Open Source Furniture

Open Source Furniture

The sharing revolution has changed the planet. The way we call a cab, the way we holiday, how we work and live. And as often happens, what begins as a bold new phenomenon becomes normalised and must evolve to head off new challenges, or be replaced by the next big idea. Trudging around shops to buy DVD’s is pre-historic, we now stream and share the cost of ownership with monthly prescriptions. And in a world of spiralling ownership costs, millennials are leading the sharing revolution.

So why can’t we share design?

“Laser cutting and 3D printing….”

Open source refers to a code made available online to be refined, improved and infinitely shared. Originally applied to computer software, open source furniture is one of the most searched-for subtopics of the sharing genre. Laser cutting and 3D printing – once mythical ideas – are commonplace in workshops across the globe. Combine open source design with affordable hi-tech local production and we have a furniture revolution in the making, driven by the Maker Movement.

Open Source, Opendesk

Opendesk are a new breed of furniture manufacturer, disrupting the typical consumer supply route. They have become synonymous with open source furniture, linking designers and makers to the general public via an online platform. “Designed to be downloaded and made locally”, they’ve embraced the democratic nature of open source, inviting critique and feedback in order to improve design, processes and sustainability. See for yourself.

What were initially limited and clunky designs have developed, multiplied and improved albeit there is a clear design language within much of the collection due to the limitations of materials used and the inherent ‘simplicity’ of production and assembly.  Opendesk count Greenpeace, Impact Hub and Digital Ocean amongst their corporate clients and are currently featured in Vitra Design Museum’s Hello Robot exhibition – a sure sign of their success. But how far will the movement evolve?

To get the opinion of a true maker with sustainable ideals, I chatted to Rainer Kyburz – Director of Basel-based Kyburz Made and self-confessed furniture addict, who is enthused by the trend.

Kyburz Made: old materials lovingly restored and unique – the opposite of open source?

“This movement is a perfect example of globalisation.” says Rainer, “We should make the best out of it and use it in a sensible way. Transportation of resources is optimised, local Materials can be used, or sent in Bulk as a single product to the customer, often flatpacked. Information as to how to produce something is shared and accessible. New international interdisciplinary cooperations are developed and ironically, creativity is pushed by the very limitation that a product has to be designed to allow it to be produced on the other side of the globe.”

That’s an interesting point. The very limitations imposed by remote access, production and logistics can in fact be a design catalyst. So where’s the down side?  “At present, the limitations of production techniques” explains Rainer, “but this will evolve over time. Quality control could also prove difficult as the complete product does not come from an individual provider.” Indeed. Using a vast network or supply chain means results may vary.

Manufacturing techniques are constantly evolving

We’re currently seeing a boom in plywood, coworking and tech-style interior schemes and this theme fits perfectly – not just in terms of design, but also target audience. But playing Devil’s advocate, in the words of the Dragons Den cash wad stroking suits, Is it truly scalable? Will production limitations prohibit development beyond the techniques and materials currently used, or will it evolve to integrate other materials, upholstery and ‘internet of things’ style tech? Keep your eyes on Opendesk who have a few interesting new developments in the pipeline.

“Could designers end up as disgruntled cabbies, who’s time served knowledge is kicked to the kerb…?”

Cutting out middle men and delivering design direct to the people, open source furniture promises to be the uber of the industry, but in the highly competitive field of furniture design, could designers end up as disgruntled cabbies, who’s time served knowledge is kicked to the kerb. With real people power undertones, the complex topic of design ownership is widely discussed on the open making site.

Herman Miller use 3D printing to speed up R+D process

And what of the big furniture players in contract and retail – Will IKEA offer open source production any time soon? Herman Miller (amongst others) are already using 3D printing to significantly speed up their R+D process. Maybe they feel open source is best left to the DIY-ers, or the margin just isn’t there. Smartphone apps to convert 2D images into 3D CAD files for printing and 3D printers are universally available, meaning anyone can be a maker in the market. Where that will leave intellectual property rights is yet to be seen.

