An Open Source for New Furniture

If you like puzzles and aren't afraid of the words "Assembly Required," OpenDesk is for you.

By Kristin Belz August 21, 2013 Published in the August 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

The four-person workstation desk is available as a free digital download from OpenDesk. All you have to do is cut the parts out of plywood with a CNC router, finish, and assemble them.

DIY used to imply low-tech – inexpensive, ad hoc, do-it-yourself at home. Rube Goldberg would have been considered a DIY kinda guy. But now, DIY has taken a decidedly digital twist. You can download computer files from a company in London to make your own furniture here in Portland. It’s a sort of wiki-furniture marketplace, a 21st century design and manufacturing workshop folding together global and local.

OpenDesk is the London company, founded in 2011 by three architectural designers. They've designed a small selection of basic tables, stools, and a 4-person desk, and they’re sharing the digital files for free to any and all takers – or rather, “makers.” The pieces are intended to be made of plywood or fiberboard, and cut by a computer-controlled router (a CNC machine) following the digital file instructions.

This is where the “DIY = make it yourself in your basement” equation goes all whacky, and where “digital” and “handmade” dissolve into a sort of wormhole of possibilities. Welcome to the 21st century. Who has a CNC machine in their basement? Though there aren't any Portland area makers in the “OpenDesk maker network” yet, maybe that person is you –  ADX has CNC machine that anyone can join and learn how to use, after all.

The innovative OpenDesk process essentially allows you to insert yourself into the IKEA production line at whatever stage you’d like. The furniture you get can be virtual – the free and open source files on your computer – or in various stages of physical fabrication: sawn, unfinished wood; flatpacked, finished pieces ready for you to assemble; or fully assembled, just open up the box.

The idea is that while the design is globally sourced, the assembled (or sawn or flatpacked versions of the materials) will come from someone near where you live. So for instance, if you lived in Pittsburgh, PA, then Ollie would make you a desk for about $1200. Or he’d flatpack it to you for about $1000. Or he’d send you the sawn, unfinished parts for about $700. None of these prices include delivery, of course, because the idea is to be local. (Probably you'd ride your bike over to his studio and pick up the goods.)

It’s seems like a nice way to share worldwide knowledge and expertise while also enabling people to do whatever level of hands-on work they want to do, here and now. If you’ve graduated beyond just IKEA furniture you assemble yourself, you can get inexpensive furniture that’s a step up in quality. If you’re ready to join ADX and dive into the modern world of DIY making, it’s a way to get a step up and not start from computer-design scratch.

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