Get Creative with Specialty Frames: Offer Customers Distinctive, One-of-a-Kind Looks with a Selection of Hand-Finished Specialty Frames

Article excerpt

With the hundreds, if not thousands, of mouldings available on the market, there is surely a style to suit most framing customers' tastes and requirements. But what about the customer who wants something a bit more tailored? Perhaps he likes the wood grain on one sample, the color on a second sample and the ornamentation on yet a third. Or he might want a custom-mixed color or the subtle variances of a hand-applied finish, in cases like these, custom-made specialty frames may be just what the frame shop should order.

Among the many chop services and moulding manufacturers in the market, there are a few companies that supply custom-ordered, finished-corner specialty frames to the retail framing market. Customers can work with their framers to choose each characteristic of the frame, from the type of wood, to the color and finish, to the ornamentation, to the size. Once the order is placed, the frame is created at the supplier's studio and then shipped to the frame shop joined, finished and ready to go.

Because specialty frames are individually created and hand-finished, each frame can require hours of work and involve the talents of several artisans. As a result, specialty frames generally have higher prices per foot ($40 and up) than standard mouldings. But in return, customers receive frames that are truly one-of-a-kind: No one finish is exactly like the next. That selling point can make specialty frames a distinctive addition to any framer's sample wall.

From Retail to Wholesale

Many specialty frame suppliers began as retail framing operations. In most cases, they are custom framers and gallery owners who were looking for something in the market that didn't yet exist, so they set about to make it themselves.

For example, Animaux, a supplier of specialty frames, is a division of Ross Wetzel Studios, a retail framing operation in Wilmette, Ill. The company got its start when owner Sue Weeks couldn't find mouldings made of bird's eye maple that met her standards, explained company representative Peggy Flanagan.

"She purchased some bird's eye maple and began to create her own frames,' said Flanagan. "But as she saw the waste piling up, she tried to think of ways to use it. At the same time, she was importing handmade papers to sell to artists. She put the two together and started to apply the paper to the frames to use that wasted wood."

In 1989, Animaux exhibited at its first national show and featured its selection of distinctive frames, including those covered with Animaux's signature handmade animal-print papers. Since then, Animaux has expanded its line to include other finishes and ornamentation.

"Frames covered with handmade papers used to be our whole company, but now it's just one small part of our fine" Flanagan commented. "We now do a lot with gesso and resist finishes, compo and gilding."

Will Lehmann of Will Lehmann Frames in sandwich, N.H., tells a similar story. He always loved to work with his hands, creating custom furniture pieces and building his own post-and-beam home. He opened his frame shop in 1973 and found himself making many mouldings from scratch out of Oregon walnut and other hardwoods. At the time, he explained, simple hardwood frames were hard to find.

"My need to provide myself with basic mouldings that I couldn't find elsewhere began to evolve," he said. "I started with simple hardwoods and moved on to simple painted and gilded profiles."

In 1994, Lehmann started selling his hand-painted, hand-finished frames, available in 23 colors, to other framers and he has since shown in trade shows. He recently began to put gold and silver metal leaf under the paint, and he uses a hand-rubbing technique to create a soft, antiqued look. Customers also can opt for what Lehmann calls a "French crackle finish" to give the frame a "refined representation of age," he said.

A Street Frames, in Boston, is another operation that was born of a need its two artist owners, Robert Wilstein and Mark LeSaffre, saw in the industry. …