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Innovation By Design

This Startup Is Betting On Local, Made-To-Order Furniture—Delivered In A Flash

Opendesk has spent the last two years selling locally manufactured pieces. Now it wants to take on the instant furniture industry.

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Like many startups, the idea for Opendesk started with a problem. A few years ago, Nick Ierodiaconou, James Arthur, and Joni Steiner—at the time, the architects behind London-based firm Architecture 00—were working with a client who had offices in both London and New York. The architects had just struck a big deal: The clients were so pleased with the locally sourced desks in the London office, they wanted the same ones in the offices stateside. The problem was getting them there affordably. Wouldn't it be easier, they reasoned, if we could just send the design files digitally to a local maker, instead of shipping the actual objects?

That's the founding principle behind Opendesk, the company the trio launched in 2014 with a business model of designing digitally fabricated furniture that's manufactured locally. The company works with a growing network of manufacturers that have access to a CNC machine and can produce the digital designs and ship them as flatpack furniture. Moreover, Opendesk also open sources all of its designs, so that its tables, desks, and chairs can be tweaked for individual specifications (you can think of it as GitHub for furniture).

It's a unique business model for customizable furniture for office spaces, and Opendesk is still working on developing it fully. Up until this week, customers would choose a design they liked from the site and request a quote. Opendesk would calculate the quote based on the local manufacturers' labor fee, a fee for the designer, and a platform fee for Opendesk.

But now, the company is looking to streamline that manufacturing and delivery process—and, hopefully, appeal to customers working with a tight schedule who still want to buy locally. To cut down the wait time normally associated with furniture that's crafted on demand, the company developed a new service called Opendesk Express, a quicker and simpler way to order—essentially a "buy now" button for Opendesk products. Instead of the 8- to 12-week lead times that can typically be expected of contract furniture brands, the "desks on demand" system offers free delivery within 14 days.

How is the company making the model so much faster? First, by offering four of the designs from its library that are tailored to the various needs of a creative office, according to Opendesk. Second, customers will be able to check out "instantly," without the normal wait time associated with requesting a quote, which will "push demand for furniture directly to local makers."

They're starting small, with just three workshops in the London area, but their hope is to grow the model to scale worldwide so that manufacturers everywhere can participate. In the meantime, customers can still request individual quotes from local makers, too. "It's almost a challenge that we’re giving to the makers in our network," says Josh Worley, lead designer at Opendesk. "How fast can you meet local demands from customers?"

The initial collection of four desks offered through the Opendesk Express service can be found here.

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