Part Man, part Machine

Is the online maker movement the arch nemesis to the traditional craft movement?  Do the two meet somewhere in a ply bar at CDW to exchange notes over a craft beer, or would they end up in a Anchorman style barfight using downloaded ply chairs versus handmade oiled oak barstools? Personally, I think we will definitely see more ‘fusing’ of different production techniques across the industry as even old school manufacturers wise up to the benefits. Tech meets tradition. Furniture that is part man, part machine. Solid wood chair frames with 3D printed seat and backs and open source design with locally produced upholstery. One thing’s for sure, sharing isn’t going anywhere – it’s only just begun.

Until next time, you stay classy.

Craft versus Tech at CDW


Ben Capper is an award winning Interior Specialist based in Zürich Switzerland, working with Zingg Lamprecht AG on interior and furniture projects for commercial clients. Ben has 20 years experience as a trusted independent consultant to Architects and Interior Designers having completed projects such as Manchester United stadium expansion, private Airport lounges, University campuses and 1000 person office schemes.



Tech Interiors of Future Past

Tech Interiors of Future Past

I enjoy reading about the future. Future cities, future cars, future office. Who doesn’t? The implications of technological advances are debated online with readers in awe and fear at what may lie ahead. I published Office 2030 and Smart @rse articles earlier this year on this very subject.

Mark Eltringham wrote a great article last month for Workplace Insight suggesting our limited human grey matter cannot fathom where this is going. He’s right (well my limited bonce can’t). IT, AI and VR amongst other technological advances are accelerating at such pace we’re lagging farther and farther behind, our puny imagination unable to digest the far reaching consequences as speed of progress is infinitely redoubled. And redoubled.

Computer says yes. Brain says ‘erm wait… gimme a second…”

Great Scott…….

Eltringham quotes Stewart Brand’s ‘How Buildings Learn’, “describing each building as consisting of six layers, each of which functions on a different timescale. These range from the site itself which has a life cycle measured in centuries, through to the building (decades), interior fit out (years), technology (months), to stuff (days). The effectiveness of a workplace design will depend on how well it resolves the tensions that exist between these layers of the building.” Very well put. And with our future workplace needs so uncertain it is clear that flexibility is vital.

Yet as advances continue apace, the very style of our commercial interiors is stripped back to basics. Check out my last post on Factory Office to see what I mean. Swathes of furniture and interior design has become utilitarian in appearance. Exposed beams, ceilings and plywood are rife. Coincidence? Perhaps not.

Google King’s Cross Office

AHMM Architects recently unveiled Google’s King’s Cross Office, complete with ‘Jack’; a meeting room which is reconfigurable and portable within the building. Plug and play. Effectively the rooms which come with built in video conference equipment can be hacked to suit requirements – something that no doubt appeals to the IT crowd.

Dr Kerstin Sailer, a lecturer at University College London commented “The inflexibility of space has become particularly problematic in the 21st century business environment. It could be argued that Google is now making a move towards a more profound workplace innovation.”

Again the scheme’s overall interior style is very ‘coworking’ flavour, stripped back, typically tech. The IT industry that has led the coworking interiors style revolution are perhaps more aware than most of why commercial interiors should be simple, flexible and updatable. Perhaps these IT folk that live in dark cupboards snacking on pot noodles and energy drinks think of the building floorplate as a mother board onto which updates should be regularly downloaded in order to maintain its effectiveness.

Google Jack meeting room

Away from tech-focused desks and meeting furniture, we’ve seen the rise of young edgy breakout furniture firms with playful, retro and ironic styles ripe for Palo Alto. The likes of Facebook and Twitter have had cuddly soft breakout spaces with rocking chairs and old school sofas for years. The antisocial nature of technology itself perhaps promotes the need for good old fashioned chat in a space that feels safe and warm. But stripped back ceilings and plywood doesn’t necessarily feel warm you say. Ah yes, but it feels basic.

Deadgood at the Office Group, London


There’s the ‘everyone wants to be a start up’ factor. A leaning towards personal, approachable ‘low tech’ human service. “Hi I’m a friendly human. Let’s sit on a sofa, drink coffee and chat business.” steering clear of the high tech server stack that is beeping, whirring and being cooled by air-con in the back room.

And we’re now seeing not just the return of bent metal utilitarian furniture, but a number of other materials formerly linked with granny’s front room are popping up. We’ve had mid century design and Scandi lounge settings re-appearing. Marbles and velvet too. But who would have thought that handwoven wicker, the antithesis of technology, would be making a comeback anytime soon? But here we are. And here it is.


