, baseboards, cornices, etc.
Alexey: How do you address the specifics of metal, glass, and upholstered furniture production?
Valery: Our machinery, technical processes, and personnel are primarily focused on woodworking. However, we are well versed in different areas of furniture production, including upholstery and padding, and metals; we also understand chemicals for coating, and solid state mechanics to address reliability.
Efrai provides customers with a single point of contact regardless of the manufacturing technology. A good example is the metal and glass Whisper table and Euphoria mirrors. First we validated your design ideas, then provided subcontractors with manufacturing templates to produce specific parts for us to assemble and finish. The entire technology process, quality control, and integration are taken care of by our specialists. This way we can help designers realize their ideas by concentrating on the creative process rather than on logistics.
Alexey: I agree this is an important point for creative types. Can you elaborate on the manufacturing tools?
Valery: We are just as creative yet the production management in furniture business is integral to the creative process. In regards to machinery, we use in-house equipment to work with wood, plywood, MDF, and chipboard; we bend, glue, laminate, veneer, paint, varnish, restore or artificially age. Yet we do have some technological restrictions – there are no CNC machines on site, our press has size limitations; there is no ultra-clean finishing room to completely eliminate dust particles in the air. Having said that, we are able to address up to 80% of orders for small batches of products, which is good for our current production volume.
Alexey: What is your approach to larger-scale, commercial furniture projects, for restaurants and hotels?
Valery: We do engage in such projects from time to time. It is more about sufficient financial and technological resources at hand, which are the key prerequisites to producing large product volumes fast. In general, HORECA furniture for cafes and restaurants is a no brainer to us, we do produce the necessary decor and furniture for such projects.
Alexey: Being a small business the company has to play smart…
Valery: I would call us a manufactory. The firm’s core is a team of 12 specialists. Once there is a large order, we involve personnel that formerly worked for Efrai. The former subordinates have been personally trained and validated by me in the past. Given the current faltering economic situation, this type of lean strategy normally helps to wisely allocate our own resources, sustaining high quality while guaranteeing typical lead times.
Alexey: Please describe the concept of the ALTAFORM designer furniture brand.
Valery: Custom projects are labor-intensive – the clients often do not have a concise vision for the items they want to design; they change specifications after the project is approved, and we spend extra time redrafting, preparing for custom production, procuring materials, and sometimes altering already finished custom items.
Therefore, from a commercial point of view, it is far more efficient to offer a standardized furniture range. ALTAFORM is our trademark for the line of predefined, contemporary design furniture, with the potential to reduce the custom production share in the company’s business and to increase our overall profitability.
Our classic custom-made products contrast with the precise architectural forms of the ALTAFORM-branded furniture, yet both lines are distinguished by high-quality materials and workmanship.
I believe that locally we are currently witnessing a gradual transition to modern European aesthetics. Scandinavian and Italian furniture styles are becoming more popular with the local public. Therefore, we are developing this project as a pilot to adapt a new, more efficient business model once the local market is ready for our designs.
Alexey: Let’s move on to the turnkey design approach. What is your process to create the furniture?
Valery: To differentiate from the competition we often develop blueprints for free. This customer-centric approach contradicts the point of maximizing profits, yet we still often go for it, neglecting the fact that some customers walk away after the design takes final shape. Also it has to be mentioned that the design of interior is not our business. We involve independent architects in the case of such a need.
To create custom furniture and décor I go to the site to meet the customer, take measurements and sketches. Then the staff prepare product drawings and specs; then we ratify them to produce and deploy “turnkey” items.
I would not totally dismiss that in the future we would have to expand the range of offered services, perhaps involving several chosen architects to unify the interior and furniture designs in a single project.
Alexey: What is the typical price policy and production lead time?
Valery: It is rather fruitless to focus on the production of cheap custom furniture. Aggressive pricing would not allow us to maintain high quality and to retain expertise. The realities of visa-free travel make many domestic carpenters think of taking jobs in Poland, where salaries are much higher than in Ukraine. We keep professionals loyal by paying them competitively for their work.
Thus we concentrate on mid-to-high end market tiers. We are interested in attracting interior designers and architects bringing 10K USD+ orders. Working in the middle and high price markets, we provide partners with standard commissions. Lead times range from 45 days to three months, depending on the production load and the complexity of particular project. With larger orders we recommend contacting us in advance to schedule things accordingly. We do have some complex projects lasting over six months, but these are exceptions to the norm.
Alexey: Designers often like to look at the production facility before placing an order. How can they engage, and is it possible for the designers to pay a visit?
Valery: We’re always happy to have designers tour our facilities and discuss potential projects. Use the contact form or call +38 097 889 9147.
Alexey: Valery, thank you for the interview!
Valery: You are welcome. Wrapping up I would note that Ukrainian furniture, interior design and architecture have finally started to evolve. As a company, we are interested not in just turning a profit – it is important for us to take an active role in the development of Ukrainian industrial design and overall production culture. This would make a great subject for another Q&A in the future.