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.




No working like Co-working?

Over recent weeks I’ve enjoyed remote working on the move. A borrowed desk in Zürich, a cafe in Chamonix, a hotel in Stockholm as I visited the furniture and light fair and this blog is coming to you from a creaky old wooden hotel near St Moritz. Ben, you’ve changed I hear you say. Maybe so. I’ve also developed an expensive croissant and caffeine addiction, but that’s just how I roll. Ahem.

I find it easy to work almost anywhere whilst on the go, but I also recognise the attraction of dedicated coworking spaces for those without a permanent office. Co-working is undoubtedly the buzzword of 2015/6 and has become staple diet for mobile workers and start ups.

Factory, Berlin.

But it isn’t new, it just got itself a name. People have been strewn throughout Starbucks and Costa for years with their heads in MacBooks. Others shared offices, leased premises in startup incubators or rented desks from local businesses. What’s new with today’s cool co-working is dressed down start-up style has reached the high street. Try saying that 5 times in a row. Add edgy utilitarian furniture, fast reliable wifi, flexible membership and multiple locations. When compared to high street coffee shops, the carrot cake-eating Grannies and the screaming toddlers have been quietly disposed of. Nothing sinister mind, but these places are for work. Co-work.

wework, London.

The co-world keeps turning

And so the trend spreads through our cities.  We are now witnessing the battle for market share as the big guns pump out their hip schemes, similar to the battle for prime coffee shop sites in the noughties. Landlords rip out false ceilings, expose brickwork, make plywood coffee counters and hire tattooed baristas quicker than you can say ‘Yo, where the bike-rack at homie?’. Co-working even has a Wiki definition now – it’s a household name like Simon Cowell or Gok Wan. And soon the term itself may be just as irritating as they are.

Central Working, Manchester.

People want the productive Google-esque working environment with trendy colleagues. The quality of the coffee, connectivity and building locations are all potential deal breakers. Co-workers like the routine of ‘going to the office’. For solo professionals used to working at home, this environment provides a focused and positive place to get things done amidst the buzz of the city, with the added option to meet and collaborate with like-minded ‘CEO & Founder’ type dudes.

betahaus, Berlin-Kreuzberg, August 2013
betahaus, Berlin-Kreuzberg, August 2013

And many co-working spaces offer additional facilities, member database info, help desks, IT troubleshooting and concierge services. Some host events and seminars. Communities and networks are formed; new companies too. These workplaces are shaping a new generation of caffeine-fuelled businesses. Bigger businesses are paying attention too with banks opening branches in co-working spaces to support (capture) new start ups. Your local branch manager is now called ‘Dee’, wears shorts and always has one earphone in. He’s down with the kids.

Impacthub Zürich

It doesn’t stop there. Some high street banks are now offering free co-working facilities to account holders in next-gen premises.

“Will we see Starbucks own brand co-working soon?”

So the ageing coffee shop has to respond right? They need to fight to keep Colin, the grey suited Dell laptop carrying area manager, who’s peckish and low on battery. I’ve read some co-working spaces have partnered locally with coffee chains, but will we see Starbucks ‘own brand’ co-working spaces soon? Or Costa Co-work? Surely they’ll respond as the trend snowballs, taking an ever larger slurp out of their coffee takings.

On the other hand, many large commercial landlords are still peddling the traditional ‘serviced office’ model, complete with bookable meeting rooms, generic suites, grey carpet tiles and black leather executive chairs. Seriously?

Traditional serviced office model: shoot me now…

“…but that’s the cost of being cautious: you miss the edge.”

Two or three years back I pitched a co-working style scheme to a large commercial landlord. I suggested they lose their partition walls, strip out and open up their ground floor space to increase ceiling height whilst making it more visible from street level. Ditch the bookable (aka empty) 16 seater meeting rooms in favour of informal open spaces that are flexible, multi-purpose and IT supportive. Build a coffee bar with stools, soft seating and coffee tables. Soften the lighting. Add focus study spaces and an open meeting area. The PM loved the idea, but his Director stalled. They delayed and deferred making a decision and ultimately the project didn’t go ahead. Now they are trying to catch up with the co-working invasion. But that’s the cost of being cautious: you miss the edge.

Neuehouse NYC

So I’m waiting with anticipation, wondering who will make the first big (global) move. Will a big coffee house buy out a co-working company, or strike a partnership deal? Has it happened already and I just haven’t heard? What about other food and drink chains like Pret in the UK or (currently under pressure) Mcdonalds – do they fancy a bit of the action? Will a big serviced office landlord dust off the cobwebs and unveil a cutting edge co-working scheme? Either way a few businesses need to wake up and smell the co-coffee.

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Smart @rse

Smart @rse

by Ben Capper

Terminator 2 fans have long pondered the moment technology gains ‘self awareness’. In such an event, our trusted smartphones alone could cause massive damage – Tweet dodgy photos of you, send racy texts to Aunt Maud and proclaim to your Facebook friends that you’re now a City fan. It doesn’t even bear thinking about.


As the workplace gets ever smarter, increasing levels of information is gathered on employees, productivity and working patterns. The simple fact is: as ‘likes’ and routines are established, tech gets to know you and “improves user experience” to coin an Apple phrase.

Bloomberg recently published an article on The World’s most intelligent building – an outstanding project. With it’s own app, the building gets to know your schedule, how you like your coffee, your light and temperature preferences. It tells you where to park, which desk to use and it cleans and hoovers itself at night…

Coming over here with their smart hoovers, taking our jobs…

Piecemeal information gathering is one thing, but it’s the joining up of the dots that intimidates our squishy, outdated human brains. At what point does smart tech become smart arse? Or am I sounding like my mum who still refuses to use internet banking? We are being immersed further into technology… and now even your trusted office chair is in on it.


BMA Smart chair

Your ‘personal posture coach’; BMA’s Smart chair has pressure pads imbedded in the seat and back cushions to monitor users’ sitting posture. Data on user posture (yes really) and chair occupancy periods are sent to a nominated computer. If you’re slouching, the chair gently buzzes as a prompt to sit up straight. As an occasional sloucher, I found this slightly nagging at times, but others who shall remain nameless claimed to enjoy the chair’s gentle vibrations. Hmm. No doubt this ergonomically advanced chair is a big help to health focused employers battling against staff back complaints. Healthy body equals happy productive office worker.


Table Air Smart desk

Meanwhile for the Star Wars fans out there, Table Air have launched a height adjustable desk with an LED illuminated edge that changes colour. You can pretend you’re in Minority Report and raise the desk height with a wave of the hand. Snazzy eh? They are developing the Table Air App to memorise individual height and light preferences too. I reckon Darth Vader would have specified a few of these for Death Star HQ (wonder what BREEAM rating that got?).


Bene Nice Wall

Our friends in Austria (and their friends ‘we-inspire’) have developed a room module for meetings, brainstorming sessions and visual presentations: the Nice Wall; a continuous, frameless and interactive wall that can be scaled up to 30 metres in length. Allowing multiple users at once and integrating Skype and other software, this impressive presentation tool allows users at multiple locations to collaborate and sketch together in real time. With all that going for it you’d think they would come up with a better name… Pleasant Wall for example.

With advanced BIM technology reshaping the design and planning process, it’s clear computer advances are positively impacting our working lives. But with recent news of a Ukrainian Power Station suffering power outage due to hackers, my ‘Jerry Springer final thought’ is this: As our reliance on office tech increases, is the potential impact of a cyber attack more damaging than ever? Is our reliance on technology becoming a dangerous habit?

You’ll have to ask Arnie for the answers I’m afraid. I’m logging off for now… but I’ll be back.