Perhaps it’s part of human nature to dig our heels in. As IT races on at light speed, keeping our interiors ‘real’ gives us echoes of days gone by. A visit to old Aunty Beth’s for a cuppa and some custard creams. If people feel good, they are happy and productive, remember? Whatever the key driver to this trend is, it’s ironic that as IT progresses to new found heights, our interior style is going backwards. And nowhere more so than in the tech industry hubs themselves.






Furnishing the future

Furnishing the future

A little over 11 years ago I was involved in bringing Vitra Design Museum’s world renowned 100 Years 100 Chairs exhibition to Manchester – with a fantastic team and supported by an enthusiastic Architecture Community. It was the acclaimed exhibition’s first visit to an English speaking country. Another first for Manchester, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, Joy Division, the Post Punk music movement, the Hacienda, the worlds first Computer and the city where Rolls met Royce. This exhibition at CUBE Gallery was its most successful ever, with between 12-14000 visitors during it’s 10 week stay and national press coverage. One architect simply referred to it as ‘Chair Porn’. Suppose it’s a bit snappier, but google search results would vary.


The exhibition further ignited my passion for furniture design. Cleverly curated, with a chair to represent each year of the last century, a walk through the stands took you on a journey through an evolving, humorous, odd, weird and wonderful world. From Hoffman’s Sitzmachine to Breuer’s Wassily Chair. From Le Corbusier’s LC4 to Eames Plastic chairs. As you progressed through decades of design, you were immersed into the roaring 30’s, post World War austerity and the beginnings of globalisation, progressing to the freedom of the 60’s, funky 70’s fashion, 80’s pop culture and 90’s acid house.



Aside from visibly evolving trends, fashions and design styles, one of the leading influences in the evolution of furniture design is advances in production methods and discovery of new materials. The exhibition underlined the Eames’ thirst to understand and conquer new materials -from plywood, to metal, to fibre glass. Later, designers like Martyn Van Severen and Philippe Starck would further this progression with with aluminium, plastics and polyurethane.

Marc Newson’s Lockheed Lounge chair (1986)
I was reminded of the exhibition recently when I saw Jorge Pensi’s Toledo chair – previously made (and featured) in cast aluminium – now produced as a single piece of injected polypropylene following manufacturing advances. A fantastic chair, that was often priced out of projects – the redesign in polypropylene gives a new lease of life to a cult classic.

“like trying to write a book in one continuous movement with your pen never leaving the page”

One of the biggest global influences of modern and future furniture production is 3D printing. There are a growing number of design studios developing furniture and interior products to be produced solely by 3D printers. Due to the continuous nature of the 3D printing process -like trying to write a book in a continuous movement with your pen never leaving the page –  the designs are still very much evolving. But it’s here, it’s happening and it’s progress.

Barber Osgerby’s London 2012 Olympic Torches were 3D printed
Back in my home city of Manchester there is a wave of new Government backed University buildings full of scientists pondering over Graphene, the new wonder material that is more solid than steel and a better conductor than copper. Terence Woodgate and John Barnard already explored the inherent rigidity of carbon fibre to design a table up to three metres in length with an ultra thin top and just four legs, using state of the art autosport and aerospace technology.

Surface table by Terence Woodgate and John Barnard

“Maybe we just haven’t had the lightbulb moment yet…”

‘So what’s next?’ I ask. Factory capability, new innovative materials and production advances means furniture factories are more advanced than ever. But maybe the material is already here, in front of our noses, in disguise and being utilised for another purpose. Maybe we just haven’t had the lightbulb moment yet.


Think about this. Arne Jacobsen’s original proposal for the Ant chair was laughed at and expected to fail with its ‘little spindly legs’. Marcel Breuer borrowed the idea of bent metal for his Wassily chair from hospital furniture and bicycles. Charles and Ray Eames initially steamed wood to create leg splints for injured soldiers returning from war, before transferring this know-how to create the iconic plywood chair. As we produce and consume more, creating more waste, many designers are turning to rubbish as our next abundantly available material.

Keep your eyes peeled. Sometimes >>>>new ideas<<<<  are right in front of your eyes.



Stupid furniture…

Stupid furniture…

The internet of things is here. Kitchen appliances have bluetooth, central heating is controlled with smartphones…But for all its beauty, our furniture is still stupid. Why aren’t more manufacturers making smart furniture?


Greg Lynn, designer of a smart sports chair for Nike gets it. His new chair has sensors to warm or cool users as required, eliminating cramps and reducing fluid loss after exercise. A great invention for athletes looking for the edge. In an interview with Dezeen he commented “I think probably the furniture industry is slow to engage technology. It’ll either happen or they’ll disappear.” Amen Greg.

Technology is all powerful. A tech invention can send a startup from a garage in Stoke to the stock exchange in weeks. If the furniture industry doesn’t integrate tech fast (not just wireless phone chargers), it will lose market share to tech companies that truly innovate.

Kram and Weisshar’s SmartSlab dining table integrates circuitry, allowing food to be cooked and kept at optimum temperature. At the same time your bottle of wine is kept  perfectly chilled. All this on your dining table as your dinner guests sit around it. The collaboration between Kram/Weisshar and Iris Ceramica Group is a case in point: neither party is a furniture company. Iris Ceramica (ceramic tile producer) was looking for new uses for its range of tiles and hey presto. Very Jean Prouvé too.


As cities become more congested and built up, space becomes more valuable. And so does flexibility. If homes become smarter and more space saving (or multi purpose) using products like SmartSlab, they should also integrate smart reconfigurable interior walls and flexible equipment.  In a state of the art city pad of the future (in just 10 years time) interior walls, furniture and equipment will be reconfigured on command to allow flexibility and optimum use of space.

MINI micro living concept
MINI unveiled a micro living concept at Milan furniture fair, where certain items are foldable and movable. Great idea, but let’s make it smart. Bluetooth it up with 3 or 4 pre-programmed automated layouts. One tap of a smart phone screen and your studio pad goes from ‘Office layout’ to ‘Ooh la la Love nest’. Whilst you’re on your way back for coffee.


In this situation furniture needs to keep up. No. In fact, it needs to lead. In recent blogs I’ve discussed wearable tech, the rise of Asian design and market disruptors such as Tesla. Now I’m joining the dots. In the next decade I predict we’ll see at least one major player emerge from Asia in the furniture mass market. And their furniture will be smart, automated and flexible. The Apple of the furniture industry. Bye for now.




Zaha Hadid: Interior Motives

Zaha Hadid: Interior Motives

With the untimely passing of such an influential figure in global Architecture, it feels appropriate this week to write about Hadid’s contribution to the wider design world. Whilst Architecture is undoubtedly her most revered legacy, her unique design portfolio is not restricted to buildings alone.


Let’s start at the beginning. Having previously been dismissed as too dynamic and too original with her unique futuristic style, Zaha Hadid’s first major built project was the fire station on the Vitra Campus. Vitra owner Rolf Fehlbaum took a leap of faith and commissioned Hadid to design the facility following a disastrous fire at the factory in 1981. The result was way more ‘Pow!’ than ‘Public Service’ (undoubtedly Fehlbaum’s intention) and the building served as Hadid’s career launchpad following its’ completion in 1993.


There are 360 degrees, so why stick to one?

It’s a great building to photograph, but many visitors become a little wobbly-legged on entering, as their brains desperately try to make sense of the optical illusions contained within. Angles and perspectives are set ever so slightly ‘out of sorts’, resulting in dizzy spells for unsuspecting design enthusiasts. Zaha’s magic is at work.


Hadid returned to Vitra to design the Mesa table in 2007. Comparing it to “the way water lilies sit on a pond, flat mats supported by an unseen, complex and organic structure underneath.” Four ‘place mats’ sit snugly together but are attracted by an ‘invisible gravitational force’. Plastic, elastic, fantastic.


Vitra Mesa Table

The first time I saw a Zaha Hadid designed piece of furniture in the flesh was at an Established & Sons event in London back in 2005. Her Aqua table was like nothing I had seen before. Throughout the course of the evening, my colleagues and I were repeatedly drawn to this sculptural piece of art. I remember arguing over what chair you would partner with it. We could never agree on a worthy winner.


You can draw similarities with Zaha’s Serac Bench, designed for Lab23. Part bench, part great white whale, there’s clearly a common design language. The concept behind the bench was inspired by ‘a block of ice formed by intersecting crevasses in a glacier’. All Zaha Hadid’s furniture designs play with the idea of form and function; art with a purpose. In the case of the Serac bench, the sculptured glacial fin acts as a backrest.


“Few Architects manage to cross the threshold into the furniture hall of fame…”

Many Architects have turned their attention to furniture design during their careers. Few however make the leap into the furniture hall of fame to rub shoulders with Jacobsen, Saarinen, Le Corbusier and Mies Van Der Rohe. These legendary figures created both architecture and furniture legacies that are unmistakably theirs. Although she didn’t design the ‘classic’ iconic lounger or dining chair, Hadid will certainly be recognised as not just one of the great Architects, but one of the great Designers of the 21st Century.

Moon System for B&B Italia

“The Zaha Effect”

Hadid’s inimitable style transcended her buildings, furniture, objects, lighting, jewellery and fashion. Each Zaha design was a newly penned poem, using a literary language of her own creation. The inclusion of a Zaha Hadid piece of furniture in an interior scheme sets the tone. Or as others have said, gives a space the ‘Zaha effect’. The recent launch of her Georg Jensen jewellery collection is an extension of just that. And in true Zaha style, it was presented to the public within an interior setting she designed herself.



Queen of the curve

Too often the experience of a building’s interior is disconnected from the architectural exterior: You leave the wow factor at the door as you cross the lobby. Zaha Hadid provided the complete experience: she created her own universe. And within this universe are complex, wavy, organic natural forms, mimicking the growth and evolution of plants and living things. It was this approach that earned Zaha the nickname; ‘Queen of the Curve’.


“Would they call me a Diva if I were a guy?”

Hadid was uncompromising and at times controversial. Considered fearsome by many and often misunderstood. She was a strong voice for gender equality in a male dominated profession, a RIBA Gold Medal winner, twice Stirling Prize winner and a Pritzker prize winner. Dame Zaha Hadid smashed boundaries. And as with all trailblazers, there are those who find fault with her design style, citing it as offensive or inappropriate. I’m sure that gave her a great deal of satisfaction.

Aside from the futuristic style itself, I appreciate the continuity she managed to develop: Her furniture designs are buildings. Her Jewellery designs are furniture. Her building designs are objects. Her fashion designs are art. Her entire portfolio is an evolving concept. Ask yourself – who else can do that?



London Aquatics Centre
Serac bench

And now for the Global Architecture and Design community begins a period of mourning – alongside a period of suspense. A large number of Hadid’s current and unreleased projects are currently in progress. Some will not be realised for a number of years. The true value of her works will take time to settle and be fully digested, but it is already very clear that the world has lost a hugely talented and uncompromising visionary whose life’s work will be studied for decades to come. My condolences go to her family, friends, students and colleagues. Zaha, you will be missed.

Designers do it themselves: Pt 2

In PART ONE of this series I talked to Alexander Lervik: inventor, designer and entrepreneur. I also compared Claesson Koivisto Rune‘s new venture Smaller Objects with Airbnb, Uber and TIDAL. In part two I’ve been mithering designer pals for opinions on royalties, manufacturing their own designs, plus some tips for young aspiring designers. I spoke to three leading furniture designers in the UK: David Fox, Simon Pengelly and Jonathan Prestwich. These fine chaps have a wealth of design industry experience and a deep understanding of what makes the market tick. Between them they’ve designed for a long list of renowned names; Allermuir, Arper, Boss, Chorus, Connection, Davis, Foscarini, Hitch Mylius, Modus, Montis… and many more.

What follows is a summary of our discussion:

In your view do manufacturers take advantage of designers (particularly young designers) when agreeing royalties? Have you had any experience of this?

David: “You are always going to get manufacturers working on the naive aspects of a young designer… some designers make it big and then are reluctant to return to that manufacturer, so who loses in the end? It’s about what you’re willing to accept at that chosen time in your career”

Simon: “Unfortunately, yes. It is an anathema to me that we are still expected by some to accept a cap on royalty income…when the manufacturer continues to charge the same for the product, essentially pocketing royalties… (that) are paid for by the end customer.”

Jonathan: “The simple key from the designers point of view is to figure out what they need from that client… and not accept a deal they aren’t happy with. This is the business side of the job…”

Smaller Objects pays designers 75% of retail prices

Have you been tempted to manufacture your own designs in order to increase profitability and retain complete control of the product?

David: “Tempted yes, but the reality is most designers manage the creative process very well. Managing a sales force and producing your own furniture is a departure from that… Different skills.”

Simon: “Yes indeed, although the financial implications of marketing and distribution need to be borne in mind at the outset.”

Jonathan: “I have been tempted but after seeing recalls of products, quality issues, installations that run over etc… I feel the job of a designer is more pleasurable.”

Simon Pengelly’s UNIA chair

Do you think designers today need entrepreneurial spirit in order to succeed?

David: “You have to have a business mind, the creation is only a small part. How do you get yourself seen? It’s very much like a sales and marketing role”

Simon: “Absolutely, but the majority of design training is still in the dark ages in this regard, so it generally has to be learnt on the job.”

Jonathan: “Always! Everyone needs this. There is however a difference between the employed designer and the independent designer”


David Fox’s Zuki Lounge chair

Would you say it’s easier or harder for designers to get recognition and success in today’s marketplace compared with 15 years ago?

David: “I think the power of the internet makes it easier for designers to become recognised, you can publish images very easily. Again, keep making connections, keep showing, talking about your stuff…”

Simon: “I’d answer yes and no to that question! It is easier because of access to better technology, web and social media exposure. Harder because it is easier and therefore there are more designers all trying to work for the same manufacturers!”

Jonathan: “Much harder. 15 years ago we were still in the Capellini phase of design where the designer was crucial to a product having kudos. There is less of that today which I think is fine. The manufacturer’s brand is the most important but I don’t think this takes away from the importance of good product design.”

Jonathan Prestwich’s LINK chair for Davis

Any advice or tips for young designers based on your personal experience?

David: “Work very hard – it takes at least 4 years before you become anything like comfortable. There is always someone that is going to tell you it is not very good, keep going…Look for the brands that most suit your style… Never be afraid to work with smaller unknown manufacturers. If it is cluttered… ‘unclutter it’ – purity always stands the test of time…”

Simon: “If you love what you do then go do it, if you’re doing it for fame and fortune then go and sing on X factor!”

Jonathan: “Get out there and meet people in the real world. A face to face conversation is worth a thousand emails.”

Some great insight there – thanks David, Simon and Jonathan!

For young furniture designers looking to bag their first deal, the advantage clearly lies with the established manufacturer. You, the young designer are an unknown, and they (manufacturer) might suggest you have more to gain. However they are also taking a financial risk by investing in your design, so this must be taken into account.

As per David’s comments, if they’re too tough during negotiations, yes – they could come out of it with a great chair design at a snip, but what about when you’re Milan’s most wanted and you won’t return their calls from your Karl Lagerfeld photoshoot. It’s about finding balance (Daniel-son). There clearly needs to be more education available to young designers about the commercial realities of getting a furniture deal.

Simon Pengelly’s Theo chair

What about the future…?

In relation to designers producing their own furniture, there’s clearly still considerable concern and risk. But my view is that the market will be revolutionised by a wealthy major disruptor or two (think Tesla’s Elon Musk), as 3D printing become widely accessible.

In the not too distant future, 3D printing will see the creation of a network of small to medium sized community production facilities to cater for a wide range of consumer homeware production. Designers will upload furniture (and other homeware) designs to online Apple / IKEA / Amazon stores. Consumers in turn can buy and download ‘design recipes’ in encrypted CAD format. These can be 3D printed, upholstered and finished at your local production facility; which is permanently stocked with various upholstery and finish options. This will cut lead times, reduce carbon footprint and create a network of jobs. Competition amongst furniture designers will further increase, as young designers vying for attention muddy the waters by uploading designs for free download.

But meanwhile, for the furniture designers of today, it’s clear that you simply have to get out there, to network and meet people. Milan Furniture Fair is the ideal place to make great connections and is on from 12-17 April. I’ll be there. The question is… will you?

I hope you enjoyed my two part blog – if you did, please share it. Thanks!